October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Archiving and Analyzing Children’s Culture: Problems and Outcomes of an Innovative Project

Paul Scheibelhofer, Central European University; and Alexander Pollak, University of Vienna, Austria


The paper presents outcomes of a recently finished project analyzing short films produced by children at Vienna’s ZOOM Children’s Museum. Both the process of production as well as the content of the films are analyzed. The possibilities and problems arising from such a project become visible in the analysis. Although complex and contradictory processes characterize the museum’s project, its outcome, the films, are shown to be a valuable medium for documenting children’s world-views and the communication strategies they apply to convey them.

Keywords: museums and children, children’s culture, communication strategies, encoding/decoding, film analysis.


Six years ago – at the ICHIM01 conference in Milan – a project was presented that was just about to start: Vienna’s ZOOM Children’s Museum’s Media Laboratory. The museum collaborated with specialists in the field of interactive media in order to confront the topic of “children and the new media”. To this end, a permanent facility – the “Media Lab” – was created where children can produce media content at the crossroads of reality, fiction and the Web.

In this paper, we present outcomes of a recently finished study on animated films that where produced by children in the ZOOM Media Lab and that are archived on the Web. The interactive processes of the production of the films as well as the content of the films themselves were analyzed by an inter-disciplinary research team. Our paper reflects on problems that where encountered in this innovative project, like the workings of power differences between children and the museum’s workshop-personnel. But we will also show the value of this project in presenting analyses of traces of the young movie-makers’ world-views and communication strategies that became visible in the films.

We argue for interpreting the project as offering the children a bounded space for creatively engaging with new media. The fact that their products are being archived on the Web makes it, furthermore, an innovative project documenting children’s contemporary world-views and their complex strategies to communicate them through new media.

Enter the “Media Lab”

Classically, museums are fundamentally non-interactive sites, where the audience is expected to silently absorb the information presented by the institution. Like many other Museums today, Vienna’s ZOOM Children’s Museum tries to break up this arrangement and create an interactive atmosphere that allows for knowledge and experience to emerge in the process of the visit. The project discussed here, the Media Lab and the short-films produced there, builds on these notions of interactivity and emerging knowledge through experiences.

Producing Animated Films

For this end, the Media Lab was created. It is a room designed to meet the needs of producing an animated film with a group of children between the age of eight and fifteen. In one corner of the Lab, the kids can gather, discuss ideas and produce the props for their films. This is where the groups of around twelve kids are usually led in the beginning of the 1.5-hour workshops. In general, these groups are school-classes split in half (the other half engaging in other activities at the museum in the meantime). Throughout the workshop, the children are guided by one or two workshop-supervisors employed at the museum. All of these are educated artists of different specializations. The basic idea of the Media Lab is that it should enable children to produce a short animated (silent) movie that is an outcome of a collective and rather self-determined process. Along the way, the children engage with questions of creating stories and narrations as well as with more practical questions of the actual production of a short film with the help of advanced media-technology.

Finding a Story

First, the group has to come up with, and decide upon, a story they want to tell. This process is led by the supervisor and framed by “themes” that change every half-year. In the course of the empirical research on which this paper is based, three such themes framed the film production. During the phase in which the workshop-theme was “bitter-black and sour-colored” [Bitterschwarz und Sauerbunt in the original], the children were invited to think of a film-story based on fragrances they were presented with in little flasks. In the second theme “upside-down” [Die Welt steht Kopf], the children thought of words beginning with letters that were chosen randomly. These words were then connected to a story and, although not always, “turned around” in such ways like telling the story from the end to its beginning, or letting a mouse eat a washing machine instead of the mouse hiding in the machine as previously thought up. Finally, in the “space-age” workshops, the children were invited to take an imagined trip into the future or the past and then were to think of a story happening there.

