As Poveda, Thomson and Ferro (2018) observe, there is a momentum in ethnographic explorations of the arts in education in which “an increasing number of researchers have turned their attention to expressive practices and artistic spaces as contexts and tools for learning, identity construction and social mobilization (p. 269).” However, the distinction between ethnography of education and education by ethnography – i.e. an ethnographic pedagogy – is at least partly maintained within this momentum.

This research attempted an ethnographic approach to pedagogy, utilising digital media literacy for creative production, to facilitate new ways for students to critically engage with their own lived experiences in relation to their participation in formal ‘schooled’ learning. The pedagogic value of this type of ethnographic approach was assessed over two years of participatory fieldwork with three secondary schools and one further education college in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom, working with teachers in multiple curricular areas using ‘low-tech’ media literacy work with students. Our findings suggest that while there are clear benefits presented by this (digital) ethnographic pedagogy, for it to work in media literacy education there is a need for the creation of critical, dynamic “third spaces” (Bhabha 1994) for students to work in. The creation of these spaces is highly contingent on the respective classification and framing (Bernstein 1975) of the subject curriculum.

This research developed out of a series of ethnographic interventions into digital media education, including a European Union funded project on ethnographic social documentary as a transferable pedagogic tool (McDougall 2013) and a large scale field review of third space media literacies (Potter and McDougall 2017, see also McDougall et al. 2018). To apply this conceptual framing to a specific pedagogic context over a longer time period, the research aimed to address the following research questions:

  1. 1.What pedagogical value is afforded by the use of ethnographic digital media making as a tool for creative production and critically reflexive media literacy?
  2. 2.How can ethnographic pedagogy, in the form of creative digital media production, enhance participation in classroom learning?
  3. 3.What is the potential for ‘low-tech’ creative production to transgress boundaries between curriculum areas and modes of literacy, learning and teaching?
  4. 4.How can ethnographic digital media-making give ‘voice’ to learners and how is ‘voice’ socio-culturally framed within pedagogic and research discourses?

In: The International Journal of Critical Media Literacy