Polyphonic documentary is a collaborative research project convened by Judith Aston and Stefano Odorico. It’s aim is to explore the potential of interactive documentary for promoting interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange in a context of climate emergency and increasing polarization. Through this project, we are re-visiting the work of Bakhtin and looking at the relevance of what he has to say about the polyphonic novel in relation to the evolving practices and forms of i-docs.

Whilst polyphony can be found across a number of documentary forms, we are mainly interested here in focusing on earlier debates within i-docs around narrative/non-narrative/anti-narrative and its relationship to the database form. Consideration of the aesthetic of the multiple is key to this – i.e. what happens when the human computer interface enables us to create spatial, multi/non-linear and more open-ended organisational strategies, as opposed to the more sequential, linear and fixed approaches found in the age of cinema and print.

To avoid technological determinism, we are keen to look at power dynamics and at the situated nature of all forms of knowledge construction, by looking at the pitfalls as well as the benefits of i-docs as a means of promoting polyphonic thinking. We feel that now is a good time to be returning to these debates, as the computer-based aesthetic of the multiple is being made ubiquitous by interfaces such as that of Zoom, high profile interactive narrative projects that have started to emerge on channels such as Netflix, and many of us are engaged with using interactive tools for on-line learning.

We also feel, in line with our co-creation colleagues linked to the Park Center for Independent Media in New York, that now is a good moment for a re-set, for a questioning of received ways of doing things, in order to develop new approaches and strategies which can help us to embrace complexity, navigate uncertainty and celebrate diversity.

We invite you to join us in this journey of discovery!

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