Shooting the Film

After discussing a story line, the children set out to produce the different artifacts needed for the film. The things that the children produce using paper, colors, play dough, glass pearls, etc., are then uploaded to the computer by making pictures of them with digital cameras. Sceneries as well as houses or rockets and actors are produced in that way. Thereafter, the actual process of “shooting” the film starts. The children gather around a big screen the size and shape of an eating table. The images uploaded before can then be arranged and moved easily. To every object that should move in the film a little plastic slide is allocated. From then on, wherever that slide is put on the screen/table, that image will appear. Through moving the plastic slides, the different objects move too. By continuously “shooting” stills, pictures are created that are merged by the computer to produce a fluent, short film.

After the film is finished (or when the time of the workshop was over), the children can view it on a big screen in the Lab and from then on watch it over the Museum’s Web site where all films are stored and accessible through a local search engine.

The Research Project

The data on which this paper is based was gathered in an inter-disciplinary research project that hosted researchers from sociology, linguistics, political science, and from the field of museum education. The research project (finished in May 2007, funded by the Austrian Science Fund - FWF) built on a close cooperation of the research-team and the museum’s staff, whose experience and knowledge was integrated into the proceedings of the project. The driving idea behind the research project was to interpret the films produced at the ZOOM as a site where both young peoples’ notions about their life-worlds as well as the ways these are being translated into narratives using the Museum’s resources could be studied.

Mixed Methods Design

Both the data as well as the applied methods went beyond traditional social science research in that field. We applied a “Mixed Methods Design” (Morse 2003), in order to get a thorough understanding of the questions that interested us:

Qualitative Workshop And Film Analysis

In the empirical research phase of the project (from February 2005 to January 2006), we studied 50 Workshops through both participant observation and qualitative film-analysis. This qualitative film analysis was oriented along notions developed by discourse-analysts Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (Kress und van Leeuwen 1996; van Leeuwen 2001) who worked on applying linguistic methods for films.

Quantitative Film Analysis

Besides this qualitative analysis of 50 workshops and films, we analyzed all 223 films produced in the time between February 2005 and January 2006 applying a more rigid interpretation scheme that allowed for quantitative analysis. While the qualitative methods brought certain phenomena in their complex meanings to light, the quantitative method would give a sense of the distribution and prominence of phenomena on a structural level.

Survey Among Pupils

Besides that, we handed out questionnaires to the part of the groups that visited the museum in the empirical research phase in order to shed light on questions like their evaluation of the film workshop or their own film: 80% of the questionnaires were returned to us, resulting in a total of 368 answered and analyzed questionnaires.

Analytical Focus Of This Paper

While the above- mentioned methods were triangulated in the course of the research project, this paper will concentrate mainly on the qualitative analysis of the workshops and films, making rather brief references to other data. In general, the age of the children that produced the analyzed films was between eight and fifteen, with thirteen being by far the biggest age group. Regarding the gender of the young film makers, slightly more of the 50 qualitatively analyzed workshops were visited by more girls than boys.

The Analysis

Our analysis of the data was led by open questions pertaining to the young film makers’ world-views that became visible (manifest or latently) in the films and the processes of production. We studied the notions and references established in the narrations, the imageries and utopias as well as potential criticism of present state of affairs.

Theoretical Background

The Role Of Media In Society

We analyzed the data against the background of theories on contemporary developments in society as regards the role of media. These speak of a thorough “mediatization” of modern every-day life (Mikos 2005). Driven by the diversification of media technology, the possibilities of media exposure and consumption diversified likewise. In cases like Pokemon, researchers find it appropriate to speak of “media conglomerates” (Bachmair 2005) to capture the fact that the targeted recipients (children and youth) find relevant products on such different levels as the TV, the Web, the cinema, toys, trading cards, etc. To understand the meaning of Pokemon, one has to be aware of the interaction of all these media products. One important shift in contemporary media is the blurring of the distinction between producer and consumer (Mikos/Feise 2000). In such media products as Big Brother, where everybody is a potential candidate and, later, all viewers can decide over the fate of those who are on the show, this blurring becomes evident. And certainly this happens in latest developments around Web 2.0.

Coding and Encoding

Speaking with Stuart Hall, who developed the notion of coding for interpreting media production and consumption (Hall 2002), our research project enabled us to go beyond classical research that might study the encoding-processes of media producers (like TV-news) or the decoding-processes of media-consumers. Our data gave us the possibility to analyze what happens if children are given the opportunity to produce media themselves, i.e. the encoding-processes of children put into the position of producers. In the remaining paper, we discuss the diverse phenomena we encountered.

