Participatory Poland (Part Two): Participatory Poland — An Introduction

In the “Participatory Poland” report a group of Polish aca-fen makes a preliminary attempt towards defining the specificity of an Eastern European country’s participatory culture shaped both in the communist and post-communist periods. By placing the development of selected fan-based activities against a broader socio-historical background, we are trying to capture the interplay between the global and the local context of participatory culture, as well as take preliminary steps towards making its Polish branch available for academic research. Thanks to Professor Henry Jenkins’ incredible support, we are able to share the first, though by no means final, results of our investigations with aca-fen worldwide. The posts included in this report deal with several examples of Polish participatory activities, namely, the literary and media fandom of speculative fiction and role-playing games; comics fandom; fandom of manga and anime; historical re-enactment associations; and the prosumerist phenomenon of bra-fitting. While we are planning to continue and expand our research, we hope that its samples presented in this report contribute to the exploration of participatory culture.

 

Participatory Poland — An Introduction (Part Two)

Agata Zarzycka and Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak

Department of English Studies

University of Wroclaw

Poland

 

PARTICIPATORY POLITICAL RESISTANCE

Throughout the 1980s, Orange Alternative , an overtly political movement formed in 1981 by Wroclaw students, with Waldemar Fydrych as its leader, successfully covered its resistance agenda with seemingly innocent activities, using surrealism as a weapon and the spontaneous involvement of the street crowd as a power source for actions that would later bring the organization international recognition. Those actions shared many features with other underground resistance initiatives of that period, yet were characterized by the cultivation of their anarchist roots and the employment of methods often verging on the absurd, as reflected by Orange Alternative’s trademark sign – a dwarf. Hana Cervinkova explains that the fairytale symbol, which soon lent its name to the movement’s activity, labeled as “Revolution of the Dwarves,” took its origin in a graffiti war against the militia. When the actual subversive inscriptions left by resistance activists on city walls were removed by the authorities, Fydrych, soon followed by more people, marked their previous locations with dwarf images (3). In 1988 the symbol was so popular that a demonstration of thirteen to twenty thousand dwarf impersonators in Wrocław attracted the general  attention and confused the regime forces unsure how to deal with the happening (3). Throughout the 80s, that and other humorous formulas enabled Orange Alternative to carry out numerous public performances (3-4), sometimes verging on a flashmob style and involving random passers-by.

Surrealism did not guarantee safety from repressions, but definitely encouraged the participatory support of regular citizens who gained a chance to get involved without becoming targeted resistance activists (“Orange Alternative: The Story” n. p.). The Orange Alternative activity, naturally suspicious to the regime protectors, was also criticized by fellow resistance movements for the light treatment of the political struggle (“Orange Alternative: The Story” n. p.). Still, initiatives engaging a broad circle of supporters, not all of whom would be ready to risk their lives and the wellbeing of their families for the political cause, created, as Cervinkova puts it, “a venue for symbolic action that was social and asso­ciational in nature, a performative and symbolic means for creating free space for deliberative democratic action” (5).

Cervinkowa sees Orange Alternative as a spectacular, yet not the sole example of what Matynia calls “performative democracy” – a phenomenon relying on the collective consideration and modification of the political and social conditions, which is enabled by seemingly non-political collective activity providing a forum for exploring and practising civic involvement. Such a platform in socialist Poland was, as pointed out by both Matynia (10) and Cervinkova (5) the Youth Theatre of the 1970s. The theatrical connotation seems to imply a participatory factor, especially in the light of Matynia’s argument that: “… just like carnival, it [performative democracy] happens, and when it happens, it releases a robust civic creativity, prepares conditions for backs to straighten up – and this is an achievement of lasting value” (9). It might even be claimed that Matynia’s definition offers an insight into the politically significant dimensions of broadly understood participatory culture when the author declares that “performative democracy can actually be joyous and affirmative dimension of the political, yet one that self-limits its passions by necessarily framing them into agreed-upon forms, genres, and conventions” (6). Indeed, the last years of socialism in Poland seem to have brought a growing importance of the carnivalesque and participatory factors in the public sphere. Marek Oziewicz follows Padraic Kenney’s A Carnival of Revolution in tracing the mass turn of informal social demonstrations between 1985 and 1989, not only in Poland, but also in other countries of the Eastern Bloc, towards spontaneous and often humorous initiatives motivated by a whole spectrum of inspirations, from universal ethical issues through artistic performance to actual fandom-based fascination with writers such as Tolkien or Isaac Asimov (Oziewicz 364).

 

POLISH FANDOM AND POLITICS

It is no wonder that in the turmoil of the public life in socialist Poland, the development of fandom movement, focused at first around science-fiction, had a special political significance. The relationship of Polish science-fiction with the official political system was ambivalent and dynamic in the period between the 1950s and 1980s. According to Jacek Inglot, a recognized writer and fandom commentator, the 50s brought on an awkward parallel relationship between speculative fiction and official political demands of “socrealism” which included, among others, a socially involved protagonist; a discrediting depiction of middle-class individualism contrasted with the affirmation of community as the source of empowerment; and an emphasis on the superiority of socialism over capitalism (62-63). Inglot tracks down three categories of speculative fiction’s reactions to the imposition of the above-mentioned criteria: marginal acknowledgment; “servitude”-induced political statements included in the text, but having little to do with the actual plot and possible to ignore; and finally genuine ideological involvement (63).

As argued among others by another prominent author and critic, Maciej Parowski, speculative fiction proved to be a good way of misleading censorship. because sketching a fictional vision that drifted away from the immediate reality was often enough to enable implicit attacks on regime philosophies (n.p.). A person who embodied the bonds between Polish fandom and political resistance was Janusz A. Zajdel, a recognized author of dystopian SF, who was also a Solidarity movement activist. In 1985, during Polcon, the first (and since then the biggest) Polish convention, he received an award for his contribution to the growth of speculative fiction in Poland. Since his death in the same year, the award has been called by his name and constitutes both the major Polish distinction for writers of speculative fiction and the most spectacular symbol of the fandom’s tribute to the political cause.

It is to be emphasized that even without such direct connections with resistance, fandom in socialist Poland promoted politically significant activities, such as informal, grassroots organization and free exchange of thoughts, not to mention the frequently unofficial influx of Western literature with the focus on science-fiction, a genre not only characteristic of imperial culture, but also interested in the exploration of political and social doctrines. Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc and in the new, post-communist popular culture of the 1990s and beyond, the relation between politics and media-oriented participatory movements in Poland has been more complex.

On the one hand, it is possible to observe the continuity of Nowa Fantastyka’s political orientation, though in the new reality the echo of the magazine’s once liberating and progressive character discourages some readers with its right-wing affinity. On the other hand, communities centered around various forms of participatory entertainment, from particular fandoms through historical reconstruction to LARP and RPG practice, which since the 1990’s have continued their dynamic and growingly diversified development, have been affected by a broader cultural and political shock connected with the exposure to contemporary Western political and civic discourses preoccupied with collective identities.

As Joanna Tokarska-Bakir writes in the introduction to the first Polish edition of Erving Goffman’s Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity from 2005, “the isolation of Polish humanities in the communist period resulted in the emancipatory discourse initiated in the 90s being far ahead of Poles’ social education . . . . In the Polish discourse of difference, ‘excess’ has in a way preceded ‘lack,’ and as a consequence, various postmodern strategies of stigma management are faced not with emphatic critique, but indifference, arrogance or even overt hostility” (7, translation ours).

Today, eight years later, civic identity politics is a visible and more or less familiar element of Polish political and social landscape, but its functions, practice and reception in particular environments remains far from balanced. That is why “Participatory Poland” report aims to consider several examples of the civic practices and policies developed, challenged or objected to by Polish participatory culture movements. We hope to show the ways in which those movements, although by definition open to global ideas and co-creating “pop cosmopolitanism” with similar environments from all over the world, simultaneously reflect and cope with Poland-specific issues.

 

COMING UP NEXT

The series of the upcoming blog entries, which will offer an insight into several dimensions of the “participatory Poland,” is opened by Michał Mochocki’s essay on the participatory culture of historical reenactment, combining specifically Polish phenomena with inspirations from the West. The essay presents the origins and development of historical re-enactment movements in Poland, their political dimension and impact on regional identities. Michał’s special focus is on the dynamics of conflict and cooperation between re-enactment-connected grassroots organizations and state-run institutions.

The next entry, co-authored by the research team composed of Justyna Janik, Joanna Kucharska, Tomasz Z. Majkowski, Joanna Płaszewska, Bartłomiej Schweiger, Piotr Sterczewski and Piotr Gąsienica-Daniel, reflects upon the impact of historical, political and social factors on the development of collective identities and their representations within Polish fandom. Relying on sociological research carried out specifically for the needs of the report, it will focus on identity politics within the contemporary young-generation fandom.

Third on the list is a text by Michał Jutkiewicz and Rafał Kołsut, considering the genesis and consequences of a striking social and cultural separation of the comics fandom from the more uniform speculative media fandom in Poland. While numerous Polish fans share several fields of interest, from media consumption through live or computer gaming to historical reenactment, the fact that they also tend to read comics does not prevent the Polish comics environment from functioning as a rather independent community. The authors investigate the reasons for this situation and establish the extent to which it is specific of and significant for the fandom in question.

Katarzyna Wasylak’s essay on the Polish manga scene offers an insight into a participatory movement building up from the scratch and sinking into the Polish socio-cultural context. The essay uses the “pop cosmopolitanism” perspective to consider the origin and growth of the Polish manga and anime fandom, its inter-cultural potential, as well as its fusions with Poland-specific phenomena and representation of Polish identity within the fandom worldwide.

