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The 2016 Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change: Media, Migration & the Civic Imagination

July 08, 2016

By Paul Mihailidis

> “We cannot change the world unless we imagine what a better world might look like.”

> — Henry Jenkins (2016)

This summer’s 10th Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change will focus on the topic of migration — an issue that affects communities around the world. We will explore how global narratives about migration are constructed and how personal stories can drive intercultural dialogue.

For millennia, the journey of human migration across and inside borders has radically altered how humans connect. But what is unique about global migration flow in the present are the digital and social technologies and tools that are changing how humans can connect. Cross-media platforms, social networks and digital technologies are altering how information is consumed, produced, expressed and shared — and in ever more open, diverse, and collaborative ways. This shift has led to new opportunities and challenges for how the stories of migration can be told, shared, retold — as well as suppressed.

Despite today’s advances in multi-platform storytelling tools, media and news organizations are struggling to tell deep stories of migration that meaningfully elaborate on how both home and away communities are impacted. Not all the news stories of migration are narratives that address key concerns of inclusion and diversity — or that call readers, listeners and viewers to critical reflection. Too often coverage trafficks in generalizations and faceless data, emphasizes stereotypes, and perpetuates the notion of migrants and refugees as being “different” from — and threatening to — those in the media’s audience.

To explore these narratives, we are going to gather 74 students from over 25 nationalities, and 19 faculty and 16 guest scholars from over 15 nationalities, to explore the relationship between media and narratives of migration in digital culture, and to build collaborative multimedia essays that will present diverse and dynamic ways to connect humans in the hopes of overcoming intolerance, stereotyping and reductionist narratives associated with global migration.

To help frame our inquiry, Seminal media scholar Henry Jenkins and his team from USC will be joining us to provide a series of seminars and workshops on the concept of civic imagination.

The Civic Imagination

Civic imagination is the capacity to imagine alternatives to current social, political, or economic conditions; one cannot change the world unless one can imagine what a better world might look like.

Too often, our focus on contemporary problems makes it impossible to see beyond immediate constraints. This tunnel vision perpetuates the status quo, and innovative voices and action from the margin — especially youth — are ignored or deemed inconsequential. As writers like Shakuntala Banaji and David Buckingham (2013) have suggested, young people are often excluded from playing an “actual” or “meaningful” role in the processes associated with institutionalized politics, their agendas are marginalized, and they are disenfranchised.

Through our own research on young activists, we’ve found that young people are learning to identify and frame political issues in language that speaks to them and their peers. Many of the youth we interview tell us that they felt discomfort embracing contemporary political rhetoric that speaks neither to or about their concerns. While young adults arguably have more opportunities for political engagement than ever, the mechanisms for this engagement are often outdated and rely on antiquated power structures that confuse “voice” for “action.” Seeking to move the needle on their own terms, youth are looking beyond traditional political constructions and embracing imagery and stories framed through media.

In turning toward icons and narratives borrowed from popular media to express their civic identities and political concerns, youth are seeking a way to bridge divisions and differences that make it hard for traditional political institutions to move forward to solve persistent problems. This tactic is not new: groups seeking change have long referenced the cultural image bank to shift civic imagination. Consider the following examples:

  • The American civil rights movement in the 1950s used the rhetoric of the black church and spoke of the need to “cross the River Jordan” and enter the “promised land.”

  • The Indian independence movement in the early twentieth century drew on ancient Hindu myths to build a case for ending colonial rule.

  • Pro-democracy protesters in Czechoslovakia appropriated Czech fairy tales as they literally jiggled their keys to “ring in” the end of the Communist era in 1989.

Today’s generation of young activists maintains a strong relationship to popular culture, and that cultural vocabulary can help broker relations across different political groups. Youths across the globe are remixing popular culture for political ends. The creative energies of citizens are being joined with the political commitments of activists. This movement from the private/elite towards the public/democratized imagination often draws on images already familiar to participants from other contexts — images drawn not from political rhetoric but popular fantasy. Consider these two cases:

  • The immigration reform movement in the United States has taken up Superman, a superhero whose legal status of citizenship remains unclear (he IS from the planet Krypton), as a central symbol.