Processes Of Negotiation Throughout The Film Production

The majority of the children who participated in the survey provided positive evaluation of the film workshops. Almost a third thought they were “fun” and 16% said they were “interesting”, whereas slightly less (15%) evaluated the workshops as “boring” and less than 10% experienced them as “too stressful”. These evaluations, we believe, can be explained when taking a closer look at the dynamics that took place in the course of the film production.

The structure of the film workshops asked a high amount of autonomy and self-assuredness of the children. With comparatively few structural guidelines, they had to develop a story in a short period of time and in an unfamiliar context. This story had to be approved both by the collective of children and the workshop guides - not a simple task, as became visible. Both children and workshop guides developed interesting tactics to get their interests across.

Mediation Of Knowledge And The Power Gap

The role of the workshop guides can, in a nutshell, be described as the merging of support and control of the children.

Empowering Children

In their supporting roles, the workshop guides were constantly engaged in “empowering” the children, i.e. the paradox enterprise of helping somebody to do something on their own. The children obviously did not expect so much freedom (and so much need for initiative on their part) in such a “formal” setting as a museum and a film workshop, even if it was a “child-like” designed one. Therefore, they often had to be encouraged to follow their own ideas. Children themselves actively asked for approval of their ideas or, in a later stage, the material they produced for the film. Workshop leaders (and sometimes even we researchers who were observing) were thus put into the position of sanctioning what the children did as “good”, “nice”, “interesting”, etc..

Administering Knowledge

But certainly, the workshop leaders also exerted power on their own initiative, in order to lead the group through the workshop in a way they saw as appropriate. And here, the question of knowledge seems to be central for the understanding of the workings of power differences between the children and the workshop leaders. The workshop leaders had fundamental advances regarding necessary knowledge about the workshop - and the way they dealt with this knowledge to a considerable degree shaped the nature of the single workshops. As a result, in those workshops where a considerable amount of time was spent in explaining what the aim of the workshop was and how the technical equipment worked, real engagement of the children was more likely than in those workshops where the children were left unclear about these points. In the latter case, there was a significantly wider power-gap between the workshop guides and the children than in the case where technical knowledge was transferred to the children. It was also in the workshops with the power imbalance that the children were not only more dependent on the guides, but also more likely in the course of their workshop to withdraw in an ever-growing number from engaging with the workshop – lack of possibilities of active participation corresponded directly with the loss of interest. This could sometimes lead to situations where it was mainly the workshop leaders who had to finish the film-making in order to get it done on time, while one group of children merely took over “servants’” functions and the others were busy doing nothing at all or even started disturbing the workshop.

The Power Gap As Obstacle

These processes of mediation (or non-mediation) of knowledge can, in our interpretation, explain the differing evaluations of the workshops by the children reported in the beginning of this section. Although there are certainly other variables at play too, we see the lack of mediation of knowledge as the main reason for some of the children evaluating the workshops as being “boring” or “too stressful”. A lack of integration of the children into the workshop left them either feeling that they did not have any say in the process of producing the film, or feeling overstrained by expectations they did not have enough knowledge to live up to.

How Children Empower Themselves

Although the setting certainly put the children in a relatively less powerful position, that does not mean they did not find tactics to get their interests across. Here we see that they cleverly used the system of democratic decision- making which was often implemented by the workshop leaders to settle differences about how a story should evolve, a planet should look, etc. When workshop leaders would interfere in a discussion and would pose that a decision between X and Y would now have to be made, processes of what could be termed coalition building would often become visible. Quickly, those children with a certain, disputed interest would engage others to “vote” for their idea and thus used the “elections” to push through their interests. Through such coalitions, children even managed to successfully stand up to ideas that workshop leaders had. Together, as the children soon found out, they could at times even out the prevailing power differences. Another observable dynamic was that in some workshops, “experts” were established, who henceforth would have powerful roles in decision making. Thus we could observe that a Pakistani boy would be given the speaker position to tell others how to draw a shop of a film that should take place in Pakistan or to tell his fellow pupils: “Don’t draw brown bread, but flat bread! […] Women are veiled there, and these veils are most often purple. […] In Pakistan, we don’t drink alcohol.” (Children: ca. 11 years, observation of 18.03.05).