Finally, the report by Aleksandra Mochocka considers bra-fitting, a recent phenomenon that represents not the fandom-fuelled, but economy and marketing-related side of participatory social practice and has grown in Poland to be transported to other countries. The essay depicts the bra-fitting movement as related to the construction of femininity and the body image issues and as initiated by means of grassroots Internet communication. The rapid development of the bra-fitting community has contributed not only to an emancipatory change in socially acknowledged beauty standards, but also to a modification of some lingerie companies’ production strategies and their successful debut on the American market.

We are aware that these relatively brief presentations of selected participatory culture aspects are likely to reveal further blank spots, questions or directions begging for more extended research. We are also aware that the “Confessions of an Aca-Fan” readers are well-phrased in all things participatory and may find a lot of what we have to say more than familiar. Still, we hope that the combination of a nation-specific perspective with that embracing participatory culture as a global phenomenon proves useful to others, just the way it has proved challenging and thought-provoking to us.

 

WORKS CITED

 

 

Cervinkova, Hana. “The Kidnapping of Wroclaw’s Dwarves: The Symbolic Politics of Neoliberalism in Urban East-Central Europe”. East European Politics & Societies 20.10: 1-14.

Frąckiewicz, Sebastian. “Wywiad z Maciejem Parowskim: 30 lat ‘Fantastyki’ – Rozmontować karabin i sprzedać jako wózek” [An Interview with Maciej Parowski: 30 Years of Fantastyka: Disassemble the Gun and Sell it as a Cart]. Polityka.pl. 26 October 2012. 31 October 2013. http://www.polityka.pl/kultura/rozmowy/1531337,1,wywiad-z-maciejem-parowskim-30-lat–fantastyki.read

Inglot, Jacek. “Soc Fiction (1): Rzecz o fantastyce polskiej pierwszej połowy lat pięćdziesiątych”[Soc Fiction(1): On Polish Speculative Fiction of the early Fifties]. Nowa Fantastyka. March 1991. No. 3 (9/102): 63-65.

Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York and      London: New York University Press, 2006.

- – -, Katie Clinton, Ravi Purushotma, Alice J. Robison and Margaret Weigel. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur Foundation, 2009.

Koczanowicz, Leszek. Politics of Time: Dynamics of Identity in Post-communist Poland. New York : Berghahn Books, 2008.

Lessig, Lawrence. “Re-examining the Remix”. TED. May 2010. 28 October 2013. http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html

Matynia, Elżbieta. Performative Democracy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2009.

Orange Alternative. “Orange Alternative: The Story”. Orange Alternative official website28 October 2013. http://www.pomaranczowa-alternatywa.org/orange%20alternative%20overview.html

Oziewicz, M.C. “Dwarf Resistance in Communist Poland: Fantastic-Ridiculous Dwarf Esthetic as Political Subversion in the Orange Alternative Movement and the Movie Kingsize. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 22.3: 363-376.

Radziejewski, Bartłomiej. „Sarmacja – niedokończona przygoda” [Sarmatia: An Unfinished Adventure]. Fronda.pl. 12 July 2009. 31 October 2013. http://www.fronda.pl/a/sarmacja-niedokonczona-przygoda,2444.html

Tischner, Józef. Etyka solidarności oraz homo sovieticus [Solidarity Ethics and Homo Sovieticus]. Kraków: Znak, 2005.

Tokarska-Bakir, Joanna. “Wstęp do wydania polskiego: Et(n)ologia piętna” [Introduction to the Polish Edition: Stigma Eth(n)ology]. Erving Goffman, Piętno: Rozważania o zranionej tożsamości. Trans. Aleksandra Dzierżyńska and Joanna Tokarska-Bakir. Gdańsk: Gdańskie Wydawnictwo Psychologiczne, 2005. 7-26.

 

 

 

 

Participatory Poland (Part One): Participatory Poland — An Introduction

This past May, I received an email from Agata Zarzycka, Assistant Professor of Literature at the Department of English Studies, Wrocław University:

“We are writing to you on behalf of a team of academics and doctoral students from the Department of English Studies, University of Wrocław, Poland, inspired by your words from the foreword to the Polish edition of The Convergence Culture, where you wrote about your specifically American focus and range of experience, but also about the impossibility of ignoring the mutual exchange between medialized cultural movements across the world. You also mentioned your potential interest in supporting a dialog between participants and commentators of American and Polish popular culture, which has encouraged us to ask for your opinion about the general concept and the possible collaboration potential of the combined didactic and research-oriented project aimed the cultivation of ”new media literacies” among high school students – an enterprise that, to the best of our knowledge, no one has yet ventured to launch in the academic context. “

I was well aware that there was growing interest in my work there: the very first translation of my work, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, was into Polish and I shared this account of a visit my wife and I made to this country several years ago in this blog: Part One, Part Two, and more recently, I featured a report by Polish researchers on the intellectual property struggles in their country. There are dramatic cultural changes taking place in Poland, which has also been a key pillar in the Creative Commons movement.

As our correspondence continued, and as they shared with me the curriculum they were developing, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness with which they were seeking to translate some of my ideas about participatory culture and new media literacies for the Polish academic setting, but I challenged them to think even more deeply about what the concept of participatory culture might mean in contemporary, Post-Communist Poland, and about what kinds of lived experiences Polish students might be having with these practices.  After all, part of the goal is to have students bring their own expertise and passions into the educational setting. In response, they launched a remarkable project, which brought together key scholars and aca-fan from Poland, to write a series of overview essays describing different participatory practices in their country. I was blown away by this response, and even more so, by the depth and richness of what they produced. I am very honored to be in the position to share these reports with readers around the world via this blog.

I hope you will learn as much from the Participatory Poland series as I have, and I hope that it will inspire scholars in other countries to consider producing similar accounts of what participatory culture might mean in their national contexts. I would love to see proposals from elsewhere which might fill similar gaps in our understanding of traditional and contemporary cultural practices.

This first piece, broken down into two installments, provides the context through which to understand this series, an account of the dramatic cultural and political changes which have impacted Poland over the past few decades.

PARTICIPATORY POLAND: AN INTRODUCTION

 

Agata Zarzycka and Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak

Department of English Studies

University of Wroclaw

Poland

 

 

THE SCOPE AND GOALS OF THE REPORT

This essay introduces the “Participatory Poland” report: a series of essays in which Polish aca-fen analyze several branches of Polish participatory culture and try to locate their specificity by considering the historical context in which it has so far developed. While we are aware that the factors involved in this phenomenon are numerous and complex enough to become a material for at least one book, which makes our Introduction selective and imperfect by definition, we have attempted to characterize the background for the discussions to follow in the subsequent blog entries and show their shared relevance as facets of the contemporary “participatory Poland”.

Undoubtedly, a groundbreaking feature of the Internet-boosted participatory culture is its globalized character, resulting in what Henry Jenkins calls “pop cosmopolitanism” (Fans 155-156) and providing common cultural and civic “languages” connecting people from all over the world. Because of that, however, we find it even more interesting to see how the “local color” of fan-based practices can be shaped by the heritage of national, historical and political factors that are seemingly detached from the fandom community, whose traditions, in their most influential form, have originated in the English-speaking, and specifically American, cultural sphere.

In Poland, the emergence of fandom as we know it was belated by several decades. Nevertheless, the cultural and social potential for participatory entertainment proved powerful enough to quickly bring about a whole spectrum of movements that continue to evolve. The preliminary edition of the report is composed of close-ups on just a few samples from various parts of that spectrum: speculative fiction as the core inspiration for the contemporary participatory culture; historical reconstruction as a movement closely connected to the local context; role-playing games as a form of entertainment which, once adopted by Polish practitioners, have proved flexible and responsive to various, more or less nationality-dependent activities; comics as possibly the most directly subversive and politically involved phenomenon; manga as an example of a genuinely foreign factor that has become a noticeably nationalized element of the participatory landscape in Poland; and finally bra-fitting, which, while inspired by prosumerism rather than fandom activity, constitutes one of uniquely successful Polish grassroots movements. While participatory culture is most often associated with digital media or fandom centered around cult pop cultural works, its crucial aspects as defined by Jenkins et al. in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2009), underline also other aspects of participation – the collectivity of the experience, the appreciation of the input of others, the experience of belonging to a community supporting the activity, and the development of a grassroots organization based on more experienced participants introducing and guiding newbies etc. (Jenkins e. a. 7). Thus, although not all movements discussed in the report can be traced back to fan activity inspired by some originally offered official material, they share those features of participatory culture that make it a prominent phenomenon in the sphere of contemporary civic activism.

 

POLITICAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXT

 

The boom of most movements explored in this report could be observed either in the 1990s – the first post-communist decade in Poland – or in the young capitalism of the first decade of the 21st century. In the U.S., the time between the 1960s and the end of 1980s, though far from peaceful in terms of social and political issues, brought a natural growth and formation of core fandom phenomena which together with the digital media revolution were to bring participatory culture to the level of a new cultural paradigm that we experience now: J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings spiraled up to the status of cult texts, reinforcing on their way the development of role-playing games; movies and TV shows such as Star Wars and Star Trek triggered large-scale fan communities; and the comic-book underground flourished. In Poland, the growth of popular culture in the same period, though enjoying some highlights, especially in the 1970s, was marked and limited by political and cultural isolation from the rest of the world, oppression, poverty, political infiltration and resistance, propaganda, censorship and fear. Obviously, this is not to say that American fandom developed in a socio-political void. It was the post-McCarthyist reaction that implicitly led to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, fuelled by the hippie movement and accompanied, among others, by a boom of American interest in Tolkien. Fandom-related phenomena and cultural practices have on a regular basis been scrutinized for their supposed moral harmfulness and psychological threats, as exemplified in the 1950s by the famous Senate activities inspired by Fredrick Wertham with regard to comic books in the 50s, the Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons activity in the 80s, or the post-Columbine media panic leading to Henry Jenkins’ 1999 intervention in defense of Goth and gaming cultures in Congress in 1999. In 2010, a politically loaded TED performance of Lawrence Lessig, who considers the copyright issues in the Internet remix culture from the perspective of Right – Left conflicts, underlined the political dimension of contemporary fandom-related practices on the structural level (http://www.ted.com/talks/lessig_nyed.html).

