Centre for Creative Media Research > Video Critical

Video project analyses and outcomes

In the analysis sections, the video projects are explored through three types of analysis. Firstly (below), various aspects of the project experience are discussed in a collection of notes covering the positioning of children in relation to the environment in texts produced by others (adults) and themselves, the 'reading' of broadcast television texts, the 'writing' of video texts, and issues of race and gender. Secondly, a theme analysis of the videos is used to identify elements and conflicts common to all or most of the productions. Finally, a narrative analysis examines the videos in terms of the arguments or stories about the environment which the children constructed, as well as considering the environmental themes and perspectives which the children did not include.

Analysis A: Notes on the project experience

Children's relationship to the environment

Reviewing recent sociological studies of the previously rather underresearched and undertheorised area of childhood, Brannen & O'Brien (1995) discuss some emergent themes relating to the condition and status of children today. They note how several studies suggest that children are simultaneously exposed to conflicting social processes. A growing institutionalisation of childhood means that children are compartmentalised into a different sphere both physically - in day care, school, and after-school care - as well as symbolically, with specific clothing, merchandise and media aimed at them. At the same time, as education takes up an increasing number of years for many young people, and parental expenditure on children grows for that and other reasons, the process of familialisation can increase children's dependency. Thirdly, however, children face a process of individualisation, which emphasises the rights, responsibilities and autonomy of the individual child. This process may appear somewhat at odds with those which locate children within institutions, mainstream-promoted subcultures, and families, but at the same time it is - in part at least - a product of them. Children are in a sense, then, increasingly identified as part of a specific and different group, whilst simultaneously being expected to perform as self-directed adults.

Children's role in relation to the environment is particularly strained between these conflicting themes, with environmental campaigns aimed at children promoting a range of standards which adults themselves, as a group, have failed to maintain. Children are expected to act in a sensible - what we would otherwise call 'adult' or 'grown-up' - manner towards the environment, whilst being told that it is the adults and grown-ups who have brought about very serious ecological problems. Children are therefore being called upon, by adults, to grow up to be unlike the example set by present incumbents of that role. Similarly, the power of the individual is celebrated through the promotion of 'green' consumer choices, letter-writing and participation in appeals (- 'You can make a difference!' -), but environmental damage is inevitably revealed to be a product of the overwhelming power of industries and institutions. The individual's duty and supposed capacity to bring about change is venerated, but news programmes - although they do not dwell on the point - inevitably draw attention to the seemingly invulnerable dominance of powerful corporations and authorities, and their ability to ignore or subdue ecological concerns. The individual child is thus required to save a society which has not, apparently, previously bothered to look after itself: a rather confusing scenario, one might expect, to have to explain to anyone.

The children in the video project did indeed seem to have some difficulty with why the environmental situation had managed to get as bad as they were often being told (and believed) it was. The construction of children as a somewhat different cultural group, however, seemed to have greatest potency here as the only way that children were able to see a way through what would otherwise be a conceptual roadblock: with adults and children being conceived as separate, different groups, children are able to see adults as the failed and foolish group who they, in time, will supersede. If children were seen as simply humans on a continuum which would bring them into adulthood, of course, there would be less scope for the optimism which can be produced where children are allowed to feel that adults are in some way a different, and less environmentally competent, species.

In each of the videos produced in this study there appears some element of criticism of adult behaviour, and the suggestion that the children would and can do better. At Royal Park the Council's failure to maintain a field as a park which would benefit the local area was criticised, whilst at Blenheim the children asserted themselves even more by 'taking on' the Council by writing letters. They also saw the video as a useful resource to show to adults as part of their campaign to get some nearby waste ground put to better and more attractive use. All of the groups included appeals, poems or comments which implicitly positioned children as the ecosphere's guardians who must appeal to adults to improve their environmentally-related behaviour. The Council, authorities more broadly, and people in general, were criticised and advised in each of the videos in a way which reflected and reinforced the construction of young people as defenders of the planet - one which is at least more convincing when coming from children themselves, rather than broadcast television personalities.