Gender Dynamics

As far as questions of gender are concerned, we found that this socially immensely relevant differentiation also structured the practices and processes of decision-making of the young filmmakers. Thus, time and again, the above-mentioned “coalition building” ran along gendered lines, creating, on the one hand “girl’s ideas” and on the other that of “the boys”. As there one of the genders outnumbered the other in most of the groups observed, we could also observe that the gender group that was numerically bigger in a certain group would have it easier to push through “their” ideas. Generally, the habitus of those whose gender was dominant in the group would often change in such a way, that they would show a more secure appearance and style of argumentation. Girls would then, for example, laugh at ideas of boys who were less in the group and would say such things as “Micheal please, it’s enough!” (12 years, 18.02.05) in a tone that reminiscent of parents reprimanding their children, rather than peers arguing. One observable way that children of the smaller gender-group would still be able to gain decision-making power was through integrating the interests of the other group in their own ideas, like in the following passage of the beginning of a film workshop:

A boy: “Aliens should play Football. Against the Serbs!”

A workshop leader: “Football is good. Against whom should the Aliens play?!

The boy again: “Aliens against Barbies!”

The workshop leader: “Good. Where shall they play?”

The boy: “On Merkur, Merkur!”

(13 years, 29.1105)

As can be seen from the above excerpt, the workshop leader used the form of the discussion to get rid of the national reference, which she obviously found inappropriate. The boy, for his part, adapted and proposed “Barbies”, allegedly meeting the girls’ interests. (To the dismay of several boys, the Barbies would later win the football game against the Aliens).

Gendered dynamics would also become visible when the children were asked to produce the props needed for the film. Here, boys would often rather produce the more “technical” things, such as a submarine or a rocket. To talk boys into producing certain props, the workshop leaders would thus also choose the tactic to refer to the technical aspect of whatever an unwilling boy should produce (e.g. a chimney).

Summary On Power And Knowledge

Although we interpreted the process of film production as a site where diverse power differences are at work and are being negotiated, it seems important to point out that more often than not, a profound interest among the children existed in finding consensual agreements. Countless times they would ask each other overtly, or be covertly sensitive to whether the others liked their ideas. In workshops where there was a relaxed atmosphere, the group could become a powerful resource for the children. Knowledge would be passed among the children and “talents” would be encouraged by their classmates to do what they were seen as being very good at. The best workshops seemed to be those where the workshop leaders managed to create a space where these qualities of the group could unfold.

The Films As Media For Communication

Having described relevant processes that became visible during the phase of film production, we now turn to the films themselves, analyzing them as a medium through which the youngsters communicate and negotiate ideas about social realities. To do so we concentrate on the qualitative analysis of 50 films and break down this analysis into three aspects of the films:

  • the analysis of the settings in which the films take place,
  • the representation of the actors in the films,
  • and the central topics dealt with

The Settings

Analyzing the settings in which the children had their films taking place, some common references become visible.

Encountering the other

The most popular setting was outer space (which can be ascribed to the third of the themes, “Space Age”, described above). This would typically be symbolized by blue or black “space” through which UFOs or rockets fly or strange looking planets on which certain stories take place. Aliens and Space-men are the most common actors in these films and we see that this setting was often chosen to tell about topics of `traveling or encountering ‘the other. Concerning the information the children drew from in the representation of these outer space settings, we can see that “true” natural science knowledge (e.g. about the solar system) was mixed with more fantastic references (e.g. sheep in the role of space men).

In the Woods

Another common setting was that of the woods or forests. Here, it was mainly animals but also (grown up) humans whose stories were told. Adventure but also the question of nature and its destruction were relevant topics in these forest-settings. These settings were regionalized by the type of flora and fauna represented. The films would thus either take place in rather European contexts or, on the other hand, in contexts that were represented as ‘other’, e.g. tropic rainforests.

