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About to publish an unusual interdisciplinary research project, ‘Eat Pray Mourn’…, which seeks to convey scholarly anthropological research as affective audio documentary.
A two-year collaboration between Dr Jacqui Baker, a Research Fellow at University of Wollongong’s Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention, and myself, the project received considerable attention from the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC), given the sensitive nature of its themes: extrajudicial police killings, lynching, and women mourning the violent death of loved ones.
One of our aims was to give voice to those normally marginalised – the self-styled ‘coolies’ – and use the intimacy and accessibility of radio documentary to stimulate Australian and Indonesian audiences to ask what kinds of violence we tolerate in a democracy, and against which groups. We successfully argued to HREC that in order to achieve that, we had to be permitted to turn research data into compelling narrative, which necessitated the building of ‘character’ and place, and the presentation of rounded individuals, who should, if they so chose, be allowed to keep their names, having opted from an informed perspective for a level of risk. It may be the first time an ethics committee was exposed to alliteration, as I described the cultural and phonic reasons why I needed to keep an anecdote where all names began with Y.
The resulting documentary, ‘Eat Pray Mourn: Crime and Punishment in Jakarta’ airs on national Australian radio Sunday 7 April 2013, on ABC Radio National’s flagship 360 Documentaries program. A Bahasa-language version is expected to air in Indonesia later this year. Program information and podcast available here:
Jacqui and I are preparing journal articles about the considerable learning the project provided: around ways of listening and hearing, about public and private memory, about cross-cultural storytelling, and about the role media can play in disseminating knowledge and effecting change. We believe the radio documentary form is a particularly effective paradigm for conveying scholarly research and honouring our duty as academics to pass on knowledge to the community. After all, you don’t even have to be literate to ‘get’ radio.