Oral history with Audioboo
We’re always thrilled to hear from our users about the interesting and innovative ways they are using Audioboo. When Liam O’Hanrahan got in touch to tell us about the oral history project he was working on, I was fascinated and invited him to tell us more in his own words:
Recycling Oral Histories with Audioboo
I came across Audioboo while searching for a more creative and open-access way to publish a set of oral history interviews I had carried out around waste picking in India. I hope that sharing my experience of using Audioboo will help others looking at alternative methods for storing and presenting oral histories; especially the oral histories of marginalised groups who have little representation in mainstream media or conventional historical archives.
The Waste Pickers’ Oral Histories
The interviews took place with the help of waste picker organisations in some of India’s biggest cities (Delhi, Chennai, Bangaluru and Pune), amid the constant honking of passing traffic and endless cups of sugary chai.
Waste pickers make their living from collecting waste and carefully segregating it into its recyclable parts which they then sell to scrap dealers, who then sell these materials to industries for re-use. They gather this waste from landfills, community waste bins or from door-to-door collections. Despite providing such a valuable social and environmental service they are some of the poorest and most marginalised sections of Indian society. With the use of Audioboo it is possible to listen to some of the waste pickers, and waste picker activists, analyse and discuss in their own words, the issues they face in their daily lives and work, and how they have formed unions and organisations to struggle for social justice.
Dipanwita who works for the SWaCH waste pickers’ cooperative explains about the impact of local governments privatising waste management over to large corporate companies:
Ambrish Rai, an activist with the All India Kabadi Mazdoor Amassing (AIKMM) waste pickers’ union, talks about the discrimination waste pickers face:
Nalini, national coordinator of Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers (AIW), talks about their struggle to get official recognition and ID cards for waste pickers:
Further recordings of interviews with waste pickers and waste pickers activists can be found on Audioboo.
Audioboo let me share the stories
One of the main purposes of my project was to create an archive or resource that would be of help to waste pickers and their allies in struggling for recognition and rights. Above all this meant doing something with the interviews afterwards, not finishing with them once my research was complete, or locking them away in some library or archive. This seemed particularly important considering waste pickers make their living from the re-use of discarded objects – it seemed only fitting that their stories and narratives would likewise be re-used and re-heard, and not disposed of at the end of the research project. I also wanted the interviews to be freely and widely available – the waste pickers and activists had something important to say and I wanted those things to be audible. This especially so, in the context of a media both in India and internationally, that has not only failed to take notice of waste pickers, but actively puts forward a construction of Indian prosperity and success contrary to the experiences of the majority of citizens there, and especially that of waste pickers.
It’s simple, and free!
With neither the I.T. expertise nor financial resources required to make an online archive or website, and as any such website would almost certainly have remained in obscurity on the internet – I was happy to find Audioboo. (Thanks to a Guardian online report of the Arab Spring, which used Audioboo to embed some short audio reports in the news story). Audioboo’s popularity ensures that the audio on it appears high up on search engine results. The facility to embed Audioboo clips in web pages or in other social media such as Twitter and Facebook likewise expands the scope for access and opportunity to listen to these audio. But more than this, social media platforms have become important tools in building social struggles, therefore linking in audio recordings that have a social purpose makes sense.
Most important of all – it is free to upload and access audios on Audioboo. This was crucial as I wanted the oral histories to be as widely available as possible, and more specifically, easily available for waste pickers and activists. What’s more I hope this to be the beginning, rather than the end of such an archive. Being online and free, opens the possibility for waste pickers, activists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to add further interviews and recordings. It is this potential for individuals or institutions with limited resources – and especially those in ‘developing’ countries – that it may well turn out that Audioboo has a particularly important value for.
Audioboo – the accessible oral archive
If the writing of history and remembering of the past relies on archives, then what is in them, and who is able to contribute to and access them, becomes vitally important. Open source platforms for the storing and publishing of oral histories and other such audio are therefore important in creating an alternative archival practice outside of the control of the institutions and individuals who have been the traditional gatekeepers of what enters archives and how. Audioboo, used as an online oral history archive, might fulfil just such a purpose; functioning as an alternative form of archive, and so also as an archive of alternatives.
A massive thanks to all the interviewees and others involved in this project, including those at the following organisations: Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) and its sister organisation the SWaCH cooperative. The Land Lab Cooperative and parent NGO Waste Wise Trust, GAIA (Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance), Nirman Mazdoor Sangh (Unorganised Workers Federation), The Indian Association of Waste pickers (AIW) and All India Kabadi Mazdoor Amassing (AIKMM).