  • Rang De Basanti, a Bollywood film whose plot centrally involves young people’s struggle for social justice, inspired a real world protest that emulated the film in both method (sit-ins at the India Gate in Delhi) and cause (both protested high-level government corruption) in ways that actually helped produce tangible results.

Process and Approach

The Academy will use this frame to first explore how personal and communities narratives impact our worldviews, and the commonalities and differences that exist among our group in Salzburg. We’ll then see how our narratives connect — and disconnect — to large media coverage of migration. Finally, we’ll produce multimedia essays that discuss how we can leverage the power of human narratives, our civic imagination and digital media to reimagine narratives of migration. The scope of exploration at the Academy looks as follows:

  • Exploring the Personal and Community

  • Exploring How Media Portrays Migration

  • Connecting Narratives

  • Building a Multimedia Story

  • Human Connections & Human Reflections

To guide our participants in this exploration, our curriculum is anchored by seminars, workshops, reading groups, screenings, and beyond, that provide diverse and rigorous content and context for explore media and migration. Topics will include: Data Visualization, Game Design, Mobile Storytelling, Civic Media Activism, and more.

Lastly, A public workshop on Civic Media & Migration will be jointly convened with the Institute for Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA). Participants will include policy experts, media capacity organizations, community stakeholders, faculty working in media and communication fields, and young media makers engaging in media work across cultures. Participants will share in the findings of the research and brainstorm ways to employ media literacy as a constructive tool for civic dialog, policy making and media messaging today.

To read more about the 2016 Academy program, visit:

For more information or inquiries, contact Paul Mihailidis:

2016 Participating Faculty

Paul Mihailidis, Emerson College (Program Director) Susan Moeller, University of Maryland Henry Jenkins, USC Annenberg Stephen Salyer, Salzburg Global Seminar Jad Melki, Lebanese American University Megan Fromm, Colorado Mesa University Roman Gerodimos, Bournemouth University, UK Chris Harris, Nevada State College Eric Gordon, Emerson College / Berkman Center, Harvard Stephen Reese, University of Texas, Austin Nick Diakopolous, University of Maryland, College Park Cecilia Balbin, Catholic University Argentina Ewald Volk, St. Poelten University, Vienna, Austria Manuel Guerrero, Iberoamericana University, Mexico Sangita Shrsethova, USC Annenberg Pablo Martinez, Iberoamericana University, Mexico Luis Miguel, Iberoamericana University, Mexico Gabriel Peters-Lazaro, USC Cinema Schools Daphne Wales, University of Rhode Island

2016 Guest Scholars

Sanjeev Chatterjee, University of Miami Amy Ansell, Dean of Liberal Arts, Emerson College Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Media Lab Moses Shumow, Florida International University Karen Fowler Watts, Bournemouth University, UK Justeen Hyde, Institute for Community Health, Cambridge, MA Anthony Ioannidis, IASquare Steve Jukes, Bournemouth University, UK Tadzio MacGregor, freelance journalist Dave McEvoy, Appalachian State University Carol Reese, Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas Olga Škvareninová, St. Cyril and Methodius, Slovakia Odila Triebel, Institute for Auslandsbeziehungen, Germany Peter Webinger — Austrian Minister of the Interior Michaele Whalen, Provost, Emerson College Sarah Widmaier, Institute for Auslandsbeziehungen, Germany

2016 Core Staff

Clare Shine, Chief Program Officer, Salzburg Global Seminar Beth Pertiller, Director of Operations, Salzburg Global Seminar Kevin Kolesnikoff, Program Associate, Salzburg Global Seminar Jordan Pailthorpe, Creative Producer, Engagement Lab

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