Cultural Analysis: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Folklore and Popular Culture

Representing/Experiencing Everyday Life in the Global Media: Commentary on the Global Lives Project

February 27, 2010 from 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM
Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities at UC Berkeley

About the Global Lives Project
Conference Program

About the Global Lives Project

As a "collaborative online video library of human experience," the Global Lives Project ( seeks to provide a way for viewers around the world to be transported "out of their daily lives and ... into the realities of people from all walks of life from all over the world." This goal both reminds us of the diffuse powers of new media technologies to represent realities across spatial divides and brings forward new questions about experiencing and representing the everyday lives of people in the global media. This forum brings together scholars from a wide range of disciplines to discuss and debate these questions and to comment on the innovative work of the Global Lives Project.

With a strong conviction that what we see informs how we act, the more than four hundred Global Lives collaborators around the planet were inspired by a desire to harness media to shift the eye of America—one of the least-traveled developed nations—away from its own material realities and toward the diverse realities of life in the globalized world of the 21st century.

At its core, the project is an effort to throw a wrench into the gears of commercial media flows. By freely distributing a stream of pixels from unexpected and underexperienced human realities to screens around the planet, the hope of this global band of filmmakers is to rebuild a more holistic and humanist ethos for the upcoming generations of globally connected life.

With minuscule budgets and borrowed professional video equipment, Global Lives crews set out from 2004 to 2009 to document 24 hours in the daily lives of individuals from Brazil, Malawi, Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Serbia, Lebanon and the US. Life stories of individual subjects were also recorded to give context to the footage. Crews were a roughly equal mix of locals and foreigners (including many long-term expats), and many crew members went on to shoot in two or more countries in their regions.

As the collection of videos has grown, numerous organizations have taken part in shaping the project. These museums, universities, NGOs, videomaking collectives, and foundations helped to envision new uses for the footage beyond the originally intended museum exhibition. The early adoption of a free distribution strategy and Creative Commons open content licenses for the footage was crucial in making the work accessible and useful to potential partner organizations, many which have become integral in reimagining the significance of the project's work.

As Global Lives completes its tenth shoot this year in Kazakhstan, the group's organizers have received a barrage of requests from videomakers around the globe to collaborate on filming in dozens of new sites using the same model. At this critical juncture, the project's biggest technical challenge is to increase its online infrastructure to accommodate the massive stream of video flowing in from our collaborators around the globe.

Aside from the contributions of its collaborators and partner organizations, Global Lives has attracted a diverse array of scholarly attention as well. Sociologist, Michael Burawoy, has called Global Lives "a new vision of public sociology" as it has mapped out new strategies for integrating a new media toolbox into the work of social scientists from a wide range of disciplines.

In a different vein, Sam Mchombo, a leading Chichewa linguist, has pointed out that the translation of the 24-hour Global Lives Malawi shoot is now one of the largest Chichewa translation projects in history. As shoots conducted in China, India and Indonesia enter the final stages of post-production, each of them also stands to contribute a major resource to students and scholars of Sichuanese, Kanada, and Sunda.

In addition to its importance to scholarship, Global Lives hopes to make significant contributions to global education. Elementary and secondary school teachers in a half-dozen countries have integrated Global Lives footage into their social studies and geography curricula, and the demand for formal Global Lives curriculum materials is growing rapidly.

Selected proceedings will be published in:
Cultural Analysis (


Global Lives Project -
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts -
UC Berkeley campus map -

Conference Sponsored by:

UC Berkeley Folklore Program
The Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities
The Long Now Foundation - Rosetta Project
The Swiss Consulate