Still, regardless of the unquestionably dynamic bonds of American participatory culture with broader social and political contexts, one of the factors that make the growth of similar movements in Poland significantly different is the position and functions of grassroots and otherwise informal collective activity in general. Two stereotypical images of community actions as shaped throughout the socialist period might be compared, however remotely, to the American distinction between grassroots and astroturfing. On the one hand, the so called “czyn społeczny” (subbotnik) practice in frames of which communist authorities forced people to carry out unpaid work for the “common good,” as well as the general pressure on the society to manifest fake enthusiasm for the imposed ideology, negatively affected the concept of collective activity and laced most such initiatives with a political undertone unwanted by the participants. On the other hand, it is exactly through the more or less spontaneous grassroots resistance movements as reflected by the very name of “Solidarity” that the most serious and effective campaign against the regime was waged until its successful conclusion in 1989. In the social reality so heavily conditioned by one or another aspect of the nationwide political conflict, it was difficult to set up any kind of shared activity that would not have to, at some point, position itself somewhere in its spectrum. That is why the discussion of the development of Polish participatory culture necessitates historical contextualization.

The 1945 intervention of the Soviet army in Poland resulted in the establishment of the communist government, which in turn meant that the country soon became a socialist state following the Soviet model. Poland, or rather the People’s Republic of Poland, as it was officially known from 1952 to 1989, remained under that influence until 1989 but open social opposition to the communist rule existed throughout the period, assuming a variety of forms and guises, including initiatives inspired by popular culture. In the late 1940s and early 1950s Poland had its share of Stalinist rule, such as strong censorship, ideological manipulation and persecution of the Roman Catholic Church. A short interval of “thaw” came after Stalin’s death in 1953 and resulted in bloodily quenched worker protests in 1956. In October that year Władysław Gomułka became first secretary of the PZPR (the Polish United Workers’ Party), proclaiming that Poland was to follow the Polish way to socialism, defined by the specificities of the country’s traditions. Nevertheless, the years 1956-1980 were marked by a progressing economic crisis and the growing dissent on the part of the Church, workers and the intelligentsia.

Of particular importance in that period was the Warsaw Pact of 1968 (a mutual defense treaty between communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War), students’ protests against the lack of intellectual and cultural freedom in March 1968, and widespread strikes in shipyards and factories on the Baltic coast in 1970. In 1970 Gomułka was replaced by Edward Gierek, whose idea to assuage social discontent was to introduce moderate liberalization and boost the economy by massive borrowing from the West. The latter resulted in another crisis, the increase in food prices and social unrest. Simultaneously, the Helsinki Accords in 1975, the growing influence of the Catholic Church under the leadership of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, and the papacy of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła (1978) as well as his visit to Poland in 1979, culminated in the formation of Solidarity, the free national trade union. Solidarity’s growing membership and its unrelenting opposition to the regime on the one hand and the pressure of the Soviet Union on the Polish government to deal with the turbulent situation on the other led to the declaration of Martial Law in December 1981 by general Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Everyday life became difficult. The borders were closed and travelling in the country was drastically limited. Moreover, curfew was introduced between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Also numerous Solidarity activists were imprisoned without court sentence, and Solidarity itself was officially dissolved. Nevertheless, the communist regime was weakening. In 1989 the Polish Round Table was formed as a forum for discussions between the government, Solidarity and other opposition groups. The first democratic elections took place in summer 1989, sweeping communism away, and the Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki became prime minister. The post-communist era in the history of Poland began.

Unfortunately, despite the triumphant victory of democracy and capitalism over communism, for many Poles the transition from the predemocratic Poland to a liberal economic system, democracy, as well as the integration into the European Union, has proved difficult and disillusioning. As Leszek Koczanowicz puts it,

[c]ommunism in Poland as well as in other European countries led to the total absorption of the public sphere by the state apparatus. Communist ideology adapted almost the whole field of traditional thinking, reformulating it in collective terms. In the fight against “bourgeois” ideology, stress was put on the deficiencies of the concept of individualism as a useful tool for understanding and organizing social reality. Instead, communist ideology proposed a collective solution which was embodied in the idea of the Communist Party. (43)

Therefore it is no wonder that the mentality of Homo sovieticus – a type of a human being who is enslaved by the system but who is also glad to have his or her basic needs satisfied by it (Tischner 125) – cannot be smoothly replaced by a radically new national identity stemming not only from the sense of responsibility for oneself but also from a conscious exercise of one’s civic and personal freedom in a plural society. Simultaneously, as Elżbieta Matynia points out, Polish social and cultural life remains to be shaped by the romantic salvational paradigm of Poland as torn by foreign powers (153-154). For Matynia, its most significant elements are “the general preoccupation with history” and “the recounting of a heroic past”; the idea of a persecuted nation, typically linked with the Catholic religion; and “in the absence of a satisfying reality, a life within symbols and allegories, a community of the spirit, nurtured by family memories of the resistance experience and shared by each generation” (154).

Bartłomiej Radziejewski identifies a unifying and potentially more empowering root of Polish traditional rebelliousness in the “Sarmatian spirit” echoing the nobles’ democracy of the 15th and 16th century, which affirmed individual independence and the distrust of government (n.p.). Throughout the 1990s, however, a radically different, but equally influential element of Polish post-totalitarian mentality has developed in the form of “communist nostalgia” (Koczanowicz 8), which stems from people’s sense of uncertainty in the new political situation. As Koczanowicz comments, Poles “who got used to living in circumstances defined by communist bureaucracy came to feel lost in the new situation of market economy” (8). Moreover, as he continues, for many the previous system was ideal just because it was predictable and secure, as well as enabling people to assume a clear moral stance (8): “Freedom became for most of them [people] too much of a burden” (52).

One of the most recent phenomena shaping contemporary Polish identity is post-post-communism, which could be defined as a sense of anxiety about “losing identity in the face of globalization, immigration, and the power of international institutions” (Koczanowicz 149). Hence, as Koczanowicz argues, Poles desire the restoration of traditional values on the ideological level and the strengthening of the role of state perceived “as a system of organizations” (149).

As can be concluded, Poland in the first decades of the 21st century is to a large extent driven by the longing for the past. As Koczanowicz explains, “[t]he social time of the Polish society (the ontology of expectations) is predominantly colonized by the attitude toward the traditional national and religious values. People imagine that traditional values should serve as a point of reference in the changing social reality for the long time” (150-151). The significance of such philosophy and past-oriented sentiments may be expected to decrease in the relatively younger generations of today’s 30- or 20-year-olds, not to mention teenagers. Still, the unease connected with the lack of a coherent and optimistic alternative, combined with the general challenges of existence in the late capitalist reality, are reasons why the imprint of the socialist period remains relevant.

In terms of Polish participatory culture development, the experience of socialism not only induced the fundamental fandom initiatives with a subversive undertone, but also inspired some politics-focused initiatives. A spectacular example of the political employment of participatory techniques is Orange Alternative movement.

 (MORE TO COME)

 

Dr. Agata Zarzycka is Assistant Professor of Literature at the Department of English Studies, Wrocław University. She has authored a monograph on role-playing games, Socialized Fiction: Role-Playing Games as a Multidimensional Space of Interaction between Literary Theory and Practice (2009). Her other publications deal with role-playing games, fantasy literature and participatory culture. Her current research project is devoted to Gothic influences on popular culture. She is also interested in remix, game studies, fandom and subcultures, as well as broadly understood speculative fiction.

Dr. Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak is Assistant Professor of Literature and Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture at the Department of English Studies, Wroclaw University, Poland. She has published a monograph on Salman Rushdie, Rushdie in Wonderland: “Fairytaleness” in Salman Rushdie’s Fiction (Peter Lang 2004). She has also published articles on Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, fairy tales, YA fantasy, and Polish children’s literature, for example in Folklore and Marvels & Tales. She co-edited Towards or Back to Human Values? Spiritual and Moral Dimensions of Contemporary Fantasy (Cambridge Scholars Press 2006), Considering Fantasy: Ethical, Didactic and Therapeutic Aspects of Fantasy in Literature and Film (ATUT 2007), and Relevant across Cultures: Visions of Connectedness and Earth Citizenship in Modern Fantasy for Young Readers (ATUT 2009). Her research interests include children’s literature and culture, reader response, utopianism, ecocriticism, and intermediality. As Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture, she organizes and coordinates numerous creative workshops and courses for children and young adults. Since 2012 she has been on the editorial board of Filoteknos: Children’s Literature-Cultural Mediation-Anthropology of Childhood, the first Polish academic journal in the field. In 2003 and 2004 she was awarded the Scholarships of the Foundation for Polish Science for young scholars. Her expertise was recognised internationally in 2004 through the Study Fellowship at the International Youth Library in Munich and in 2013, through Kosciuszko Foundation Fellowship and Fulbright Senior Advanced Research Award to work at the Institute of Effective Education and the Department of Childhood Studies, at Rutgers University.

