Supporting digital literacies in Brazil through videogame design

From digital inclusion to digital literacies

Associate Professor Ed King tells us about his latest project to develop a science-fiction videogame to raise awareness of the dangers of social media disinformation in Brazil. To do this, he’s been working with local Brazilian organisations. It is an example of how arts research can address societal challenges. The project has recently received an AHRC Impact Acceleration Account award.

With help from the AHRC Impact Acceleration Account, I am currently collaborating with artists and non-profit organisations in Brazil to develop a videogame which will improve digital literacies. Our videogame will raise awareness about the dangers of disinformation by providing them with an accessible, engaging, free and enjoyable educational resource which will encourage young people to think critically about these issues through the medium of digital play.

In the early 2000s, during the first administration of the left-wing Worker’s Party President Lula da Silva, the Brazilian government invested heavily in ‘digital inclusion’ initiatives as a way of reducing social inequalities in the country. The ‘Pontos de Cultura’ project, for example, which funded media centres based in community spaces across the country, including in favelas and socially deprived neighbourhoods, became a model for approaches to free software among policy makers in Europe and North America.

‘Future calls’ by Rafael Coutinho, Cachalote Produções

However, now that there are extremely high levels of smartphone ownership and social media usage in Brazil, it has become clear that access to digital networks is not a guarantee of social inclusion but can entail exposure to manipulation and data surveillance. As a result, the focus among governmental and non-profit organisations working in this area has shifted from increasing digital inclusion to supporting digital literacies across the social spectrum.

Why is this research important?

Through my research, it has become evident that a digital literacy skill in need of particularly urgent support is the identification of disinformation online. This emerged as an important issue during the last presidential elections in Brazil in 2018 and was cited by many reports as a key factor in the rise to power of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro (who is seeking re-election in October 2022). It was also an important factor in the consolidation of cultures of denial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, government and non-governmental organisations (such as Global Network Initiative and Direitos na Rede) have been attempting to tackle the issue at the levels of policy and law, including through the regulation of content.

Over the last few years, I have been working with a network of organisations that have been working with communities across Brazil to develop digital literacies as a way of expanding social inclusion.

  • In 2020-21, with support from an ESRC-IAA grant, I collaborated with the Ubatuba-based Instituto Neos to produce the ID21 report, which provides a survey of the major challenges facing these organisations.
  • With funding from a Bristol Digital Futures Seed Corn grant and the Participatory Research Fund, we used this report as the basis for developing an online repository of educational resources to be used in constructing new community digital inclusion initiatives and policies.
‘Future calls’ by Rafael Coutinho, Cachalote Produções

What does the research project involve?

Our project aims to support those organisations looking to tackle disinformation at the level of its reception, particularly among marginalised communities. ‘Futuro Chama’ is a videogame that uses a science fiction plot to encourage young people to think critically about the spread of disinformation through social media. It was developed in collaboration with a group of digital artists led by Rafael Coutinho and members of non-profit organisations based across Brazil that contributed to the ID21 report. These include: Instituto Neos (Ubatuba); Instituto Procomum (Santos); Coletivo Digital (São Paulo); Casa de Cultura Tainã (Campinas); and Associação Thydewá (Olivença).

We developed a prototype of the game with ESRC-IAA funding and have recently received AHRC-IAA ‘Proof of Concept’ funding to complete the game’s development and carry out beta testing. We will also start looking for potential users of the game beyond Brazil. This will involve translating the game into English and approaching organisations that support creative technological approaches to the challenges of democratisation.

Who will the game’s initial users be?

The first users will be the same organisations that contributed to the ID21 report and collaborated in the development of the game. They will use ‘Futuro Chama’ during the digital literacy workshops they run to support the development of digital literacies among marginalised communities. However, we will also distribute the game more widely through the same social media networks that the game critically engages. The aim here will be to raise public awareness of the dangers of misinformation, particularly in a context of social upheaval such as the current political crisis in Brazil.

Modernisms: Decolonising art’s history

The Autumn Art Lectures are back in person!

