Conference logo featuring raised dark-skinned fist with painted nails on the screen of a mobile phone

October 5-7, 2022
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Comparative Media Studies/Writing in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted a three-day, in-person international conference, “Bearing Witness, Seeking Justice: Videography in the Hands of the People.”

The conference opened with a welcome reception Wednesday, Oct. 5. After a host of dynamic, engaging, and thought-provoking speeches and panel discussions, the conference ended on Friday, Oct. 7.

While the conference was an in-person event, the keynote addresses were livestreamed, with most also recorded. A collection of those recording is embedded below.

Keynote speakers and youth participation included:

Plenary Recordings

Video Recordings

Audio Recordings

The conference built on scholarship and public policy that emerged as a result of the Rodney King uprisings in the early 1990s, continuing through the many police killings of black men and women, to the horrific murder of George Floyd, all in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement born during the past decade.

A history of videography set the stage. Central to our discussion was the role of videography in protecting our rights and civil liberties. The use of video technology on police forces, in banks, in hospital operating rooms, and in the matter of George Floyd and Darnella Frazier, Kyle Rittenhouse and Ahmaud Arbery, among other high-profile events, was analyzed from multiple vantage points. In particular, the two recent court cases of Rittenhouse and of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan (the latter three found guilty of murdering Arbery) — all claiming self-defense and vigilantism — featured videos as star witnesses, arriving at opposite verdicts for similar defense. The crucial role videography in seeking justice is complex. The roles played by both the mainstream and alternative press and by social media was also scrutinized.

Video technology, a novel instrument in pursuing evidence, truth, and judicial integrity, can also be abused-infringing on civil liberties, for example, as when public and private agencies employ surveillance systems for facial recognition. And it can be subverted, its evidentiary status thrown into doubt by an environment increasingly polluted by deepfakes. Beyond and behind the images are the algorithms and platforms that can undermine as much as strengthen human rights.

The stakes are high and extend far beyond issues of everyday policing and surveillance. Videography offers a way to connect personal videos made by individuals, weaving a web that is critical in reconstructing events such as the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Public schools are developing policies on the use of cell phones on school grounds, and some are evaluating the opportunities and risks of teaching videography. Further, legal experts, ethicists, and psychologists are examining policies and practices of videography as a way to shape guiding principles and frameworks for local communities, often at odds with the recommendations of mainstream policymakers.

The conference, open to the public, provided a forum for diverse constituencies to express their views and to showcase findings on videography as a creative tool in the quest for social justice.

Steering Committee for Conference Planning

Michel DeGraff

John DiFava

Renee Green

Tracie Jones

Nicole Harris
Heather Hendershot

Kenneth Manning

Ceasar McDowell

Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga

James Paradis
Justin Reich

Andrew Turco

William Uricchio

Sulafa Zidani

Samantha Fletcher
Conference Program Manager & Lead Organizer