At Home

The home is another identifiable context. Here, it is mainly humans and European domestic animals such as dogs and especially cats. With its reference to “everyday life”, the home was mainly chosen as a site to tell stories about “normality” and, more often than not, its disturbance through unforeseen events (this point will be elaborated in the following sub-chapters).

Urban And Non-Urban Spaces

Furthermore, the city and the village were two contexts in which films took place. Represented in an almost antithetic manner, the villages of the films are mainly what the cities are not: cozy idylls, surrounded by nature and populated by few people as well as animals. Although similar in the depiction, there was, in a few cases, also the dangerous village, in which strange things could happen, a place that has a secret. The city was represented mostly by such markers of urbanity as broad streets, skyscrapers or the metro. Interestingly, the city very much was a background in front of which narratives evolved. It is a space with which the people living there do not interact. The beach, finally was the most popular setting for films that oscillated around the topics of fun, excitement or leisure and thus represented the antipode to normal everyday life.

Summary Settings

Generally speaking, we see that the further away certain settings are from the immediate life-world of the children, the more fictive elements they would contain. Although most settings show clear references to “real” settings, these are often disturbed by consciously placed “wrong” figures and actors, such as a sea lion chasing a fish through the trees of a forest. Through such “interventions”, we would argue, the children broaden the possible meanings of the narratives and prevent them from being read in simplistic ways.

The Representation Of Actors

Among the different actors that were present in the analyzed films, we want to concentrate on three groups: aliens, humans and animals. Actors from these groups were both relatively often present in the films as well as qualitatively characterized by certain features that, to us, seem relevant to understanding the films.

Aliens As The Ultimate Others

Due to the fact that the third workshop theme related to time-/space-travel, aliens were present in several of the analyzed films. The way they were designed by the children, they usually had humanoid shapes, but also showed distinctively strange body parts, such as a third eye or leg, or an antenna on the head. Aliens never appeared alone but always in groups, denying them individuality. On the one hand, there are “good” aliens who help spacemen in trouble or free endangered animals. On the other, there are “evil” ones who capture humans or steal their rockets. What they have in common is the character of the foreign, unknown – they are Them vis-à-vis Us. What also characterizes them is the fact that aliens, when they were present in a movie, were always central to the narrative. They were always represented in active roles. With hindsight to the analysis of other actor groups below, we recognize that aliens generally showed characters that are assigned to men rather than women – activity, virility, and agency. The Aliens in the films, we would thus conclude, are represented in a masculinized way.

Visibility of Gender

Regarding the representation of human actors, it was interesting to see that these were mostly grown ups; children and youth did not often appear in the films. Furthermore, we found that old people were generally represented in ways that depicted them as “cool” and youthful. We see this representational form as an explicit refusal of such notions as the “dignity of the aged” but also as forms of envisioning alternative lifestyles of aging the young filmmakers developed in the films. All humans are clearly gendered, and this in certain, recurring forms. Women are, in the most cases, depicted as “nice”, “peaceful” or “helping” actors, which conforms with images of “proper femininity”. Men, on the other hand, were depicted in two differing ways, which we termed “the loser” and the “go-getter”. A loser would be characterized by economic failure and social isolation, boredom and a derelict style. The go-getter, on the other hand, would not only represent economic but also social success, being healthy, good humored and moving in self-assured ways. In these two representational forms, we see basic ideas of what it means to be a “real man” at work and how the children envision the effect that failure to be such a kind of man has on them. While these were the dominant gender-images, they were certainly not uncontested. Thus for women, we could find films like “The Magic Soap”: the films shows market stands where one sells tea and the other soap, but both are kept by female personnel. When a (female) customer comes to the tea stand, the women from the soap stand unnoticed throw soap into the tea pot from which the customer is about to try some tea. After she drinks it, she suddenly turns into two toothbrushes, leaving soap-stand-women laughing loudly. Although in a minority, we would thus find women being active as well as “un-nice”, and also the representation of men was not completely un-fractured.

