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Digital Subaltern

Remapping World Cinemas for the Digital Age: Finding Ways for the Digital Subaltern to Speak 

This project explores the gap between the ways in which national elites seek to use film culture to project themselves internationally, culturally, politically and economically, and how this is understood by communities ‘on the ground’, in particular those that consider themselves to be excluded – not least linguistically – from such elite discourses. Over the last decade, global audio-visual culture has experienced seismic shifts as a result of 1) changing global power relations, 2) the acceleration of technological development. 

In the first year of this project, we organised a series of workshops that drew together a unique group of international and interdisciplinary scholars, key industry professionals and colleagues working in international development. We explored how changes in the production, distribution and consumption of audio-visual texts reflect a series of broader economic, legal, political, linguistic and cultural concerns. We have focused in particular on the ways in which these changes have, on the one hand, provided the opportunity for ‘minority’ ‘subaltern’ voices to both express their cultural, and specifically their linguistic, identity, but how, on the other, digital infrastructure continues to be shaped and dominated by the global northern and western, English-language cultural conglomerates that, while no longer necessarily able to dictate who can speak, nonetheless continue to shape who is heard. These workshops have, for the most part, been organised as part of the University of Leeds' Sadler Seminar Series (Remapping World Cinemas for the Digital Age). They have been captured, in summary form, in a series of short films. 

See our report on all activities carried out during the first, seedcorn, phase of the project (01.10.2016 - 31.12.2017): Remapping World Cinemas for the Digital Age Report.

The second phase of the project, titled Lebanon: The Youth Roll, builds on this through impact-focused ‘participatory-action research’ (PAR), working with marginalized groups in Lebanon. Using a range of participatory arts methodologies – in particular the co-production of video responses to the project’s findings – we explore the role of language in Lebanon, and in particular the place of linguistic hybridity amongst young people and the role this plays in generating new societal narratives that are engaging with the nation’s difficult past. Our aim here is to support increase in social cohesion and the strengthening of civil society in the region. In the process, we explore the plurality of conflict landscapes in the country, and the ways in which young people might co-create new narratives through creative practices that can challenge dominant discourse of war and silence. To deliver this project, the University of Leeds is working in close partnership with the British Council’s Global Research TeamBritish Council Lebanon, its in-country networks, and Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. 

As part of the project, we are: 

  • conducting a rigorous literature review on the role of languages and culture in the collective understanding of conflict, reconciliation and social change in Lebanon, analysing past practice of artistic and socially-engaged community-based cultural interventions. 
  • conducting primary qualitative research to further understand the specific role language and culture can play with young people in addressing issues of marginalisation, inclusion and ownership of cultural spaces and representation in Lebanon. 
  • delivering and evaluating a new pilot programme based on these findings, co-created with NGOs and young people, including refugees from the recent war in Syria and young people from the urban communities living alongside them in informal settlements. 

In so doing, we aim to add to the national debate in the UK around the role of art and culture as a vehicle for cross-community and transnational communication, looking particularly at the role of Arabic as a site of cultural conflict that can, at times, ‘flatten out’ cultural differences between communities and at times empower marginalised communities to challenge national narratives. 

See our report on all activities carried out during the second, core, phase of the project (01.01.2018 - 31.12.2019): Lebanon: The Youth Roll Report.

Further details and regular updates on our work in Lebanon are provided on the project's dedicated webpages. 

You can view here all the films that have been made as part of the project. 

Read here the draft of the chapter ‘Lebanon, The Youth Roll’: Experiencing Conflict as a Transcultural, Transnational Film Language, by Paul Cook, Nour Zeidan, Hana Addam El-Ghali, Cindrella Mizher and Emily Morrison, which is due to come out in the volume Post-conflict Participatory Arts: Socially-engaged Development, edited by Faith Mkwananzi and Melis Cin (London: Routledge 2021). 

For more information about this project contact: