Re-Enchanting Spaces: Location-based Media, Participatory Documentary, and Augmented Reality

Location-based media have always played a key role in defining both spaces and publics. Due to the proliferation of sophisticated locative technologies, location-based media are increasingly ubiquitous in areas including art, gaming, urban planning, marketing, and tourism. While location-based approaches have enormous potential, however, rapid technological change and widely dispersed communities of practice have limited critical discourse. This thesis explores how we can better theorize and create innovative and compelling location-based media.

I situate location-based media within the broad category of spatial narrative, identifying key concepts and approaches through historical and contemporary examples. In showing that location-based media have always been a form of augmenting our physical environments, I argue that augmented reality as a concept is far broader than current industry discourse indicates, and suggest location-based media as a lens through which to rethink AR’s affordances and potentials.

In keeping with an emphasis on new forms of storytelling, I propose a taxonomy for location-based media that distinguishes three different levels of participation and user agency: Consumption, Interaction, and Participation. Participatory works that allow users to shape the narrative-becoming deeply invested as co-creators–challenge traditional notions of authorship, consumption, linearity, and temporality. They embrace the affordances of networked locative technologies, provide a platform for a multitude of voices, and draw on the profound power of both community and place. Three case studies–Roundware, Yellow Arrow, and the 96 Acres Project–highlight the affordances and challenges of participatory location-based approaches. Throughout this thesis, I endeavor to show that participatory location-based media offer vast creative, social, and political potential. Drawing on the rich tradition of spatial narrative, as well as the affordances of locative technologies, they invite us to reexamine our conceptions of narrative, documentary, and space itself.


Sue Ding

About Sue Ding

Sue Ding is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer. She has worked on arts/culture and public affairs projects for media outlets including PBS, WGBH, Tumblr, and International Channel Shanghai. Her production credits also include several Emmy Award-winning programs for New York City's public television stations. Sue graduated from Brown University with a double major in Visual Arts and International Relations, and has also studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, the School of Visual Arts, and the Université Paris-Sorbonne. Her research interests include emerging media technologies, identity construction, and visual culture. She is also passionate about pop culture, travel, art, social justice, and mythology and folklore. Thesis: Re-Enchanting Spaces: Location-based Media, Participatory Documentary, and Augmented Reality