Participatory Culture: What Questions Do YOU Have?

Question Mark Graffitidanah boyd,  Mimi Ito, and I have embarked on an interesting project for Polity. Through a series of dialogues, we’re hoping to produce a book that interrogates our different thoughts regarding participatory culture. The goal is to unpack our differences and agreements and identify some of the challenges that we see going forward. We began our dialogue a few weeks ago and had a serious brain jam where we interrogated our own assumptions, values, and stakes in doing the research that we each do and thinking about the project of participatory culture more generally. For the next three weeks, we’re going to individually reflect before coming back to begin another wave of deep dialoguing in the hopes that the output might be something that others (?you?) might be interested in reading.

And here’s where we’re hoping that some of our fans and critics might be willing to provoke us to think more deeply.

  • What questions do you have regarding participatory culture that you would hope that we would address?
  • What criticisms of our work would you like to offer for us to reflect on?
  • What do you think that we fail to address in our work that you wish we would consider?

For those who are less familiar with this concept, my white paper for the MacArthur Foundation described a “participatory culture”  as one:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

This often gets understood through the lens of “Web2.0″ or “user-generated content,” but this is broadly about the ways in which a networked society rich with media enables new forms of interaction and engagement. Some of the topics that we are considering covering include “new media literacies,” “participation gap” and the digital divide, the privatization of culture, and networked political engagement. And, needless to say, a lot of our discussion will center on young people’s activities and the kinds of learning and social practices that take place. So what do *you* want us to talk about?

danah kicked off a discussion around the project last week on her blog, so you can go there to see what others are already thinking, or I am very happy to receive your comments and suggestions here, especially as my tech support people just moved this blog to a new platform and we are eager to see how well the new response functions are working.


  1. Liz Eckhart says:

    I’d really like to see more discussion of erotic writing, which to my mind still hasn’t gotten the dignity of thought that it deserves. A lot of amazingly good sexwriting is lumped under the term “slashfic,” and I think it’s time to take the Deleuzian “Towards a Minor Literature” approach to it. There’s no reason the sexual elements of a piece of writing can’t embody the same literary strategies and have the same thematic depth of other elements, but it’s almost impossible to find anything resembling literary analysis of it. (I’ve personally found fanfiction to be an VERY productive and liberating writing practice this way. Hell, how better to deconstruct the oppositions of mind and body, thinking and sex, than to write about Sherlock masturbating? ) (I REGRET NOTHING).

  2. Jeff Betz says:

    You define participatory culture as low barrier to ‘artistic’ expression. But I would like to ask about science instead. Are amateur scienctists or citizen scientists, scientists at all? Should science be particapatory and have a lower barrier to enter than is usual (ie, having a PHD and presenting finding in peer reviewed journals)? Even professional scientists use ‘particapatory media’ but should they? Last year for example when OPERA announced that they measured neutrinos going faster than light, it was first announced on a blog on the ‘science 2.0’ website, not a peer reviewed article in “Physics Letters”. The finding turned out to be premature of course, and the result of a faulty experiment, but this was not found out until after the media picked up the story and broadcast it around the world.