Animals Substituting for Children

Animals were the third relevant group in the films. These, unsurprisingly, often appeared in films that related to questions of nature, preservation and human-animal relations. These relations were generally depicted as problematic. Animals would be kept locked up, threatened and even killed by (always male) humans. In these films, they had to be clever and cooperate to escape their miserable situation. Of all the featured animals, the ape would most often take on such reactions, being witty and daring. Sheep, on the other hand, were mostly represented as passive victims of their situation, awaiting help from outside. These, we would say, were generally feminized in their representation. Interestingly, cats, often represented as house-cats at home, were given the role of the actor who, most probably without intending it, would cause trouble and chaos by throwing down things that disturb the orderly home. Both the fact that there were almost no young human actors in the films and the ways that animals were represented led us to the theory that it might often be the animals through which the filmmakers discuss their own situation: they were in a relatively powerless situation vis-à-vis the grown ups, looking for their own space within that structure, but not always successful in establishing that space.

Central Topics

Covertly and overtly we found several topics represented in the movies.

Beyond Normality

Deviance and violence were topical fields which were touched upon in several films. Norm-breaching behavior could range from rather “mild” forms of the above-mentioned disturbance of everyday order to more serious forms, such as theft. Theft was represented as legitimate in these cases where, e.g. animals, would steal things out of natural drives or because they, rather than the righteous owner, needed a certain thing. Other forms of theft, such as aliens stealing a space-ship from spacemen, would be depicted as illegitimate and punished in the films. The breaching of norms was thus not uniformly depicted as bad or good – but contextualized in the narrative. Most severe forms of deviance were aggression such as the violent colonization of foreign planets or exploiting its natural resources.


Cooperation and help, on the other hand, was most often visible among those who shared a certain social position. And it also became obvious that those in less powerful position were represented as more cooperative than those in power, who would act more egoistic in general.

Environmental Issues

Relationships between humans and the environment were another prominent topic. These were, as indicated above, often depicted as problematic. Several films explicitly referred to the destruction of nature by humans. While some merely depicted this problematic relation, others had clear messages, giving these films a pedagogic tone in which viewers were directly addressed to change these problematic processes.

Technology As Opportunity And Threat

Looking at the representation of technology, contradictory notions become visible. Technology, on the one hand, is certainly a positively-marked topic. It is thoroughly connected with human development and the future in general. The place where these technological developments are made, in the children’s view, certainly is one country: the USA. But besides those appraising and making imaginative references to technology, there are also those that problematize it. When we see the future earth gray and polluted by huge factories, and also when machines (like rockets or time-travel machines) put humans in problematic situations because the break, we are confronted with “the other side” of technological development. In these films it is the costs of technological development and dependency that are represented, and a site for (more or less overt) criticism and reflection.

Other Issues

Traveling is another prominent topic and ranged from representations of holiday trips to scientific expeditions and, as described above, expeditions that had the goal of conquering foreign space. While holiday trips were represented as fun adventures, not only the violent expeditions but even the scientific ones were represented in a critical light. Thus we would find a film in which the king of a foreign planet gets scared upon learning that a group of scientists from earth want to visit his planet, merely “just” to do research.

Leisure and Work: While leisure activities such as football playing is a common theme in the films, the field of paid work is strikingly absent from the films. This certainly has its roots, on the one hand, in the fact that the school kids who produced these films are yet relatively distant from the sphere of work. Furthermore, it might be the case that the whole field of work has lost its contours from the perspective of kids, in times where most “classic” manual labor is being transferred to peripheral regions of the world and jobs become more and more service based and fuzzily defined.

Illness and death are presented in rather un-spectacular ways. Sick actors would thus behave completely normally and death would, if present in the films, likely be soberly represented. These topics, we would conclude, do concern the kids. But in the way they chose to represent them, they take away the sadness attached to them normally. This certainly makes it easier to bring the topics up in the films.