Solidarity Might be for White Women, but it isn’t for Feminists

Solidarity Might be for White Women, but it isn’t for Feminists

                                              By Nikita Hamilton

 

In early August, the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen sparked an internet-wide conversation about feminism, intersectionality and inclusion after Mikki Kendal coined the term in her response to tweets that were to and from Hugo Schwyzer, a professor at Pasadena City College. Schwyzer had just gone on an hour-long Twitter rant in which he admitted to leaving women of color out of feminism, and later apologized for it. He then received sympathetic Twitter responses that moved Kendal to tweet “#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen when the mental heath & future prospects for @hugoschwyzer are more important than the damage he did.” She felt that women of color were, and are, continuously left out of feminism and that Schwyzer was another example of that exclusion.

Though this is a necessary discussion, what is most interesting about it is that it’s a conversation that started decades ago and has just never come to a resolution. The inclusion of women of color has been an issue from the very beginnings of first-wave feminism and we are simply at another iteration of the same discussion. When white middle-class women wanted to fight for the right to go out into a workforce that Black, Asian, and Hispanic women had already been a part of for decades, if not hundreds of years, they all realized that there would be a continued disconnect. How could there not be when some of these women came from generations of working and slaving women or generations of woman that had been working side by side with the men of their race?

In a recent NPR Code Switch article, Linsay Yoo asked about which women were included in the term “women of color,” and advocated for the inclusion of Asian and Hispanic women. Her inquiries and points made sense since Asian and Hispanic women are also marginalized and often left out of feminism. However, in addition to noticing the continued omission of Arab women from the term “women of color” by each other these commentators, I was left with the question, “what do people mean when they say that they want solidarity?” Furthermore, what would this solidarity look like and what are its desired consequences? I believe that this is the question that feminists are really failing to answer.

Mikki Kendall wrote, “Solidarity is a small word for a broad concept; sharing one aspect of our identity with someone else doesn’t mean we’ll have the same goals, or even the same ideas of community.” Kendall’s definition sends feminists in the direction that they need to go undoubtedly, but the word “solidarity” itself is the problem. Solidarity implies equality and that is not present in the feminist movement or society at large. We live in world that stratifies people by their gender, race, sexuality and class. It is quite possible that expectation of equality that comes from a word such as “solidarity” that is the snowball, which then turns into an avalanche of problems and disagreements. Therefore, it is time to find another label and it is time to have a very honest conversation among all feminists, both those who feel included and excluded from the movement, about how structural inequalities based upon on color, sexuality and socioeconomic status have to be taken into consideration along with gendered issues.

Of course there are some key issues that are affecting all women because they are biologically female. The attack on women’s bodies by the government, women’s healthcare, violence and sexual assault are all topics that feminists can agree need to be at the forefront of the women’s movement. However, depending on the race, for example, the order of those topics importance shifts. For example, the 2000 US Department of Justice survey on intimate partner violence uncovered that inter-partner violence was particularly salient for Hispanic women because they “were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic women to report that they were raped by a current or former intimate partner at some time in their lifetime.” For black women, sexual assault is a leading issue.  According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the lifetime rate of rape and attempted rape for all women is 17.6% while it is 18.8% for black women specifically. There can be consensus on what the issues are, but there also needs to be acceptance of differences, inequalities and the desire for differing prioritizations. Why can’t feminism be a movement of consensus on the overarching issues that affect women that also houses Third World and black feminists’ respective prioritized concerns? Why can’t each group be a wall under the roof of feminism that provides support, but consists of different activities in each room of the house?

The Women’s Movement is still needed, but as history has exemplified over and over again solidarity is not what can, or needs to be, achieved presently. Solidarity is defined as a “community of feelings, purposes, etc.,” and the idea of “community” connotes an equality that is not yet present among all of the women of the feminism. A better word may be “consensus,” which means “majority of opinion” or “general agreement” because feminists can all agree that there are some overarching feminist issues. Either way, the point is that we set ourselves up for failure every time we sit at the table and come to realize that once the initial layer of women’s issues is peeled back there are too many differences left bare and unacknowledged in the name of a non-existent “solidarity.” Solidarity IS for white women, and for black women, and for Asian women, and for Hispanic women and for Arab women. Consensus is for feminists. Let’s finally move forward.

Nikita Hamilton is a doctoral student at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her research interests include gender, race, stereotypes, feminism, film and popular culture.

The Other Media Revolution

This is another in the series of posts from students in my PhD level seminar on the Public Intellectual, which I am teaching this term through the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. 

 

The Other Media Revolution

by Mark Hannah

 

I’ve long blogged about the so-called “digital media revolution.”  Yet, deploying digital media to praise digital media has always struck me as a bit self-congratulatory.  Socrates, in the Gorgias dialogues, accuses orators of flattering their audiences in order to persuade them.  This may be the effect, even if it’s not the intention, of blogging enthusiastically about blogging.

To be sure, a meaningful and consequential revolution of our media universe is underway.  This revolution’s technological front has been well chronicled and analyzed (and is represented) by this blog and others like it.  The revolution’s economic front – specifically, the global transformation of media systems from statist to capitalist models – has, I think, been critically underappreciated.

 

What Sprung the Arab Spring?

How attributable is the Arab Spring to Twitter and Facebook, really?  After a wave of news commentary and academic research that have back-patted western social media companies, some observers now question how much credit digital media truly deserve for engendering social movements.  It’s undeniable that the Internet does, in fact, provide a relatively autonomous space for interaction and mobilization, and that revolutionary ideas have a new vehicle for diffusing throughout a population.  But the salience of these revolutionary ideas may have its origin in other media that are more prevalent in the daily life of ordinary Arab citizens.

With limited Internet access but high satellite TV penetration throughout much of the Arab world, the proliferation of privately owned television networks may, in fact, have been more responsible for creating the kind of cosmopolitan attitudes and democratic mindset that were foundational for popular uprisings in that region.

Authoritarian regimes are sensitive to this phenomenon and, as my colleague Philip Seib points out, Hosni Mubarak responded to protests early on in the Egyptian revolution by pulling the plug on private broadcasters like ON-TV and Dream-TV, preventing them from airing their regular broadcasts.  Of the more than 500 satellite TV channels in the region (more than two-thirds of which are now privately owned!), Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are two news networks that have redefined Middle Eastern journalim and enjoy broad, pan-Arab influence.

The Internet, which represents technological progress and individual interaction, may have emerged as a powerful symbol of democratic protests in the Arab world even while “old media,” with their new (relative) independence from government coercion may be more responsible for planting the seeds of those protests.

 

America Online? Cultural Exchange On and Off the Web

Is YouTube really exporting American culture abroad?  The prevailing wisdom, fueled by a mix of empirical research and a culture of enthusiasm for digital media, is that the global nature of the Web has opened up creative content for sharing with new international audiences.  Yet, in light of restrictive censorship laws and media consumers’ homophilic tendencies, we may be overstating the broad multicultural exchange that has resulted.

What has signficantly increased the influence of American cultural products, however, is the liberalization of entertainment markets internationally.  As international trade barriers loosen, Hollywood films are pouring into foreign countries.  Just last year, China relaxed its restrictions on imported films, now allowing twenty imported films per year (most of which come from the United States).  This freer trade model, combined with the dramatic expansion of the movie theater market in China (American film studios can expect to generate $20 – $40 million per film these days, as opposed to $1 million per film ten years ago) is a boon for America’s cross-cultural influence in China.

It’s true that rampant piracy, enabled by digital technologies, further increases the reach and influence of American movies and music.  To the extent that the demand for pirated cultural products may be driven by the promotional activity of film studios or record labels, this practice may be seen more as an (illegal) extension of new international trade activity than as a natural extension of any multicultural exchange occuring online.

The cultural influence of trade doesn’t just move in one direction though.  As Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, insisted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, economic globalization is as much responsible for bringing other cultures to Hollywood as it is for bringing Hollywood to other cultures.

Put otherwise, media systems are both the cause and the effect of culture.

 

The Cycle of Cultural Production & Consumption

To use a concept from sociology, media are performative. They enable new social solidarities, create new constituencies and, in some cases, even redefine political participation.  Nothing sows the idea of political dissent like the spectacle of an opposition leader publicly criticizing the a country’s leader on an independent television channel.  And, on some level, nothing creates a sense of individual economic agency like widespread television advertisements for Adidas and Nike sneakers, competing for the viewer’s preference.

Sociologists also discuss the “embeddedness” of markets within social and political contexts. From this angle, the proliferation of commercial broadcasters and media liberalization are enabled by the kind of social and political progress that they, in turn, spur.

Despite the above examples of how the media universe’s new economic models are transforming public opinion and cultural identity, we remain transfixed on the new technological models, the digital media revolution.  It’s perhaps understandable that reports of deregulation and trade agreements often take a back seat to the more trendy tales of the Internet’s global impact. The Internet is, after all, a uniform and universal medium and the causes and consequences of its introduction to different parts of the world are easily imagined.

In contrast, the increased privatization of media, while a global phenomenon, is constituted differently in different national contexts.  The private ownership of newspapers in the formerly Communist countries of Eastern Europe looks different than the multinational conglomerates that own television channels in Latin America.  Like globalization itself, this global phenomenon is being expressed in variegated and culturally situated ways.

Finally, the story of this “other” media revolution is also a bit counterintuitive to an American audience, which readily identifies the Internet as an empowering and democratizing medium, but has a different experience domestically with the commercialization of news journalism.  We haven’t confronted an autocratic state-run media environment and our commercial media don’t always live up to the high ideals of American journalism.  To a country like ours, which has grown accustomed to an independent press, it’s not always easy to see, as our founders once did, the potential of a free market of ideas (and creative content) as a foundation for independent thought, democratic participation, and cultural identity.

