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Documents of Ordinariness: Authority and Participation in the BBC Video Nation 1994–2011

Henderson, Jo; (2020) Documents of Ordinariness: Authority and Participation in the BBC Video Nation 1994–2011. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This research examines authority and participation within the BBC, using as its case study Video Nation, a participatory project that invited those constructed as ‘ordinary people’ to represent themselves in self-made video shorts. These ‘documents of ordinariness’ were broadcast in week-night slots between 1994 and 2000. The project was subsequently relaunched for online distribution in 2001 and as a web 2.0 project in 2009 before its closure in 2011. The thesis advances a historiography of the BBC in order to contextualise attitudes towards ‘ordinary people’ within the BBC from its formation through to the work of the Community Programmes Unit (CPU) in the 1970s up until 2011. This historiography is largely based on the BBC Yearbooks and other Corporation publications, and the work of the BBC’s first historian, Asa Briggs. It explores the changing usage and understanding of the phrase ‘ordinary people’ within the BBC, and the contexts within which they were represented. The thesis responds to the following research questions: How has the BBC imposed its cultural authority in relation to the representation of ‘ordinary people’? What were the affordances and constraints of emerging technologies and working practices on their representation? What was the extent of participation offered in the various iterations of the Video Nation project, and how did this impact on the representation of ‘ordinary people’? The case study was accomplished through qualitative methods of data collection and analysis. These included attendance at Video Nation training days and events, indepth personal interviews with project participants and institutional players, and content analysis of a randomised sample of the web output of the project and of the website interface. Primary research was undertaken at the BBC Written Archives at Caversham; substantial secondary materials (institutional documents and publications, newspaper articles and reviews) were consulted alongside the work of BBC broadcasting historians including Georgina Born, Asa Briggs, Tom Burns, David Cardiff and Paddy Scannell, among others, to present this overarching history of an important participatory media project. The overall contention of this thesis is that, counterintuitively, higher levels of institutional control and authority and diminished participation were evident in the web project, while Video Nation’s broadcast phase offered considerably more open forms of participation and access, compared with the web project. This runs counter to some new media theory regarding the democratisation of the media and the thesis offers a critical view of ‘user-generated’ content on the institutional platform of the BBC. The research aims to contribute to the literature on participatory media forms in institutional contexts. It complements existing work on representation of ‘ordinary people’ and the BBC and their participation in it in several ways. Firstly, it presents a durational study of a BBC project, investigating the attitudes towards ‘ordinary people’ and the introduction of specific maximalist modes of participation. Secondly, it presents a narrative of the CPU that identifies some of the concerns within the BBC that this type of participatory content raised, and the fluctuating motivations of channel controllers to its production. Thirdly, the research examines issues created by the introduction of new technology that enabled production in new contexts by new subjects for new formats, channels and delivery platforms.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Documents of Ordinariness: Authority and Participation in the BBC Video Nation 1994–2011
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10089465
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