Book Review: Digital Media and Learner Identity

Book Review: Digital media and learner identity: The new curatorship by John Potter

Digital media and learner identity: The new curatorship. John Potter. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. 220. Hb. £55.00, $85.00.

Reviewed by Becky Parry

To use the concept of curation to understand contemporary engagements with media and media production is already to make a substantial contribution to knowledge. Within this work, however, John Potter also makes a significant contribution to the study of literacy (and indeed other areas). His comprehensive review of existing research helpfully links theories of literacy, play and young people’s participation in media culture and media education. Potter illustrates that, given the opportunity, children use film production as an opportunity for ‘self curation,’ exhibiting and performing aspects of their experience in relation to media: Curating suggests not just writing or producing but also collecting, distributing, assembling, disassembling, and moving media artefacts and content across different stages (Potter, 2012, p. 31). Potter’s central idea of curatorship is also informed by theories of identity and narrative (Giddens, 1991), Bourdieu’s notion of habitus (1986) and the notion of hypomnemata from Foucault’s work (1984).

The first chapter of the book introduces the focus of the study and provides a wide-ranging representation of the overlapping experiences, academic areas and theoretical perspectives that underpin it. The second chapter, ‘Literacy and Production’, presents a review of theory in relation to evolving understandings of literacy, and examines how this relates to play and production. The third chapter, ‘Identity and Storying’, examines theories of identity and relates this to digital video production and the notion of ‘storying the self’. The fourth chapter, ‘Research and Voice’, comprehensively reviews research on young people’s digital video production. The fifth and sixth chapters, ‘Video and Performance’ and ‘Editing and Coherence’, presents in precise and reflexive detail a series of case studies of young people of primary school age engaging with video production and also offers many pertinent reflections on pedagogy.

The data are not treated with sentimentality, nor are the children’s perspectives dismissed as hegemonic identity constructions.[1]  Indeed, a critique of the way learner ‘voice’ is ‘heard’ in film production features in the highly original seventh chapter in which Potter examines the role of memory in developing stories of the self. In the eighth chapter Potter demonstrates how the concept of curatorship as a new literacy practice emerged, providing an innovative tool for interpreting young people’s texts and their processes of producing them.  In the final chapter Potter addresses the rhetoric and myth that surrounds media education and makes comprehensive and convincing suggestions for urgent changes to pedagogy and practice.

Macdougall (2013) suggests that Potter’s focus on video results in an incomplete account of contemporary media production by young people. Potter demonstrates, however, that the moving image has distinct affordances, and children’s creative engagements with these require focused investigation. The concept of curatorship is also potentially a highly valuable tool for studying other media such as social networking and game-playing, however, where our decisions about how we play, produce, engage and create contribute to our ongoing narratives of self.   The concept of curatorship therefore has particular implications for young people, which Potter prompts teachers and educators to pay attention to.


Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1984). On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress. In: Rabinow, P. (ed.) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought. London: Penguin, pp. 340-72 (359-66).

Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity.

Macdougall, J. (2013) Review of Potter, J., (2012) Digital Media and Learner Identity: The New Curatorship. Media Education Research Journal 3 (2).


Correspondence: Dr Becky Parry, University of Leeds, School of Education, Hillary Place, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.

Email: [email protected]

[1] Stances that are regularly found in discussions of children’s engagements with media.