 

Mark Hannah is a doctoral student at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, where he studies the political and cultural consequences of the transformation of media systems internationally. A former political correspondent for PBS’s MediaShift blog, Mark has been a staffer on two presidential campaigns and a digital media strategist at Edelman PR.

A Whale Of A Tale!: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley Brings Mixed Magic to LA

Last February, I announced here the release of Reading in a Participatory Culture, a print book, and Flows of Reading, a d-book extension, both focused around work my teams (first at MIT and then at USC) have done exploring how we might help educators and students learn about literary works through actively remixing them. Our central case study has been the work of playwright-actor-educator Ricardo Pitts-Wiley from the Mixed Magic Theater, who was successful at getting incarcerated youth to read and engage with Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick by having them re-imagine and re-write it for the 21st century. You can read more about this project here. And you can check out the Flows of Reading d-book for free here. 
If you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to learn more about Pitts-Wiley and his work first hand. I’ve been able to bring Ricardo for a residency at USC this fall, which will start with a public event at the Los Angeles Public Library on September 26. Ricardo is going to be recruiting a mixed race cast of high school and college aged actors from across the Los Angeles area and producing a staged reading of his play, Moby-Dick: Then and Now, which will be performed as part of a USC Visions and Voices event on Oct. 11th. You can get full details of both events below. I hope to see some of you there. We are already hearing from all kinds of artists here in Southern California who have sought creative inspiration from Melville’s novel and used it as a springboard for their own work. But you don’t have to love the great white whale to benefit from our approach to teaching traditional literary works in a digital culture, and we encourage teachers and educators of all kinds to explore how they might apply our model to thinking about many other cultural texts.
For those who live on the East Coast, our team will also be speaking and doing workshops at the National Writing Project’s national conference in Boston on Nov. 21.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 7:15 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
Thu, Sep 26, 7:15 PM [ALOUD]
Remixing Moby Dick: Media Studies Meets the Great White Whale 
Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

Over a multi-year collaboration, playwright and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, and media expert Henry Jenkins have developed a new approach for teaching Moby-Dick in the age of YouTube and hip-hop. They will explore how “learning through remixing” can speak to contemporary youth, why Melville might be understood as the master mash-up artist of the 19th century, and what might have happened if Captain Ahab had been a 21st century gang leader.

* Part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Library’s month-long citywide initiative “What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?”

 

Henry Jenkins is Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He has written and edited more than fifteen books on media and popular culture, including Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. His other published works reflect the wide range of his research interests, touching on democracy and new media, the “wow factor” of popular culture, science-fiction fan communities, and the early history of film comedy. His most recent book, Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick for the Literature Classroom was written with Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Erin Reilly, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley.

Wyn Kelley teaches in the Literature Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is author of Melville’s City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York and of Herman Melville: An Introduction. She also co-author Reading in a Participatory Culture: Re-Mixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom with Henry Jenkins and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. She is former Associate Editor of the Melville Society journal Leviathan, and editor of the Blackwell Companion to Herman Melville. A founding member of the Melville Society Cultural Project, she has collaborated with the New Bedford Whaling Museum on lecture series, conferences, exhibits, and a scholarly archive. She serves as Associate Director ofMEL (Melville Electronic Library), an NEH-supported interactive digital archive for reading, editing, and visualizing Melville’s texts.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is the co-founder of the Mixed Magic Theatre, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to presenting a diversity of cultural and ethnic images and ideas on the stage. While serving as Mixed Magic Theatre’s director, Pitts-Wiley gained national and international acclaim for his page-to-stage adaptation of Moby Dick, titled Moby Dick: Then and Now. This production, which was presented at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, is the centerpiece of a national teachers study guide and is featured in the book, Reading in A Participatory Culture. In addition to his work as an adapter of classic literature Pitts-Wiley is also the composer of over 150 songs and the author of 12 plays with music including:Waiting for Bessie SmithCelebrations: An African Odyssey, andThe Spirit Warrior’s Dream.

Bastard Culture!: An Interview with Mirko Tobias Schäfer (Part One)

It says something about the compartmentalization of academic culture that I only belatedly discovered Mirko Tobias Schäfer’s Bastard Culture!: How User Participation Transforms Cultural Production (published by Amsterdam University Press in 2011) — a work which poses some important critiques of the concept of participatory culture, especially as it relates to recent developments around Web 2.0 and social media. Schäfer, based in the Netherlands, represents an important tradition of critical theory about new media which has emerged most emphatically from Europe and which should be better known among those of us working within the United States.

As we discuss here, he is especially interested in the ways that technological designs constrain or limit our participation, rendering it less meaningful, commodifying it, in ways that run directly counter to the explicit rhetoric about expanding participation and empowering users. Read closely, Schäfer’s work still embraces the value of democratic participation, yet he wants to hold companies, and scholars, to a high standard in terms of what constitutes meaningful forms of participation, and he is eager to push us beyond the first wave of enthusiastic response to these new affordances in order to look more closely and critically about how they are actually used. As my interview here suggests, there are points of disagreement between us, but there is also much common ground to be explored, and there is an urgent need for researchers from different critical and disciplinary perspectives to be working together to refine our understanding of the current media landscape. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mirko at the recent Media in Transition conference at MIT and look forward to many future exchanges.

Having last week featured an interview with the editors of The Participatory Culture Handbook, I want to continue this focus on new theories of  participation by sharing this recent exchange I had with Schäfer.  I have come away with an even deeper respect and admiration for Schäfer’s nuanced critique of digital participation. The first installments of this interview involve looking backward to his Bastard Culture book, exploring the convergences and divergences in our thinking, and reflecting on how the debates around digital media have shifted since 2011. The closing segment shares more recent work Schäfer and his colleagues at Utrecht University have been doing using “big data” processes (in combination with more qualitative approaches) to better understand the kinds of social relations that are taking shape on Twitter.

The title of your book, “Bastard Culture,” is meant to suggest the ways that the worlds of users and producers, consumers and corporations, are “intertwined” or “blended” in the era of Web 2.0. I suspect we would agree that understanding the relations between these terms remains a central challenge in contemporary cultural theory. The goal is, as you suggest, to “provide an analysis that is not blurred by either utopian or cultural pessimistic assumptions.” Are we any closer to developing such an analysis today than we were when you first published Bastard Culture? If so, which contemporary accounts do you think help us to achieve this more balanced perspective?

It was indeed my goal to point out the general heterogeneity of online culture as well as to deconstruct the overly enthusiastic connotation of participation. Especially in academic discourse the unconditional enthusiasm for the so-called social media has cooled down by now. We can see important contributions criticizing social media platforms for their lack of cultural freedom (e.g. strict content monitoring), breach of privacy and their commercial use of user activities and user data.

I like to distinguish this critique in three general approaches, which separately focus on a) free labour, b) privacy issues and c) the public sphere quality of social media.

Drawing from Marxist theory these authors -among others Trebor Scholz, Mark Andrejewich, Christian Fuchs and partially Geert Lovink- criticize social media platforms for generating an unacknowledged surplus value from user activities and for determining effectively the scope of user activities in order to maximize commercial results. Scholz’s programmatic publication The Internet as Playground and as Factory is a strong example of this approach.

The strict regulations imposed by platform providers in combination with excessive data aggregation on users and their online activities sparked criticism concerning the lack of privacy by Michael Zimmer, Christian Fuchs and others. The general threat of surveillance -exerted by state authorities- has been convincingly addressed and criticized by Ronald Deibert, Evgeny Morozov, Wendy Chun, Jonathan Zittrain and others.

The public quality of interaction and communication on social media platforms has been described by Stefan Münker as “emerging digital publics”. Framing social media as a public sphere is not highly developed, but it provides in my opinion the most intriguing approach to understanding social media platforms and their impact on society.

Yes, I think we have made some progress in describing media practices more accurately and to give up on media myths that constituted the legend of new media as emancipating users. And this plays even out in the realm of the more general public. In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -a conservative/market-liberal newspaper- calls for a society-wide debate on technology and provides a platform for members of Computer Chaos Club to criticize technocratic policies and short-sighted understanding of technology and media. Evgeny Morozov is also doing an excellent job with his crusade against techno-populism; or think of Jaron Laniers superb critique of imprudent media use and hasty enthusiasm. It is absolutely crucial to have these debates within the popular discourse, as it is the popular discourse that shapes the general understanding of technology. That is why I have tremendous respect for scholars who are able to reach out to general audiences and to translate complex issues in accessible language.

As you note, participation has become an increasingly problematic word that is used by many different people in support of many different and often contradictory claims about the relationship between new media technologies and consumer empowerment. What steps can we make to reclaim participatory culture as a productive category for cultural analysis?

My objective was to deconstruct the ideological connotation as well as the emotional charge of ‘participation’. Recently, we can see a similar problem with the metaphor ‘social media’. It fuels a misunderstanding of media and media practices and it structurally obscure the agency of technology (the back-end as well as the user interface), power structures and economic factors.

In my opinion, it would be already helpful to pay close attention to the language we use to describe media and media practices. Many scholars can easily identify with emancipation, anti-hegemonic attitude and political activism. However, in our enthusiasm we tend to overestimate certain practices and misrepresent media use. We have therefore to take off our blinkers. I often tell my students, that if you really like your object of research, the chance is high for making mistakes and for neglecting important facts that would distort your picture.

That’s funny. I tell my students that when you start from too critical perspective, it will be easy to flatten or simplify the phenomenon you are studying, to not look very deeply for redeeming or contradictory features, and to not take seriously what the activity might mean for those who embrace it.

Of course I agree. Being too critical is just as distorting as being too enthusiastic. What is needed is curious interest and willingness to get to the bottom of things, even if it will change your previous view of them. And research methods provide useful ways to do so.