Reading the television texts

In a relatively diluted sense, the children could be seen to be producing 'dominant', 'negotiated' and 'oppositional' readings of the environmental TV programmes of which they spoke. These categories of reading are, of course, those suggested by Stuart Hall (1973) and utilised by David Morley (1980) in their groundbreaking work which challenged the basic implication of 'Screen theory' that receivers of the mass media were really only able to be subjected to the singular ideological message contained therein. (See Moores, 1993, for a lucid discussion of this debate). Naturally, several of the children I worked with, particularly in the younger groups, relayed information which they had seen on television, and seemed to accept the material as both true and important. Others seemed to allow themselves some behavioural leeway in terms of their own impact on the environment, however, putting their reading more into the sphere of 'negotiated' interpretation, accepting parts of the message, but not all. Some of the children took more oppositional approaches to programmes such as Blue Peter, which they clearly felt to be patronising, telling them what to do in a way which was seen as little different from being at school itself. In this context, television entertainment was not only that which was watched outside of the school environment, but was clearly expected to present alternative perspectives - or at the very least, to do things in a different style. For a number of these children, if the environmental messages were to be encountered at all, they might be believed, but would also be resented.

More likely still is that these latter encounters would fall into the 'fourth' category, only peripherally acknowledged at first by Morley (see Moores, 1993, p. 21, p. 29), of those who did not connect with a programme at all, and so barely began to form any interpretation. The parallel in Morley's study of readings of the 1970s news magazine programme 'Nationwide' would be the group of Black further-education students who identified so little with the programme's implicit values that their approach was not to construct an oppositional (or any other) reading, but rather to simply switch off. In the present study, this attitude was taken by a few of the older and more anti-school boys, who associated issues such as 'the environment' too closely with education and its institutions for them to have any wish to engage with such material in their home leisure time.

Writing the video texts

The writing of paper-and-pen texts in schools has been observed to occupy the dual role of learning the techniques of writing, and also of self-discovery - learning about oneself and the world through textual production (Gilbert, 1989). The child writers are encouraged to learn to communicate clearly, and also to develop a 'personal style' - requirements which can conflict, as pupils are aware that work is admired for spontaneity and the unexpected, but also that it must meet certain requirements (ibid, p. 166-167), with children at all levels of schooling in Britain now expected to meet specific prescribed standards. The production of the environmental videos was a process which, perhaps surprisingly, was not centrally focused on technique and the technicalities of production, and would be better characterised as one of discovery - albeit about the world, rather than the self. In this, it would seem to differ from school written work, which Pam Gilbert's survey of research suggests - in secondary schools at least - is far from being the personal, liberating experience celebrated by English educationalists:

'Studies which interview students overwhelmingly indicate that students consider school writing tasks uninteresting and teacher-directed... Students connect school writing with spelling, grammar, neatness, set length essays, and "being correct" - not with the general liberating concept of writing as self-expression espoused in popular practitioner guides' (pp. 167-168).

In contrast, video production was entered into with enthusiasm, and the results regarded with considerable satisfaction. Whilst some media education specialists have suggested that making videos in class could ultimately be depressing for children, when their work is unable to match up to the high production standards of broadcast television (Craggs, 1992), this was not the case in the present study, nor in other projects which have found video work to be valuable and rewarding for children (see chapter five of the book). The children were not apparently inhibited by any expectations about a required standard, and signally did not enquire how their technique could imitate that of professionals.

At the same time, the process of video production involves the kind of textual production proposed by those educationalists who are opposed to the traditional, mythological approach to writing in schools. By the near-necessity of shooting material out of sequence and in bits, with the awareness that the material can be re-edited and restructured later, children's attention is automatically drawn to the constructedness of the text. This mirrors the approach to writing favoured by Gilbert:

'A classroom concerned with textuality and intertextuality focuses on the way in which texts are constructed and readings are produced. In such a classroom the making of a text becomes important... The work of text construction becomes the classroom focus and the myths of authorship and creative inspiration are more critically considered' (1989, p. 170).

