Narrative Power: Storytelling, Technology, and Social Change Advocacy in Australia and the U.S.

Personal stories can stir the heart, compel us to act, and shift public discourse. In this talk based on their forthcoming book (co-authored with Michael Vaughan, London School of Economics) ANU Australian Studies Visiting Fellow Associate Professor Filippo Trevisan and ANU Crawford School of Public Policy Professor Ariadne Vromen will discuss how the layering of crowdsourcing, technology, and datafication is reshaping dynamics of voice in social change advocacy.

Who can speak up and – equally crucial – be heard in public debates? The proliferation of digital systems for collecting, archiving, and organizing massive amounts of personal stories in advocacy campaigns has profound implications for this question. We draw on Australia- and U.S.-based campaigns that pioneered the use of technology-driven crowdsourced storytelling across a range of issues including disability rights, LGBTIQ rights, and essential workers’ rights during the COVID-19 pandemic to examine “big data” approaches to political storytelling and digital “story bank” systems that suggest storylines and support an organization’s efforts to intervene in political information cycles in real time. This move toward political story “on demand” – we argue – is reshaping power relationships and interactions among advocacy organizations, their constituents, technologies, and technological companies.

Filippo Trevisan is a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Australian Studies Institute. Filippo is an Associate Professor at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C., where he also serves as the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and the deputy director of the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP). His work explores the intersection of technology, advocacy, activism, and political communication, with a particular focus on traditionally under-represented and politically marginalized voices. He has researched digital disability advocacy in the U.S., the UK, and East Africa, and is the author of Disability Rights Advocacy Online: Voice, Empowerment and Global Connectivity (Routledge, 2017). His work has appeared, among others, in New Media & Society, the Journal of Communication, Social Media + Society, and the Journal of Information Technology and Politics. He has been interviewed, among others, by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, and RAI-Radiotelevisione Italiana.

Ariadne Vromen joined ANU in June 2020 as the new Sir John Bunting Chair of Public Administration in the Crawford School, a position that is co-funded by ANU and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). As Deputy Dean (Research) for ANZSOG, and a member of Crawford’s Policy and Governance Department, she focuses on research leadership to foster excellence in impact-driven research; while continuing her existing research projects and supervising PhD students. Her long-term research interests include: citizen engagement, digital politics and governance, women and the future of work, policy advocacy, and young people and politics. In 2022 she published a new co-authored book: Crowdsourced politics: the rise of online petitions and micro-donations, and has a new co-authored book forthcoming with Michigan University Press: The Datafication of Storytelling Advocacy. Her current research is on new forms of citizen engagement, and how they impact on contemporary governance and political equality. She has two ARC-funded projects with colleagues at the University of Sydney on the future of work: a Linkage project ‘Designing Gender Equality into the Future of Work’ that contrasts change and technological disruption in the retail and legal industries; and a Discovery project ‘Understanding gender inequality in the post-pandemic future of work’. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences Australia; and current President of the Australian Political Studies Association.

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