‘Participatory culture’ can serve as productive category for cultural analysis if scholars distance themselves from their personal appreciation of media practices that might be close to their hearts but not necessarily representative for online culture. This would help to recognize the heterogeneity of the phenomenon we call participation as well as the ambiguity of technology. Taking technological aspects thoroughly into account, using ‘digital methods’ and putting case examples into perspective of the broader picture will help to do so.

The forms of participation which interest me the most are explicit participation — that is, places where people are making conscious decisions to create media or otherwise communicate with each other about issues of mutual concern. Can you explain what you mean by implicit participation and how it relates to the claims being made by Web 2.0 companies to support participation? In what sense is it meaningful to describe “implicit participation” as participation? What are we participating within?

With implicit participation I describe how platform providers have integrated user activities into easy to use interface design and eventually implemented into business models. Implicit participation describes how user activities are channeled through the platform provider’s design decisions. This ranges from interface elements as the like-button, the incentive of views on Flickr or YouTube to strategies where user unknowingly participate in additional functions of the feature they are using on a platform. The reCAPTCHA is an example of implicit participation where information provided by users for accessing a web feature is re-used in a completely different context. Many so-called gamification practices are examples of implicit participation.

I would argue that the popular ‘social media’ platforms thrive on implicit participation. It reduces consequently their dependence on intrinsic motivation, which is so crucial in explicit participation. Explicit participation becomes merely optional. The key is to lower the threshold and encourage the generic production of content, through creating data by simply using the platform’s features or by spreading or multiplying content through the easy-to-use features of reproduction: retweet, repin, share etc. or to interact through ephemeral features as the like button. We will see many more and far better forms of implicit participation integrated into web platforms in future.

A key difference between our perspectives is that you place a much greater focus on the ways that technologies enable or constrain participation, where-as I primarily discuss the social and cultural motives which shape how people use technologies. Let’s assume we both believe that both technology and culture have played a role in defining the present moment as one where issues of participation are increasingly central to our understanding of the world. I would argue that there is a difference in understanding technology in terms of affordances and in terms of determinents, given the degree to which technologies are, as you note, subject to various forms of appropriation and redefinition once they have been designed and given that digital media can be re-coded and reprogrammed, even at the grassroots level, by those committed to alternative visions of social change. I worry, though, that ascribing too much power to technology results in models of technological determinism, which make certain outcomes seem inevitable. There has been such a strong tendency in this direction over the past several decades, whether critics worrying that Google has made us stupid, or advocates talking about the democratizing effects of the internet. Thoughts?

I am also worried about a simplified view of ‘technological effects’. Especially in the popular discourse. there is a plethora of short sighted publications on the potential benefits or downsides of technological development. However, I would not argue that those perspectives inquire the technology but abuse it as a black box that facilitates whatever effect they wish to see unfold. In opposite to scholars, those writers are in the business of selling books, not in the business of conducting research.

I do not think that I am supporting a techno-determinist perspective by investigating technological qualities and by paying attention to the way design affects user activities. The popular ‘social media’ applications teach us, that we have so far underestimated the role of interface design, back-end politics and API regulation in the cultural production and social interaction playing out on these platforms. I can’t possibly neglect that power also comes in shape of technology or as Andrew Feenberg put it: “technology is the key to cultural power”. I am not focused on technology as determining on its own account, but on its agency in close interrelation with designers, users, ownership structures, and media discourses, and others actors.


While my primary emphasis in talking about participatory culture might be described as symbolic appropriation (i.e. the manipulation of narratives, characters, symbols, icons, or brands), the central focus of your analysis is on “hacking” the material dimensions of technology, including, for example, game modifications or free software efforts. We might extend this focus to include a broader array of other material practices — including Makers and Crafters — who are central to current discussions of digital culture. What do you see as the consequences of this shift in focus in terms of our understanding of how participation works or what a more participatory culture looks like?

What I really liked about Textual Poachers was that you compellingly showed how open media texts are, not only to interpretation as Fiske had pointed out, but directly to ‘material’ appropriation and how it contributed to an entire field of cultural production. The world wide web then made the textual poachers explicitly visible, for marketeers and the general public. The second aspect I find important, and unfortunately this aspect is frequently overlooked, is that you outlined the history and the predecessors of today’s read-write culture. With the maker culture similar debates concerning ‘poaching’ will unfold. We will see a new debate on copyrights and corporations will go out of their way to protect their designs from being ‘printed’. There will be attempts by providers of 3D printers to control the device and its use. I would assume that the dynamics which I have dubbed confrontation, implementation and integration will play out in relation to the makers culture as well. The recent debates on MakerBot’s decision to deviate from the open-source model indicate an attempt of implementation.


As you note, the initial wave of excitement about participatory culture has been met with strong critiques focused on issues of free labor and data mining as forms of exploiting the popular desire for more meaningful participation. Can you describe some of the ways that users have sought to assert their own claims on the technology in the face of their ownership and exploitation by the creative industries?

It’s remarkable that dissent with a corporate platform plays out in quite traditional forms of protest and petition. On Facebook users ‘like’ petitions that represent their claim for better privacy regulations, or they formulate a Social Media Bill of Rights, call for a QuitFacebookDay etc.

There are other examples such as the Social Media Suicide Machine which allows users to delete their profiles. Then there are alternatives to the commercial web platforms and services. Diaspora was heralded as the Facebook killer and is now depict as a barrel burst. The UnlikeUs conference has been established as a platform for critics of ‘social media monopolies’ to connect and to discuss alternatives. But we can also see that civil right groups and privacy advocates lobby on behalf of users. However, I am afraid that the majority of the users can’t be bothered with these issues.

You conclude the book with this important statement: “We must not sit on our hands while cultural resources are exploited and chances for enhancing education and civil liberties are at stake.” This seems like a powerful statement of what’s at stake in debates about participatory culture. So, what forms of action do you think we can or should take as scholars and as public intellectuals to respond to this situation?

The easy to use interfaces of the social web stimulated a new large group of users to use the world wide web. It also put the web again on the agenda of policy makers to regulate, to control and to monitor user activities. Designed as advertiser-friendly platforms, social media inherently provide the possibility for user assessment and control through API’s which are already routinely used by law enforcement. We can also see how the powerful companies as among others Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon affect cultural freedom on the web. Facebook’s prudery appears (especially to us Europeans) as astonishingly weird and hostile to culture and freedom of expression. However, since social media platforms have emerged as an expanded public sphere, the censorship of items that might distort the rosy world-view of advertisers and the naivete of uninformed users is appalling. I would not mind if those platforms were a shopping mall somewhere in the margins of the world wide web, but they increasingly become a center part of the web and therefore an important role in our public sphere.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook is the poster boy for policy makers when thinking about eGovernance or other fancily dubbed forms of harmless civic participation. Facebook promises a dangerously safe way of dealing with citizens as their implicit participation features render participation into an easy-to-handle commodity that provides participation as a mere lip-service. Something, that even in democratic societies is still very appealing to policy makers.

What we need, is a society-wide debate on technology and its role in society. We need to discuss to what extent we accept platforms to distort the view upon reality by creating an controversy-free and advertiser-friendly filter bubble.

Mirko Tobias Schäfer is assistant professor of new media and digital culture at the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) and research fellow at Vienna University of Applied Arts. He blogs at www.mtschaefer.net.

What Do We Know About Participatory Cultures: An Interview with Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Part Three)

As your book illustrates, participatory culture is a global phenomenon, but so far, most of the research has focused on participatory culture in the English speaking world, and mostly, in the United States. What might we learn about participatory culture if we expanded our investigation to consider, for example, the Global South?

At one time, we had an excuse for such oversights.  We researched where we lived because it was physically and financially prohibitive to do otherwise.  This is no longer the case. There is no doubt that some of the most interesting participatory cultures are situated far beyond North America and it is time we all start looking closely at those cultures.

We are also optimistic that this imbalance will begin to be righted during the coming decade as youth across the globe synthesize social awareness, fluency in multiple languages, and expertise in communication technologies.  We predict (or at least hope for) a flood of research efforts on participatory cultures in the next ten years.

Addressing the geographical research gap is essential if we are to better understand and act upon the potential power of participatory cultures.  Since the emergence of fan studies in the 1980s, we (academic researchers) have built a robust body of literature on participatory fan cultures.  The same can be said for research on participatory democracy and budgeting as well as online gaming cultures.  There are enormous gaps in the literature, though, as far as other participatory cultures are concerned.

This is one reason that we chose to expand the boundaries of our book beyond the field of communication and invited authors who could speak to fields and cultures with lengthy and diverse research agendas – for example, poetry and literature, science, social action.  If we are lucky enough to publish a second collection, currently under-researched geographic locations and topical areas will be a primary focus.

What do you see as some of the major hurdles before we are going to be able to achieve a more participatory culture? What are the most important battles right now in terms of defining the terms of our participation?

As with other institutionalized problems, we must change the perceived value of participation.  This shift must occur in everything from education to economic structures.  For example, students are told they have violated the Honor Code if they work with others to find solutions to a homework assignment.  Team members are rarely rewarded equally for workplace outcomes (team “leaders” always get paid more).  Diplomacy is seen as less valuable than conquering.  We don’t expect participation to gain value overnight.  Power is diminished or at least transformed when it is divided, and we all know there are many people who would like to hold on to their power.

Altering the perception of participation is particularly challenging in cultures that value individualism over collectivism.  We do believe this perception is shifting, if only slightly.  In recent years have we begun to hear public figures talk about the possibility of making money and doing good, of elected officials articulating a basic standard of health and opportunity, and of parents questioning the value of memorization rather than participation in their children’s education.