However, although video production inevitably emphasises its selected, interpretive origins, the content of the children's environmental videos was similar to most television counterparts in its framing as a 'window on the world'. In Roland Barthes' (1974) distinction between 'writerly' and 'readerly' texts, these are 'readerly' texts, which naturalise the process of their construction, 'making them seem inevitable and therefore truthful' (Moss, 1989, p. 82). Most non-fictional television works in this way, relying on the audience's assumption that a camera crew 'just happened' to be passing to record any event. The organisation, co-ordination and cajoling required to bring about some action or utterance before the camera lens is generally invisible to the viewer, particularly in 'serious' television, where the audience is rarely given information about the circumstances in which an interviewee was found to give an account of a particular subject, or an official is led to say something 'surprising', or how cameras happened to be present to record a supposedly rare event.

Television texts accordingly tend to only be 'writerly' - making explicit the nature and circumstances of their recording - in lighthearted circumstances or for comic effect. (Of course, the audience are not necessarily taken in by the ingratiating 'readerly' text, for as John Corner & Kay Richardson (1986) have noted, viewers can make a 'transparent' reading, which accepts the 'window on the world' model, or can make a 'mediation' reading, which carries an awareness that the text is constructed by programme-makers with particular intentions). In general, the children's videos mirrored this; whilst there were some humorous 'writerly' moments - notably the jumping into frame and cheerful address to 'cameragirl' in the Beckett Park video - most of the style was naturalistic, and presented as the bringing of information to the audience. Indeed, those speaking to camera frequently adopted an earnest and didactic (or sometimes hectoring) tone, a mode of address which they did not have the opportunity to use elsewhere. Most of the time, the children were direct and emphatically 'readerly' in their delivery, with a style resembling an emotive, first-person version of television news - the epitome of smooth, invisibly constructed presentation.

The difference in styles for video making compared to school writing meant that the children had the opportunity to relate messages in a different way, with the challenge of constructing a 'story' on the screen as well as in words. This was an alternative experience for all, and carried obvious advantages for those of lower written ability; it can also circumvent some of the problems encountered by non-white children in English schools, as discussed in the following section.

'Race' issues

Watching their video, for most of the groups in this study, meant seeing more Black and Asian faces on a television screen than they otherwise would, most of the time. Almost all the children seemed to enjoy seeing themselves on screen, of course, but (as we shall see below) for some of the non-white children this seemed to be a particularly fine opportunity for personal expression.

The 'direct' communication of video gives the opportunity to redress problems of representation not only in the general sense, as compared to the typical content of the British mass media, but more particularly those imbalances which may be created directly for the children concerned in other areas of school work. For example, in Gemma Moss's (1989) study of stories written by children for secondary school English lessons (in particular the romantic fiction produced by girls), one of the case studies involves a Black girl who would like to write in patois, but is reprimanded for doing so by most of the teachers. She feels that she is not being allowed to express herself in her preferred and natural way, nor realistically portray the speech of her community; her culture is being denied. As the girl explains:

'"I just know that if I start writing patois on a piece of paper, one of the teachers will come up to me and say 'What does this mean, what does that mean?' [. . .] I suppose it's normal 'cos they don't understand it, but I can't write patois in English because it's not patois."' (p. 72).

Since patois was seen by the teachers as incorrect use of English, and it could not be made to conform to the required style without losing its flavour - the very reason for its inclusion, as Moss notes (p. 73) - explicitly Black characters were thereafter not included in this girl's work.