The Media Lab As Site Of Activation, Negotiation And Reflection

The strategy used by the media lab of the Vienna Children’s Museum to make children become active participants in a museum environment has many interesting facets. First of all, it is a great challenge for children to get the opportunity to express themselves in a format they are usually confronted with only as consumers, namely animation films. Moreover, the children can generate the films in a working atmosphere that is rather flexible and open as compared to the one they are confronted with at school. On the other hand, the negotiation process between the children and the workshop guides and among the children themselves is not free of barriers and imbalances. Time pressure, gender dynamics, the question of authority and knowledge and, last but not least, the fact that one workshop guide has to deal with up to 15 children, pose great challenges and impose some restrictions on the communication process preceding, accompanying and determining the film production. In fact, power gaps between the workshop guides and the children due to imbalances in knowledge have proved to be the main obstacles to the active involvement of the children in the process of film production. Our observations clearly showed that workshops were most likely to be successful when substantial technical knowledge on how to produce animated films in the media lab was distributed to the children at a very early stage of the workshop. However, we also observed self-empowerment strategies, like for example coalition building, applied by the children in order to reduce or overcome power and knowledge imbalances.

As a point of reflection, the Media Lab works in two ways: on the one hand, its products reflect the workshop situation as well as the world views and experiences of the workshop guides and the children and, on the other hand, it provides the children some space to reflect on certain issues, including the technology used in the Media Lab. It must, however, be stated that the space for reflection in the latter sense is a limited one. The workshop concept used in the Media Lab is to a high extent product oriented – therefore, due to the limited time resources available (merely one and half hours for each workshop), in-depth reflection of the content and construction of the films has rather been the exception than the standard. In this respect, there is still potential for improvement.

The Films As Representation Of Young Peoples’ Life Worlds

Framing the Films

For the children, the setting of the films served as major framing device that contextualized the contents of the respective film. Outer space was used in order to frame stories of encountering the foreign or alien other. Woods were used to contextualize animal or adventure stories. And everyday life took mainly place at home within an apartment or in a house. The children distinguished clearly between urban and non-urban spaces, while on the other hand there was some interference between realistic and fictional settings.

Animals As Symbols For Self-Representation

While aliens represented the good or evil others who were either helpful or threatening characters, and while human beings represented in most cases only the world of adults, the young filmmakers chose animals as actors who could represent their own situation and positioning in society. Animals were often shown in relatively powerless roles. At the same time, there was great solidarity between animals in order to improve or overcome their situation.

Challenging Normality

From our observations of the workshops and from the films, it became clear that the children often used the films as an opportunity to express their interest in norm-breaching behavior. Some of this norm-breaching behavior represented in the films was sanctioned by authorities or by the course of events, but sometimes norm-breaching was also represented as a powerful and eventually successful strategy. What was true for the settings of the films was also true for their contents, namely the challenging of normality through mixing real elements with imaginary ones. Some actors were placed at unusual locations, and sometimes films took a sudden twist.

Technology As Opportunity And Threat

Technical progress is regarded as both the root cause of, and solution to, problems, particularly in relation to environmental problems. In many of their films the children show a great sensitivity to environmental issues and to the destructive impact of human beings and their technology on nature. In addition, there was also some criticism of consumption to be found in the films, also related to the impact of mass consumption on the environment.

Gender Clichés Reproduced

The roles the children assign to their own and the opposite gender show some complexity; however, in most cases gender clichés are rather reinforced than challenged. Women are, in the most cases, depicted as “nice”, “peaceful” or “helping” actors. Men, on the other hand, are depicted either as lonely “losers” or as self-assured and successful “go-getters”. In addition, the children clearly differentiate between making a rather violent “man’s film” and a rather soft “woman’s film”.

No Moral At The End

Looking at the films on the basis of narrative theory, it is particularly interesting that many of the films did not conclude by communicating a moral. The main reason for this is to be found in the fact that the children did not produce the films for an outside audience, but mainly for themselves. Therefore, they saw no need to communicate something to the outside world; rather they used the films as platform for negotiating issues they were interested in.


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Cite as:

Scheibelhofer, P., and A. Pollak, Archiving and Analyzing Children’s Culture: Problems and Outcomes of an Innovative Project , in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/scheibelhofer/scheibelhofer.html