07 SES 02 B, Intercultural Research on Youth and Media
Multicultural festivals have become common contexts for youth’s exposure to cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, in Norway and throughout the world. In general, researchers have criticized such events to be counter-productive to the aim of inclusion (Hoffman, 1996; Øzerk, 2008). However, this research has devoted little attention to the participant perspective in general and young people in particular. In this paper, with the aim of bringing young people’s experiences into the research field, we report from a study on youth attending “Stoppested Verden”, a multicultural festival in the East of Norway assembling more than 11 000 people. Being aware the challenges of collecting youth voices for research purposes (Soto & Swadener, 2016; Dewilde, Kjørven, Skaret & Skrefsrud, 2017), this paper explores the potential of applying «My Memory App», a tool designed for collecting young people’s experiences and meaning making while attending a multicultural event. The aim of the study is twofold: 1. To describe the characteristics of young people’s experiences and meaning making while attending the festival. 2. To discuss the benefits and challenges of accessing young people’s voices with “My Memory App”.
Theoretically, the concepts of voice, space and discourse become productive lenses for our analysis of the data. As for voice, the concept has long been central in discussions on education (Blommaert, 2009) and is seen as a way of downsizing the hierarchical disparity between teacher and student and strengthen students’ opportunity to participate fully and equally. However, “voice” can also turn out to be highly problematic. First, strategies for making marginalized students’ voices to be heard may paradoxically reproduce privileges of the majority, as well-intended strategies such as dialogue and recognition of difference may turn out to be access for dominant groups to the thoughts, cultures, and lives of others (Jones, 1999). Second, discourses of voice often presuppose the assumption that silence from an individual indicates a “lost voice or voicelessness” (Ellsworth, 1989, p. 312). Refusing to put one’s experiences on display and not let one’s voice be heard, does not necessarily mean that one is silenced. Rather, the choice of not talking in an authentic voice or refusing to let one’s voice be heard at all could be interpreted as an act of empowerment.
When asked about their experiences and recalled memories at the multicultural festival, the answers address what it means to belong somewhere. The complexity of concepts such as mobility, culture, similarity and difference are connected issues that are being activated by young people’s interaction with cultural expressions foreign to themselves. A festival that is surrounded by boundaries can be seen as delineated, turning space into a place that people can make meaningful. As a temporary place, the festival is inscribed with expectations about voice and behavior (Cresswell, 1996), which can be utilized for the study of what is considered in place and out of place in a multicultural setting such as this international children’s festival. For instance, social contact between strangers, singing in public or dressing up in unusual clothing can become in place.
Expectations regarding what is considered in place behavior is communicated through verbal discourses, but also through the materiality of the festival as a place. Discourses are systems of meaning making, connecting signs into broader articulations (Laclau & Mouffe, 2001). Contested issues such as culture, belonging and mobility are characterized by discursive struggle, where several discourses offer juxtaposed perspectives. However, in our data, there are also traces of hegemonic discourses, in particular the learning discourse. When asked about their experiences and thoughts, the young people in our study explain the learning aspect of their experiences as a self-evident value.
We collected data at the international children and youth festival called Stoppested verden, (the name is alluding to the flag stops for a train) which is the largest of its kind in Norway. The festival takes place during the first weekend of June, and has done so since 2008. It is located in the park of the Norwegian Railway Museum in Hamar. The program consists of workshops, activities, exhibitions and international food. Some contributors are local volunteers, whereas others have traveled from abroad and are paid. Some countries of regions are represented through traditional cultural markers, such as national costumes or traditional music. Others use playful installations, art or activities such as the hula hoop or soap bubbles as their representation. Our team of four researchers investigated the festival of 2018 from the perspective of young people. More precisely, we developed an app called My Memory App, a name that mirrored our interview questions: 1. Please, tell us something about what you have done at Stoppested Verden; and 2. Which thoughts and memories does the event evoke? We provided a written translation of the instructions and interview questions into 35 different languages, as well oral translations into Arabic and Kurdish for youth who speak but might not have developed reading skills in those languages. This way, we hoped to reach out to young people who might be learners of Norwegian and who would prefer to express themselves in other languages. The festival management insisted that we became part of the program, a role we had not envisioned, but which proved fruitful for attracting young people’s attention. We were given the name Bobla (The bubble), referring to the yellow Polleta camper we were provided. Across the two festival days, 86 young people between the age of 12 and 21 participated and recorded their answer to our interview questions, in total 51 minutes. The young people participating gave double consent, first agreeing to go into the wagon, and subsequently by recording their answers. One said in English “Well while this is happening, it's recording our voice. In which case anything can be said, really. You can't control what is said”, which illustrates the power given to the young people when given the opportunity to record in a private space in contrast to a face-to-face interview situation. The youth voices were categorized into eight discourses: Learning; Travel; Place; Culture; Childhood; Network; Food; Othering.
The discourses indicate the importance of the festival “Stoppested Verden” as a particular space, as explicitly targeting children and young people, and rigged for cultural activities and intercultural learning. Although emerging as contextually bounded, the discourses generated by “My Memory App” also reflect that the festival appears as a productive space where young people’s individual experiences and meaning making can come to the fore. In this paper, we will highlight learning as one hegemonic discourse characterizing young people’s descriptions of their experiences and memories. Not surprisingly, based on the festival’s agenda, the youth explicitly talk about that they have “learnt about” different cultures and traditions, most of them associated with specific countries. This indicates, as the critics have emphasized, that multicultural events above all promote essentialized understandings of culture, and thus inadequate arenas for multicultural learning. However, equally prominent in the “My Memory App”-material is what we refer to as examples of reflective learning, which at times also appeared transformative. What from the outset may appear as illustrations of essentialism and superficial learning, develop into rather personal reflections. The noticeable emotional features in many of these utterings, that the festival evokes “joy,” “appreciation,” that it is “inspirational” and “made a lot of impression”, underpins this. Moreover, the festival made the young people reflect on “the other”, on those who “live other lives”, on those who “may struggle in life”, on “our common humanity” as well as on ongoing conflicts and refugee crises. These findings indicate, first, that the festival evoked learning experiences that transcend what is immediately visible at a multicultural event, hence challenging the critics’ analyses of these events as fundamentally essentializing, and second, that the application of “My Memory App” proved a creative methodology to access independent youth voices.
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