Video work therefore offers non-white children an opportunity to create a text involving themselves and their culture which is more likely to side-step teachers' concerns about linguistic 'correctness', and which can record forms of expression directly, without there being a need to have them written as words on a page. Thus children who have limited abilities in written English become able to demonstrate their creativity and intelligence, as can those whose forms of communication differ from the schools norm of 'standard' written English.

A good example is the video footage of Mariam talking (see Making the Little London video). In answer to one short question, the seven-year old talks for over one and a half minutes, with many arm gestures and emphases. To the inattentive or impatient observer she could appear to be a girl just 'chuntering on' in a rather vague way; but when one transcribes what she is saying and examines the paragraph which she has spontaneously produced, one finds it contains several ideas about the environment as something which is all around us, and about what one can do with a video camera to document it. The quality of these thoughts would not be something Mariam could have expressed in writing.

In a parallel example, Izoduwa at Beckett Park school (see Making the Beckett Park video) was able to demonstrate her quick-thinking ability to analyse the claims of others and question any perceived inconsistencies. Whilst occasionally being deliberately argumentative, Izoduwa was able to use the on-the-spot immediacy of video to her own advantage, since she clearly had the ability to pursue an argument at a swift and indeed exhilarating rate which sometimes left the others behind. This meant that she was able to produce work which perhaps exceeded the quality of her written productions, which of course require patience - in addition to the other writing skills - more than the ability to think swiftly.

The children were also able to contribute their own concerns to the video. Examples of this include Deneika bringing her interest in Africa and statement on racism into the Little London video, and Izoduwa gaining the opportunity to talk about her interest in the history of slavery, during the Beckett Park production. The opportunity to deliver into a recorded medium some thoughts on subjects close to their hearts, seemed to be attractive and valuable to these children.

On a broader scale, and most probably to a limited extent which should not be exaggerated, the video-making process may have contributed to the sense of community-feeling which children had for their area, a function which some previous video activities in schools had been found to have (Gauntlett, 1995b). The videos in the present study, however, celebrated the community in a more tacit sense, and those elements which directly referred to it - such as Imran at Brudenell agreeing that he likes his community 'very much', and noting that 'lots of different people' live in the area - were infrequent, and only suggest value in the local mix of cultures by implication. Nevertheless, the generally positive view of each area supplied by the videos may have led, in some small sense, to a greater appreciation of the variety of people and faces who make up that community.


The division of labour between female and male pupils during the making of the videos was generally amicable and, when all groups are considered together, must be described as reasonably even-handed, since patterns which appeared at one school were reversed at another. In the middle-class and older group at Weetwood, for example, girls had most confidence in front of the camera, whilst the boys preferred to film, a pattern which also appeared with the youngest, working-class group at Little London. At Royal Park, the girls were most shy of both roles, whilst at Beckett Park it was the boys who were generally most reluctant to appear on camera. As a rule, however, the girls lacked no confidence in either role, whilst boys, if anything, had to be persuaded to appear on camera. This pattern was most pronounced at Weetwood, where the boys sought to assume 'professional' off-camera roles such as 'cameraman'.

Interest in or concern for the environment was not perceived by the children as gender-specific - with the singular exception of Chris at Beckett Park who was expressly indifferent to the subject due to his macho self-image. Otherwise, 'green' concerns were distributed more evenly than gender stereotypes might lead us to expect, and were not subject to criticism or attack. For example, when Yasir at Royal Park declared that he wanted to show flowers in the video, because 'I like them', he encountered no voices of dissent or derision; and both the boys and girls at Burley - despite being rather competitive and image-conscious in other interpersonal matters - were able to agree that flowers in parks are good. In addition, it should be noted that there was little evidence that interest in the subject was subdivided into stereotypically gendered concerns, such as if boys were more exercised by the scientific explanation of ecological problems whilst girls were affected by images of nature. Rather, interests in either, or more commonly both of these spheres, where found at all, were balanced between the sexes.

The text and images on this site are by David Gauntlett, © 1997, 2004.
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