How might we increase the value given to diversity and dissent within participatory cultures? Is there a danger that such communities tend to be consensus-based and thus are more apt to exclude people who persistently disagree with shared goals and values?

We do not value diversity and dissent as much as we can and should in participatory cultures. Many people do not see online spaces as open and inviting.  In fact, “incivility” and “nastiness” are the concerns most often voiced in opposition to participatory engagement.  Honestly, it’s hard to convince people otherwise when the “comments” sections of spaces such as YouTube and CNN are filled with illogical, unsupportive, and hateful commentary.

Consensus is hard to come by these days; in fact, it is much harder than in years past. This is both a good thing and bad thing. Our touch points of shared experience (mediated and otherwise) are far less than even one generation ago.  Reading and relying only on opinions with which we agree has become commonplace.   Combine this echo-chamber reality with online anonymity and you face an impressive foe.

So, on one side we have an age of disagreement mingling with anonymity and on the other we have cultures that derive success from consensus.  Diversity and dissent can get lost on either side.  Only a culture that can instill the value of listening survives this war.  And we all know that listening is tough, especially when people feel they have something important (or more insightful) to say.

This delicate balance of agreement is what sustains hope in some participatory cultures and destroys others. The strongest participatory cultures are ones in which all voices carry the same weight, all opinions are heard, and all ideas are deliberated.  The weakest participatory cultures are those that allow the crush of consensus or the minority voice to dominate.  Participatory cultures are difficult to build and maintain but, when they work, they are extremely powerful forces in the lives of their participants and across society at large.

 

The book closes with an ethical framework for thinking about participatory culture. What do you see as the core values which might govern an ethics of participation? What mechanisms might exist for inspiring greater ethical reflection within existing and emerging participatory cultures?

 

Almost all ethical frameworks are grounded in the concept of selflessness.  Almost all activities in online participatory cultures are inherently self-centered.  We read. We search. We post. We share.  Most often we do these things for us, not for any greater good.  It might not be easy to flip the switch from selfishness to selflessness in these spaces, but we do see stronger communities where the balance has tipped.

We could begin a movement toward selflessness by gently nudging participants in online communities to consider others in their visual and rhetorical choices.  The ethics chapter of the Handbook calls on people to start standing up for each other in online communities – to take on flamers and to support those who are ridiculed.  Encouraging constructive responses would also help with this move from selfishness to selflessness.  We see this work well on fan fiction sites where member read, help edit, and provide encouragement to fellow writers.

Quite honestly, ethical reflection occurs infrequently.  Most ethicists would claim you need at least five steps to make a good decision: identification of the ethical problem, acknowledgment of the parties involved and your loyalties to each, conscious deliberation, purposeful action, and reflection.  The current ethical decision-making process is most often reduced to just two steps: act and justify those actions. We could make participatory cultures more ethical if we could convince people to engage in even the briefest contemplation prior to posting, uploading, or commenting.  This is something few people do and more should.

Critical studies writers, including the Janissary Collective, featured in the collection, express concern that participation is illusionary and coercive, that we only participate on the terms which powerful groups allow us. What might those of us advocating for a more participatory culture learn from those critiques? 

If one believes that human history provides examples of ever-greater participation, and if one accepts that there are more opportunities for political, economic, and cultural participation than ever before, it is easy to get caught up in idealistic fervor. If we drink too deeply of our own theoretical Kool-Aid, we become irrelevant at best and tyrannical at worst. Critiques such as those authored by Janissary Collective and the British cultural critic Paul Taylor are invaluable because they remind us that things are never that simple.

There are many version of pessimistic critique in cultural studies and critical theory. One variant argues that that democracy is hopeless. According to this view, attempts to foster greater participation and inclusion are the enemy of individual freedom. As expressed by the Janissary Collective, this position holds that “participatory culture can never provide the basis for the good life – in fact, it can be its worst enemy” (p. 264).

A second form of pessimism presents itself as even more negative about participatory culture, but there is a glimmering ember of optimism lurking beneath the surface. This view does not argue that democracy is intrinsically flawed. Rather, it unleashes withering criticism of those thinkers and activists who gloss over the many ways that participatory culture and participatory technologies are abused, exploited, and farcically celebrated by political and economic elites. When Paul Taylor observes “whether interacting in a self-consciously local fashion as consumers of lattes or technologically as hackers of computer systems… we are all perhaps still ultimately passive” (p.255), he implicitly mourns the loss of authentic participatory culture.

Both critiques are essential. The “democracy is hopeless” position reminds us that we must respect the individual right to resist participation. The “participatory culture is a web of false promises” position helps us diagnose where the dream risks becoming a nightmare. Embedded in the passionate prose of Taylor’s piece, participatory culture activists can tease out guideposts that will help us determine our next steps.

Aaron Alan Delwiche (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University. His research interests include participatory culture, intergenerational gaming, and wearable computing. In 2009, with support from the Lennox Foundation, he organized the lecture series Reality Hackers: The Next Wave of Media Revolutionaries. In 2010, he delivered a talk titled “We are all programmers now” at TEDx San Antonio. He is also co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).

Dr. Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Her research addresses the boundaries of speech in media and participatory cultures as well as the ethics of this speech.  Jennifer is the author of the 2010 book Defending the Good News: The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Plan to Expand the First Amendment and co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).

 

What Do We Now Know About Participatory Cultures: An Interview with Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Part One)

I am happy today to be introducing Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, the editors of an important new anthology, The Participatory Cultures Handbook. Anyone who has followed this blog over the years will recognize the names of many of the contributors to this collection, which includes Christopher M Kelty, Jason Mittell, Suzanne Scott, Mia Consalvo, Benjamin Stokes, Owen Gallagher, Pierre Levy, Daren Brabham, Howard Rheingold, Barry Joseph, and Paul Taylor, among many others, each represented by an original essay which expands their earlier writings on this topic and seeks to contribute to a larger conversation about the nature of participation (cultural, political, educational) in the early 21st century. The core topics include collective intelligence, new media literacies, crowd-sourcing, participatory democracy, fandom, serious games, blogging, and the digital arts, among much much more. In short, there’s something in this book which will speak to pretty much anyone who regularly checks out this blog. I have been raiding this book for my teaching and my writing ever since I first got my hands on it, and my students have found it a valuable resource for a broad range of projects. (Full disclosure: I have a short essay in this collection written in conversation with Suzanne Scott about her work on contemporary “fan boy auteurs.” Both essays add some more specificity to oft-made claims about the blurring boundary between fan and author.)

Over the next few posts, I am going to be grilling Delwiche and Henderson about some of the core themes that cut across the collection. I have to admit that I had a lot of fun framing these questions, since many of them are questions I am often asked in other interviews or that I am currently struggling with in my own work, and the two editors do a great job of putting forth some original reflections about these core and recurring concerns that we all confront as we seek to better understanding the participatory turn in contemporary culture. From my perspective, their responses, like the book itself, strikes an appropriate balance, embracing the collective push towards greater and more meaningful participation while also expressing skepticism about the ways that the term has been taken up and deployed rhetorically by a range of powerful and entrenched institutions. They welcome both writers who are excited about contemporary developments and those who offer strong critiques of some of the underlying assumptions driving this work. In the end, their work brings much greater rigor to our understanding of participatory culture, both by expanding the range of case studies we have to work with and pushing for more precise distinctions between different models of participatory practice.

The book includes a range of different practices, from those associated with fandom to those associated with crowd sourcing or community organizing or citizen science or digital poetry. How are you defining the core concept of participatory culture?

 

In The Participatory Cultures Handbook, we use the definition of participatory culture from the 2006 white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century that you and your co-authors wrote for the MacArthur Foundation. As a starting point, we rely on your explanation that participatory cultures are characterized by “relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of information mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 7). A participatory culture “is also one in which members believe that their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connectedness with one another (at least they care what other people think about what they have created” (p. 7).

After completing the book, we would now suggest there are three primary kinds of participatory cultures: consensus cultures, creative cultures, and discussion cultures.  While we acknowledge these are fuzzy categories, they do offer a structure for thinking about what it means to participate. We believe the nature of participatory cultures shifts just as it does in real world settings where cultures are shaped by venue, topic, participants, and interest level.

The most traditionally “productive” participatory cultures are often consensus cultures, or agreement-based.  They frequently reside in the realm of “work” where there is a goal or outcome to be met.  Something must be completed or solved or fixed.  These could easily be subdivided into expert cultures where people with specialized knowledge join together to leverage the power of collective intelligence and democratic cultures where “average citizens” do the same thing.  In the book, chapters about CERN and crisis mapping tend to the former while those about participatory budgeting tend to the latter.

Creative cultures are those in which participants are encouraged to create, share, and comment all within a safe and supportive environment.  Remix cultures live in this space, as do art and writing cultures.  The creative portion of fan cultures reside here – the fan fiction and fan-art sub-sites, for example.  In these spaces, participants are passionate about their creativity and the topics that spur those passions.  They are often lifers, who join a culture and stick with it.

Discussion cultures are ones where a topic rather than an outcome is at the heart of participation.  Sports fandoms, news sites, and food blogs all fall within the realm of discussion cultures.  Here, we often see more disagreement than support with participants engaging in sometimes heated, often real-time, exchanges on topics of personal and professional interest.  Participants in discussion cultures are not always long-time residents; they often roam from site to site as they chase the topic.

 

­­I have been seeing increased skepticism about the concept of participatory culture as a rhetoric of participation gets applied to many different sets of relationships between consumers and commercial interests. What qualities need to be in place before meaningful participation may occur?

