To educate and entertain: representations of learning in the Australian version of Who Do You Think You Are?

Ava Laure Parsemain

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter investigates edutainment (the use of entertainment as pedagogical tool) based on a case study of Who Do You Think You Are?, a documentary series about genealogy in which celebrities go on a journey to retrace their family tree. Originally broadcast by the BBC, Who Do You Think You Are? (2004–) has been adapted in eighteen countries. The Australian version of the franchise (2008–), which is the focus of this chapter, is broadcast on the public service channel SBS, whose charter states that its principal function is “to provide multilingual and multicultural radio, television and digital media services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians” (SBS). According to its producers, one of the main purposes of Who Do You Think You Are? is to teach history by exploring a wide range of eras and events through the celebrities’ genealogical investigations. But to invite viewers to learn, the program uses entertainment techniques such as including celebrities, storytelling, and emotions, instead of relying on more traditional techniques used in formal classroom environments. The aim of this chapter is to explain how this edutainment model constructs a particular version of learning. In the text, representations of learning are crystallized around the intricate figure of the celebrity, who performs as his/her famous public self, his/her authentic private self, and as learner, researcher, detective, and pedagogical tool all at once. This chapter first explores the pedagogical relationship between the celebrity-learner on-screen and the implied viewer-learner watching the program to demonstrate that the celebrity functions both as image of the learner and as pedagogical tool. The second part focuses more specifically on the use of storytelling and on the representation of learning as a detective investigation. The last section shows how Who Do You Think You Are? engages with the notion of learning as a bodily and emotional process and how this representation of learning as physical and emotional is linked to what is taught and to the representation of teaching.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching and learning on screen
Subtitle of host publicationmediated pedagogies
EditorsMark Readman
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781137578723
ISBN (Print)9781137578716
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • television
  • documentary
  • history
  • education
  • entertainment


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