This year marks the 117th anniversary of the Autumn Art Lecture Series. Conceived as a platform for Art and Art History in what was then University College Bristol, the series has remained a highlight in Bristol’s cultural calendar. Over the course of its lifetime, the series has explored themes ranging from the monstruous to the celestial, and hosted such luminaries as Kenneth Clarke, EH Gombrich, Toshio Watanabe, Laura Mulvey and David Olusoga. More recently, a commitment to making space for artists to discuss their own practice has added Paul Gough, Richard Long and 2022 Turner Prize shortlisted-artist Ingrid Pollard to the series’ list of prestigious alumni.

Last year we celebrated the return of the series after a pandemic-related hiatus – the second of only two interruptions in the series’ history, following a short break after the outbreak of the Second World War – with an online event. This year, we are delighted to welcome visitors back on campus to consider the possibilities and implications opened up by recasting ‘Modernisms’. What happens when we challenge the concept of Modernism as a monolithic entity? Is there just one Modern or many? What does it mean to think of Modernism on the global stage? Is there such a thing as an ‘alternative’ Modernism or is Modernism itself already inherently hybrid?

Our theme this year coincides with Bristol’s Festival of Ideas 2022, titled Modernism 1922, which looks to the legacies of that remarkable year – from the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and T S Elliot’s The Waste Land to the famous Bauhaus exhibition in Calcutta (now Kolkata). A tribute to Kevin Jackson’s book, Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism and All That Jazz, the Festival explores 1922 via film screenings, discussions and new commissions.

In keeping with its spirit – but broadening its ambit – the Autumn Art Lectures will topple the notion of a Euro-American Modernism, which leaves the non-Western world out in the cold. The series will challenge the concept of Modernism as a monolithic entity – it will stress and stretch its polyvalent nature, debating its relationship to nation, diaspora, inclusivity, and race. As many institutions – from galleries and museums to universities – attempt to engage meaningfully with global visual culture, this investigation is vital and timely. Our inter-disciplinary speakers include academics, curators, artists and pedagogues who have grappled with the idea of the Modern, paying particular attention to Blackness, Asian-ness and decolonisation; to anti-colonial struggles and lasting institutional prejudices; to dismantling the hierarchies of Englishness in favour of a more inclusive ‘Britishness’; to revealing the Islamic and Afro-Asian traditions nestled at the core of the so-called ‘Western’ canon. With speakers from (or addressing) the African diaspora, the Islamic world, South Asia, Latin America, the UK and the US, the series aims to expose the polyphonies and diversities that sit at the heart of Modernism.

This event series is open to all, and we look forward to welcoming you to the University of Bristol for these engaging talks.

Events in the series:

The Centre for Black Humanities: Who we are and future directions

The Centre for Black Humanities is an international hub for Black Humanities research in the heart of Bristol. The Centre aims to foster the broad range of research currently being done at the University of Bristol around the artistic and intellectual work of people of African descent. Some of our current interdisciplinary projects include Dr Josie Gill’s research on ‘Black Health and the Humanities’, Dr Elizabeth Robles’ work on Black British Art, and Dr Justin William’s project on UK Hip-Hop. Other research projects include those relating to ethics and social justice, literary activism, and slavery and its legacies.

The Centre is committed to reaching audiences outside the traditional university through a diverse programme of film screenings, reading groups, performances, and research collaborations with local communities. Such activities enable our research to generate impact in other areas including the cultural industries and higher education policy.

Our main priorities as a Centre are: collaboration, interdisciplinarity, engagement, exchange, and internationalism. The Centre works with academics, artists and practitioners – nationally and internationally –  to produce world-leading research in Black Humanities. We work across disciplines in the Arts and Humanities but also beyond, with researchers in the Sciences and Social Sciences. Centre members also facilitate a wide range of public engagement activities based on our research in local, national and international settings, working with museums, charities and other organisations to deliver high-quality, non-academic outputs.

Additionally, we have active research partnerships with local writers, artists and grassroots organisations in Bristol. These help create high-profile opportunities for mutual exchange and collaboration on issues of local and national importance. We also have academic and creative partners in Uganda, Ghana, Senegal, Angola, Portugal, Brazil, and the US, amongst others. A list of our international board members can be found on our website.