This skepticism is well founded. One can think of many instances in which organizations use the rhetoric of participation to legitimize non-participatory relationships. This often happens when commercial interests leverage participatory culture practices to promote marketing goals (e.g., crowdsourcing slogans for a new flavor of tortilla chips), but corporations are not the only entities that attempt to pass off faux-participation as something more meaningful. The rhetoric of participation is regularly applied (and misapplied) to relationships between governments and citizens, as well as to relationships between activist groups and their members. This happens in groups of all sizes — from smaller community groups to national political associations.

In some ways, the pretense of participation is more troubling than the absence of participation. When authentic participatory energy turns out to be little more than democratic window dressing for top-down decision-making, those who devoted time and energy to the process might walk away feeling cynical, hopeless, and discouraged. This is why it is so important for us to ask questions about participatory procedures.

To what extent can the objectives of a participatory project be defined and refined by all participants? If the power to articulate project goals is concentrated in a handful of individuals, the process does not deliver meaningful participation.

To what extent are participants’ contributions filtered and edited before they are shared with the broader community? Often, organizations include “talk back” sections on institutional web sites; these components give the appearance of engaged member feedback. However, when one takes a closer look, it becomes clear that user comments are carefully filtered before they are posted. Meaningful participation is inversely proportional to the extent of censorship and editorial control.

It is true that there might be some situations in which community moderation is necessary – for example, in participatory communities that include minors. In these instances, participants have every right to scrutinize the transparency of moderation practices.

Some would argue that meaningful participation is a binary concept: it exists or it does not. However, it might be more useful — and more realistic — to think of participatory culture in analog terms. Some processes offer more authentic participation than others, and we should agitate for arrangements that are as close to the participatory ideal as possible.  There are times when we can only nudge. There are times when we push harder. And, every once in a while, as Mario Savio reminds us, “you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels… upon all the levers, upon all the apparatus… and you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people that own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

 

Some argue that opportunities for meaningful participation still rest almost exclusively within groups which have enjoyed various forms of privilege in the past — especially those within elite or dominant segments of the population. What do we know about inequalities in opportunities to participate? Are there compelling cases of participation “from the bottom” and what lessons might we learn from these examples that would help us broaden opportunities for participation?

Privileged elites have always had greater access to participatory technologies and political structures. In Athens, direct democracy was erected on the backs of women and slaves who were excluded from the polis. In America, representative democracy was erected on the backs of women and slaves who were excluded from the voting booth. Thankfully, the history of democratic institutions is progressive, and more people have access to participatory culture than ever before.

This progress stems directly from the fact that disenfranchised human beings have agitated for full and equal participation, often risking their lives in the process. The most crucial battles for civil rights have been waged “from the bottom” by networks of individuals who have wrestled communication tools (literacy, the printing press, radio, music, film, video, computers) from the hands of elites. In turn, activists have used these tools to penetrate and transform political and economic systems in which they are located.

How can we broaden the opportunities for meaningful participation? First, we should nurture media literacy projects at all levels of society, making sure to address what you termed “the participation gap” in the report (Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture) that you co-authored for the MacArthur Foundation. In practical terms, this means fostering the competencies and social skills identified in the report: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation.

However, redefining media literacy to include an emphasis on skills required for participation is only the first step. If we want to preserve and extend opportunities for participation, we must broaden our thinking about the term “digital literacy.” It is no longer sufficient for citizens to understand how to use computers; we must also learn how to program the machines that rule our lives.

If we continue to accept technological gadgets and protocols as neutral gifts from benevolent technical elites, we pave the way for our future subjugation. As Douglas Rushkoff observes in Program or Be Programmed, digital technologies are always embedded with external purposes. “They act with intention,” he warns. “If we don’t know how they work, we won’t even know what they want. The less involved and aware we are of the way our technologies are programmed and program themselves, the more narrow our choices will become; the less we will be able to envision alternatives to the pathways described by our programs; and the more our lives and experiences will be dictated by their biases” (p. 148-149).

Scholars and activists often mystify digital technologies even as they celebrate them. We convince ourselves that computer programming is conceptually difficult or ideologically suspect. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is not difficult to learn basic programming, and it is easy to master the fundamental concepts that empower us to “speak back” to technology. Yet, even as progressive iterations of computer programming languages become more and more accessible, our fellow citizens seem increasingly willing to think of themselves as users rather than programmers – as consumers rather than coders.

It is only possible to sustain and broaden participatory culture for all citizens if we take up this challenge. If we dodge this responsibility – if we fail to teach our neighbors and ourselves how to program, and thus control, the ubiquitous machines that regulate our lives – we squander the accomplishments of those who have fought to expand the boundaries of participatory culture throughout human history.

We are all programmers now. Or, at least we can be, if we are willing to try.

 

Aaron Alan Delwiche (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University. His research interests include participatory culture, intergenerational gaming, and wearable computing. In 2009, with support from the Lennox Foundation, he organized the lecture series Reality Hackers: The Next Wave of Media Revolutionaries. In 2010, he delivered a talk titled “We are all programmers now” at TEDx San Antonio. He is also co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).

 

Dr. Jennifer Jacobs Henderson (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Her research addresses the boundaries of speech in media and participatory cultures as well as the ethics of this speech.  Jennifer is the author of the 2010 book Defending the Good News: The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Plan to Expand the First Amendment and co-editor of the The Participatory Cultures Handbook (2012).

 

Artist’s Rights and Internet Freedom: A Public Conversation Between T Bone Burnett and Henry Jenkins

Late last year, I was lucky enough to be able to engage the great musician T Bone Burnett in a series of conversations concerning the proper balance between Copyright and Fair Use. The first of these events was held at the Futures of Entertainment Conference at MIT and also featured Jonathan Taplin, the Director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and was featured on this blog a while back. Today, I am able to share with you the video of a follow-up event, held in Los Angeles, at the Hammer Museum.

Here’s how the event was billed:

ARTISTS’ RIGHTS AND INTERNET FREEDOM

Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett and communications scholar Henry Jenkins illuminate the debate over intellectual property rights versus Internet freedom. Burnett is a 12-time Grammy-winning composer and producer and a vocal advocate of artists’ rights. Jenkins is the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism and Cinematic Arts at USC and an advocate of Fair Use and Internet freedom. His recent book is Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

Hammer Forum is moderated by Ian Masters, journalist, author, screenwriter, documentary filmmaker, and host of the radio programs Background Briefing, Sundays at 11AM, and The Daily Briefing, Monday through Thursday at 5PM, on KPFK 90.7 FM.

The video speaks for itself. Enjoy.

HOT.SPOT 2: Introduction: Election Season Revisited

A while back, I shared the first of a series of “Hot.Spot” blog posts created by my students and colleagues within the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism’s Civic Paths research group. The team’s back with another round, this one timed to respond to the Presidential Election and inauguration. I am happy to crosspost their efforts with you. I now hand this over to Liana Gamber Thompson, our post-doc and MC Extraordinare.

Hotspot Philosophy

These collections of mini-blog posts — “hot spots” — are organized around themes that cut across the diverse interests of participants in our research group. They’re about the things we love to talk about. And, like our in-person conversations, they play with ideas at the intersection of participatory culture, civic engagement, and new media. Our rules for the hotspot are these: No one gets to spend a million hours wordsmithing — these are idea starters, not finishers — and posts shouldn’t be a whole lot longer than five hundred words.

Election Season Revisited (Inauguration Edition!)

Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates
On the Separation of Cable and State
Obama’s Back Problems
Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen”
#firsttimevoters
Nobody 2012
Crowns and Badges

I spent the bulk of Monday tuning in to President Obama’s inauguration and the coverage around it. I admit, no matter who is being sworn in, I’m a sucker for the pageantry, the tradition, and the ceremony of the inauguration. I love seeing the National Mall brimming with enthusiastic, if freezing, faces and studying the interactions of the political rivals, celebrities, and past presidents assembled on the stage. On that day, the campaign season that got President Obama here seemed but a distant memory, the blood, sweat and tears of staffers and volunteers receding into footnotes as the President took his oath over not one, but two historic bibles.

But as President Obama gets back to work, Michelle Obama ships her ruby red inaugural gown off to the National Archives, and the blogosphere descends into a tedious debate over Beyonce’s lip-syncing, the excitement of the inauguration fades. The significance of President Obama’s achievement, however, does not. That’s why, for our second Civic Paths hotspot*, we’ve decided to return our focus to election season and to the range of people and stories that made it such an interesting one.

Kevin [1] and Sam [2] consider the relationship between politics and entertainment during election season, while Raffi [3] dissects some of President Obama’s more perplexing campaign slogans. Neta [4] seeks to understand how the traditional civic act of voting is tied to more self-expressive acts of engagement. Kjerstin [5] also looks at voters, documenting the infectious joy behind many of the tweets of #firsttimevoters, while I [6] examine a group of young non-voters and some of their favorite memes. Lastly, Ben [7] brings us back to where we started—the inauguration—with his account of the symbols and spectacle surrounding it.

We hope these posts will bring some of the more compelling stories from election season back into relief. We also hope this hotspot inspires others to bring their own stories into the conversation because so much has yet to be explored from the 2012 Presidential election and the sometimes wild and woolly days that preceded it.

– Liana Gamber Thompson

*For more on the hotspot philosophy, see our first hotspot on DIY culture.

[1] — Kevin Driscoll, Live-Tweeting Laffs During the 2012 Debates
[2] — Sam Close, On the Separation of Cable and State
[3] — Raffi Sarkissian, Obama’s Back Problems
[4] — Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, Where Voting Fits In for the “Self-Expressive Citizen”
[5] — Kjerstin Thorson, #firsttimevoters
[6] — Liana Gamber Thompson, Nobody 2012
[7] — Ben Stokes, Crowns and Badges