Bridging Between The Spaces: Cultural Representation Within Digital Collaboration and Production

Stephanie Mahnke (, Michigan State University, United States of America and Shewonda Leger (, Michigan State University, United States of America and Suban Nur Cooley (, Michigan State University, United States of America and Victor Del Hierro (, University of Texas, El Paso and Laura Gonzales (, University of Texas, El Paso

Since the work of digital humanities has illuminated rhetoricians to technology as a form of literacy and means of representing cultural community advocacy in dynamic ways (Enoch & Gold, 2013), cultural rhetoricians have transferred their discipline’s concerns of ethical methodology to community-engaged digital production (Ridolfo, 2013; Smith, 2016). One of the questions we ask is how do we read or create digital projects and platforms that engage with cultural groups and stakeholder communities on their own terms? As a developing subject area in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, the confluence of digital and cultural rhetorics has yet to produce a robust set of research around ethical strategies for community-oriented and participatory digital work with underrepresented groups. Scholars in DH have already begun to lead the way on developing ethical research methods using digital tools for research (Underberg and Zorn, 2013; Gubrium and Harper, 2013; Gubrium, Harper, and Otañez, 2016). Furthermore, as scholars who represent the communities we are engaged in we hope to follow the lead of community engaged projects like the Cree Cultural Institute, The Houston Hip Hop Archive, and the Densho Digital Repository.
This panel samples digital work from Somali, Haitian, Filipinx, and Latinx communities to explore how digital production can be re-conceptualized and utilized to accommodate global epistemologies.  Conference-goers may walk away with knowledge of digital strategies cultural groups use to navigate complicated positionalities, methodological considerations for cultural collaboration, and why such digital representation and responsible researcher reflexivity are crucial for digital cultural heritage work.

Presentation 1

The Collective in the Individual: Digital Collaboration and the Filipinx Community

Presenter 1 will discuss Filipinx-American communities’ production of digital content through the negotiation of collective Filipinx consciousness and western audiences. Consideration of collective consciousness as an intrinsic Filipinx value has shaped how researchers and practitioners collaborate with Filipinx communities (Strobel, 1997; Pe-Pua & Protacio-Marcelino, 2000). The Filipinx Indigenous worldview and ontology draws from the cultural and spiritual connection to one’s fellow beings (

). Other concepts such as
(shared perception) and
(shared identity) reinforce the idea that knowledge is created by communal interaction. With these particular core Filipinx values at center, the process toward digital representation becomes complicated by the difficulty of achieving community validation while also needing visible community advocacy amidst western audiences.  By reflecting on her collaboration with a Filipinx cultural center and Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in the creation of a website and digital map around underrepresented Filipinx history and heritage in the Midwest, the presenter explores the distinct methodological challenges associated with ethical cultural heritage and digital work. In this presentation, she introduces the application of cultural rhetorics methodologies as a means of respecting the views, needs, and culture of the Filipinx community during digital collaboration, and demonstrates the unique considerations that manifest during digital production, as a result. Gathering and adhering to cultural input around design, content, and functionality transforms (and in many ways, slows) feedback loops to accommodate key instances and spaces of cultural negotiation and participation. Based on the collaborative experiences around these two projects, the presentation hopes to then propose strategies for working with underrepresented cultural groups, as well as generate discussion and thought around the cultural sensitivities involved with digital humanities and cultural heritage work.

Presentation 2

Multimodal Counterstories: The Circulation of Cultural Knowledges Through a Haitian Lens

In a world where colonial narratives are dominating digital and media spaces, Haitian women continue to find ways to challenge epistemic oppressions in the ways they compose. Often this means (re)claiming practices towards creating, sharing, and transferring knowledge. Therefore, presenter 2 will discuss how multimodal composition practices make space to produce and share knowledge(s), where Haitian women are able to compose, construct, build, and make meaning in various forms that embrace cultural identity and practices embedded in making and knowledge production.

We can understand multimodality composition as “communication using multiple modes that work purposely to create meaning” (Lutkewitte 2). Looking at Lutkewitte’s definition of what multimodality composition aims to do, we can see multimodal composition as a way of disrupting colonial practices that generate epistemic exclusion, which limits and/or undermines the ways in which marginalized communities create meaning. Considering the importance of multimodal composing, finding ways to address epistemic exclusion, and understanding the lived experiences of Haitian women, presenter 2 will focus on the ways multimodal composing takes place in film production and how these ways of composing connect to her own identities as a Haitian American woman, as well as, the identities of other Haitian women.

In dominant practices of film representations, colonial powers more often have the upper hand, because of their control of media and digital spaces, funding, and resources for composing film. But, if Haitian women produce films and take part in films around their lived experiences, they can take some of that agency. By taking that agency Haitian women will interrogate the colonial gaze through films that talk back and reclaim colonial representations of Haitian lived experiences.

Further, presenter 2 will discuss how positions from which Haitian women speak or write in film production or any form of visual or digital representation is important, because of how these films will be circulated and interpreted through media spaces and the connection that occurs between film and viewer during circulation and sharing. When Haitian women produce and/or are part of the production process of filmmaking, they agitate stereotypes of former visual and digital depictions around Haitian women’s lived experiences. Presenter 2 will further discuss how Womanist and Black feminist filmmaking practices are primary elements used by Haitian women filmmakers, because the practices involved in Womanist and Black feminist filmmaking practices contribute to the production of films centered around Haitian women’s lived experiences. Film production then becomes an act of activism because the narratives that Haitian women want to tell are the ones that circulate—and this is important towards
digital work that can be reconceptualized and utilized to accommodate global epistemologies.  

