My PhD on interactive documentary is freely available online and you can download it from here.

If you are used to academic jargon, here is its abstract (if not see below for a “translation” in “plain English”!):

This thesis concentrates on the emerging field of interactive documentaries. Digital interactive and networked media offer so many new possibilities to document reality that it is necessary to define what an interactive documentary is and whether there is any continuity with the linear documentary form. This research therefore proposes a definition of interactive documentaries and a taxonomy of the genre based on the idea of modes of interaction – where types of interactions are seen as the fundamental differentiator between interactive documentaries.

Interactivity gives an agency to the user – the power to physically “do something”, whether that be clicking on a link, sending a video or re-mixing content – and therefore creates a series of relations that form an ecosystem in which all parts are interdependent and dynamically linked. It is argued that this human-computer system has many of the characteristics associated with living entities. It is also argued that by looking at interactive documentaries as living entities (Living Documentaries) we can see the relations that they forge and better understand the transformations they afford – on themselves and on the reality they portray. How does an interactive documentary change while it is being explored/used/co-created? To what extent do such dynamic relationships also change the user, the author, the code and all the elements that are linked through the interactive documentary? Those questions are discussed through the use of case studies chosen to illustrate the main interactive modes currently used in interactive documentaries.

This thesis is a first step in exploring the multiple ways in which we participate, shape and are shaped by interactive documentaries. It argues that interactive documentaries are ways to construct and experience the real rather than to represent it.

If you are NOT used to academic jargon, here is something that should sound more digestible:

My thesis is devised in different parts:

1. the first part offers a background of i-doc’s styles to date and proposes to classify them by “modes of interaction” – which means by looking at how the user (that I call interactant) is positioned: what can s/he do? what is his/er field of possible actions? what is his/role and relationship with the interface?

2. At the end of such overview of the field, I propose a taxonomy where I devised i-docs in four modes: the hypertext, the conversational, the experiential and the participatory one.

3. I then argue that i-docs are living and relational objects rather than a closed representational object. They have  a life and they keep changing through every single interaction with have with/through them. By looking at the i-docs as a LIVING entity I can abandon the representational logic of “what does it means” and look at it as something in constant transformation (and generative of change) and think about “what does it do to itself, to its environment and to all the parts that are connected to it internally and externally”?.

4. I then take one main case study for each mode of i-doc and I analyse it in depth – using a methodology that puts the emphasis on “how does this thing live and behave” and looking at “how does its life engender change in all the parts that are in relation with it” (us, the computer, the Web, society etc…).

To sustain such line of thought I do the following hypothesis:

1. media changes us, they are pervasive: we cannot see ourselves as in control of an i-doc, we are “in relation with it”, so we change at the same time that it does change.

2. interactivity can be seen as tranformational and multirelational (it is not a two ways feed-back mechanism)

3. film studies are not appropriate for i-docs (they do not take inconsideration the interface, cannot grasp what interactivity makes possible and have no tools to speak about multiple media converging in one form)

4. autopoiesis and assemblage theory can be applied to media studies

5. constructivist approaches to perception are helpful in the analysis of i-docs because they show us how we contrsuct reality as we act in it

6. post-human paradigm: subjectivity as formed by intimate relation between human (nature) and technologies (Dovey & Kennedy)

Some of the findings:

1. if we look at i-docs as living (relational by nature) we put the emphasis on what they DO (not only on what they means) – this is especially important  to understand the role of collab-docs: even if they have little authorial voice, and little explenation of context, they still act on their environment.

2. authorship is more than narration. In linear docs the author is the narrator. In i-docs there might not be a single narration (18 days, mapping main street) but there still is authorship – intended as creating a space that affords certain behaviours and certain roles (positioning of the user/participator)

3. when we look at i-docs we should focus on how we become together . The i-doc as a co-creator of reality (different from concentrating on the user experience that forgets the social and political transformation of the i-doc)

4. I assess some of the changes created by the idoc-man relation by distinguishing types of interaction – for each case study I demonstrate how space, self, identity,role etc… is more or less used as a space for change (depending on the type of interaction used). Types of agency and interfaces are not neutral: they create spaces of tranformation of different types (so it is important for practitioners to know the differences!). Interface and interactivity create opportunities for change.

5. making i-docs is a way of doing politics. They have a rippling effect in the ecology of media and society.

6. activism is situated: impact is not only assessable through clear numbers and action calls as change happens at different levels (some totally intangible) at each moment of the encounter between the individual and the i-doc.

To know more about it… I am afraid you will have to read it!

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  1. Short Introduction | The Korsakow System - November 23, 2015

    […] this confusion is mirrored in the rapidly evolving field of so-called interactive documentaries (or “i-docs” as Sandra Gaudenzi has coined the phenomenon in her PhD), an umbrella term to encompass a highly diverse palette of forms and contents, different levels of […]

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