The Centre has had a series of visiting scholars join us. In 2021, we were delighted to host Professor Nicola Aljoe. Professor Aljoe’s research is on Black Atlantic and Caribbean literature with a specialisation on the slave narrative and early novels. She described her time in Bristol:

‘Despite the ongoing COVID pandemic, my sojourn at the Centre for Black Humanities in Bristol during the fall term of 2021 was an incredibly productive and intellectually engaging experience. I conducted research in the Bristol archives on two related projects. The first was the creation of a digital map of the various locations associated with Black people in 18th – century London through the lens of Ignatius Sancho. The second project was my book manuscript on representations of women of colour from the Caribbean in fictional European texts between 1790 and 1830. Such data productively challenges notions of absence of Black people in the archives of Britain at this time, and provides more details about the complexities of their lives.’

The Centre offers exciting opportunities for our early career and postgraduate community, through cutting-edge research and dialogue with arts and community activists. This year, Adriel Miles, Alice Kinghorn and Francis Asante are coordinating a programme of events. Francis explained:

‘The Centre plans to organise a number of postgraduate research (PGR) seminars and reading groups. Two seminars are planned for the first teaching block on topics related to the exploration of racial communities in online spaces, and the relationship between race, music, and cultural politics. These events are designed to encourage a sense of community in the Centre, and to provide a space for learning and socialising. Preparations for the seminars are still ongoing, and further information about them will be shared soon.’

Dr Saima Nasar and Professor Madhu Krishnan

(Centre Co-Directors)

Talking about grief: how can we lift the taboo?

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on 10 October 2022.

On World Mental Health Day, 10 October, we connected with Dr Lesel Dawson, Associate Professor in Literature and Culture at the University of Bristol, and Arts and Culture Lead for The Good Grief Festival, to hear about her research into grief and creativity.

Throughout history, humans have created art to honour the life of someone who has died—from ancient Greek and Roman gravestones to Victorian hair locks, from Renaissance elegies to modern memorial tattoos. While forms of mourning change over time and from culture to culture, our need to express grief and have our pain recognised and witnessed persists.

However, over the last century, we have lost many of the communal and creative ways that we come together to grieve, and with them perhaps, the confidence to support bereaved people we know. Worried about saying the wrong thing, we can slip into tired clichés or avoid the subject altogether, so that people who are grieving often feel lonely, stigmatised, and isolated.

Good Grief

We set out to help change this with Good Grief: A Virtual Festival of Love and Loss, led by founder Lucy Selman (co-lead of the University of Bristol Palliative and End of Life Care Research Group) and initially funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust. The festival brings together grief therapists, academics, palliative care doctors, comedians, artists, and musicians to have open and honest conversations about grief, death and loss, aspiring to provide a platform for bereaved people to share experiences and facilitate a shift in how we approach and understand death and grief. Integrating the arts into the festival has both helped engage audiences and highlighted the individual and varied nature of grief. Our new project, Good Grief Connects aims to further this work by collaborating with partners (Compassionate Cymru, The Ubele Initiative and Compassion in Dying) to deliver and evaluate three pilot projects that will help support diverse communities talk about death and grief and access the support they need.

My work as the Good Grief Festival’s Arts and Culture Lead has impacted my research, which explores the role of creativity and the imagination in grief. Drawing on the work of Robert Neimeyer, I explore the way bereavement shatters our ‘assumptive world’, the beliefs and assumptions that frame how we conceptualise ourselves and our futures. As part of a process called ‘adaptive grieving’, creativity can help enable us to confront the painful reality of our loved one’s death and begin to integrate the changes that follow our bereavement. When we create art, we both share our experiences with others and act as our own witness in a self-dialogue which can be illuminating and therapeutic. In this context, our imagination is both a source of suffering and a means to process what has happened.

Grief and art

Drawing from an Art Therapy Session showing red hearts and yellow and gold stars
Artwork from an Art Therapy Session with Victoria Tolchard

Creative expression can be particularly valuable for children, who sometimes struggle to express their feelings verbally and often learn and communicate through play. Children grieve as deeply as adults and need to be allowed to express their feelings and told the truth in age-appropriate language so they can be part of their family’s narrative of what has happened. Toys, paint, clay and sand can provide non-verbal forms of communication, and allow children a safe, structured space to explore difficult feelings and tell their story.