Presentation 3

Reclaiming Stories: Somali Women Using Social Media to Build Gendered Counternarratives

In the West, complexities of identity emerge for Somali womyn who are struggling to maintain a semblance of Somali nationalism, cultural continuity, and self-identity, while also navigating trauma histories and the newness of assimilation in geographic communities outside of Somalia – and the impact all of this has on identity formation. These emergences then develop counternarratives/counterstories and constructions within the Somali refugee and migrant community, as they slowly become diaspora beings with diaspora identities.

As Langellier explains, for those in the diasporic Somali community, identity formation is an embodied and situated dialogue that is enveloped by discourses about refugees, Somalis, and Muslims. Thus, “identity as an unfolding performative accomplishment challenges static and essentialized notions of differences and thus joins postmodern trends that emphasize hybridized, transnational, in-between, and other ‘third space’ conceptualizations.» (p. 67, Langellier, 2010).

Presenter 3 will discuss how these ‘third space’ conceptualizations of identity differ between what womyn in the Somali diaspora do within their heritage communities, versus their public engagement in online social media spaces.

To define the term diaspora, I use Furusa, Little, and Vasquez’s concept of Diaspora – a dynamic process; one that aims to explain the actions of people of «African, Asian, and Latin American descent who have been forcibly or voluntarily dispersed throughout the world» (1). The authors also accept the term’s complexities – its cultural dynamism involving «substantive intercultural exchanges between peoples from different ethnic groups. It frequently requires the reconstitution or reconstruction of a culture and society by people’s uprooted from homes that borrow and adopt new cultural elements as the plaster to patch up the fissures in their cultural foundation» (3).

Presenter 3 will discuss how these fissures in cultural foundations form an opening and opportunity for diasporic individuals to interpret and understand the world and its complexities through their lived experiences; one that does not reside solely in a particular culture, place, or space – but blends them in ways that enable for the existence of a diasporic orientation – and how Somali womyn display these blends on social platforms and in their communities.

Presenter 3 will examine how womyn from the North American Somali diaspora, with a high-profile digital presence, navigate and negotiate these fissures and fusions of identity to express and proclaim who they are, both against their ‘home’ communities and norms of the West in public digital spaces.

Presenters 4 and 5

Designing a Translation and User-Experience Research Center for Technology Innovation on the Mexico/US Borderland

This paper will consist of a case study that outlines the design and development of a research center focused on multilingual technology innovation. As two faculty members teaching in El Paso, Texas on the Mexico/US border, we will present our framework for establishing a collaborative research center that facilitates the design of multilingual tools and technologies (e.g., websites, software, applications) for a wide range of organizations. These organizations include local hospitals and government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and schools, all of which are located in the El Paso, Texas and Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua borderland. By collaborating with local organizations and by training students to design, test, and disseminate technologies in multiple languages (including but not limited to Spanish and English), this research center is a site of multilingual technology innovation that lead to smart learning, both in and outside of the classroom.

We designed Sites of Translation User-Experience Research Center ( as a nonprofit, interdisciplinary, community and University-driven resource that supports student development and local community organizations. Developed as a partnership among community organizations, academic researchers, and technology industry professionals,
Sites of Translation User- Experience Research Center
is envisioned as the place where social-justice oriented organizations come to request help in creating and disseminating their bi– or multilingual content (e.g., websites, web applications, informational tools) aiming to meet the needs and highlight the assets of linguistically diverse users. Local businesses and organizations come to this research center to request help in creating and disseminating their bi– or multilingual content. As faculty members, we pair local organizations with students and researchers who then help to design and test and translate tools and technologies. This collaboration results in the development of tools and technologies that are useful in multiple languages. In this presentation, we outline how the development of this research center has helped us build partnerships between University campuses and local organizations to provide valuable professional experiences for students interested in user-experience and technology design. We will then share implications and strategies for other faculty seeking to build similar initiatives to foster multilingual technology design at their institutions and in their communities.

Appendix A

  1. Enoch J. & Gold, D. (2013). Introduction: Seizing the Methodological Moment: The Digital Humanities and Historiography in Rhetoric and Composition, 
    College English, 76(2): 105-114.
  2. Gubrium, A., & Harper, K. (2013).
    Participatory visual and digital methods. Left Coast Press
  3. Gubrium, A., Harper, K., & Otañez, M. (Eds.). (2016).
    Participatory visual and digital research in action. Routledge.
  4. Langellier, Kristin. (
    2010). Performing Somali Identity in the Diaspora. 
    Cultural Studies
    , 24(1): 66-94.
  5. Little, William A., et al. (2006). The Borders in all of Us: New Approaches to Global Diasporic Societies. Northridge, CA: New World African Press.
  6. Lutkewitte, Claire, (Ed.). (2013). Introduction.
    Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Bedford/St. Martin’s.
  7. Pe-Pua, R. and Protacio-Marcelino, E. A. (2000). Sikolohiyang pilipino (filipino psychology): A legacy of Virgilio G. Enriquez.
     Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 3(1): 49-71.
  8. Ridolfo, J. (2013). Delivering Textual Diaspora: Building Digital Cultural Repositories as Rhetoric Research. 
    College English, 76(2): 136.
  9. Smith, K.G. (2016). Negotiating community literacy practice: Public memory work and the Boston Marathon Bombing Digital Archive.
    Computers and Composition, 40: 115-130.
  10. Strobel, L.M. (1997). Coming full circle: Narratives of decolonization among post-1965 Filipino Americans. In M.P.P. Root (Ed.)
    Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Sage Publications, pp. 62-79.
  11. Underberg, N. M., & Zorn, E. (2013). Digital ethnography: Anthropology, narrative, and new media. University of Texas Press.

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