These ideas are explored in two Brigstow-funded short films which I co-produced: Children, Grief and Creativity, created with psychotherapist Julia Samuel MBE (Founder Patron of Child Bereavement UK and bestselling author) and animator Gary Andrews (creator of ‘Doodle-a-Day’ and Finding Joy), and Children, Grief and Art Therapy made with Art Therapist Victoria Tolchard and Gary Andrews.

Grief education

While the Good Grief Festival has supported more open conversations about bereavement, we need more foundational, systemic changes if we are to transform a culture that still treats grief and death as taboo. One long-overdue change is to make grief education a statutory component of the curriculum in all four countries of the UK. As charities and organisations (such as Child Bereavement UK, Childhood Bereavement Network and Winston’s Wish) and psychotherapists, psychologists, child specialists and academics have demonstrated, grief education can help destigmatise grief and death, enabling children and young people to understand bereavement and better support friends and peers who are grieving. Schools are uniquely placed to prepare children for difficult life experiences, and the charity sector has developed a wealth of lesson plans, resources and expertise which make mandatory grief education both timely and actionable.

To support this change (and the work that has already been done), Rachel Hare, Lucy Selman and I are working with Tracey Boseley (National Development Lead for the Education Sector for Child Bereavement UK) and Alison Penny (Director of Childhood Bereavement Network and Co-ordinator for National Bereavement Alliance) on a review that brings together research on the benefits of grief education, explores the most effective ways to integrate the topics into schools, and considers issues with teacher training and other obstacles. Statutory grief education would be an effective and efficient way to help school pupils talk about death, preparing them to manage their own grief and support others, and fostering the development of a more compassionate society.

More information:

Introducing the Faculty Research Centres

By Hilary Carey, Faculty Research Director

We are delighted to launch five Faculty Research Centres (FRC) for a new cycle of five years of funding at the University of Bristol. They are:

  • Black Humanities
  • Creative Technologies
  • Environmental Humanities
  • Health, Humanities and Science
  • Medieval Studies

We like to think of the FRCs as the crown jewels in the Faculty’s glittering treasure chest of activist, interdisciplinary research. The five Centres showcase arts and humanities research at the cutting edge of new knowledge, asking key questions about themes and issues critical to the city of Bristol, the people of the West of England, and the world.

Each Centre has developed a diverse programme of activity including public lectures and debates, workshops and seminars, conferences and collaborations that engage colleagues and the public beyond the University.

Here is a sneak preview of some of the many Centre activities and opportunities that we can look forward to this academic year:

  1. The Centre for Black Humanities has a postgraduate research (PGR) group planning a series of seminars, reading groups and away days.
  2. The Centre for Creative Technologies will co-design sandbox events (isolated testing environments) with civic partners – the Pervasive Media Studio and Knowle West Media Centre – to explore social applications of arts and technologies.
  3. As part of the Centre for Creative Technologies, Bristol Common Press will host a global summer school on Technologies of the Book, which will run for three weeks in summer 2023.
  4. The Centre for Environmental Humanities has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the environmental humanities ‘Greenhouse’ at the University of Stavanger, demonstrating the positive potential for partnership working.
  5. The Centre for Environmental Humanities plans to host a ‘Future of the Environmental Humanities’ workshop that will bring together researchers to think about the question of what comes next for the field of environmental humanities.
  6. The Centre for Medieval Studies (CMS) has a regular seminar series including one session on ‘What every medievalist should know…’.
  7. The Medieval Studies Global Professor, Kathleen Kennedy, has developed links with the Bristol Central Library, and is planning an ambitious exhibition of medieval manuscripts in Bristol libraries and archives.
  8. The Centre for Health, Humanities and Science plans a symposium on ‘Hoarding’, convened by Andrew Blades.
  9. The Centre for Health, Humanities and Science is planning its first collaborative book, Key Concepts in Medical Humanities (Bloomsbury Academic), to be published in 2023.
  10. Each Centre will have its own site on the Bristol Blogs platform through which they can showcase their research and activities.

There is a lot more to look forward to, so find out more about our five fantastic Faculty Research Centres.

The entrance lobby and hallway in the Faculty of Arts, with pillars, brick wall and red furniture
The Faculty of Arts. Photo by Nick Smith.