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Notes on "Bastard Culture" Chapter 2 - "Claiming Participation"

Claiming participation is key to understanding democratization processes, by demanding access to the means of production. Within the context of mass production and mass media, most claims for participation in media production dispute the ownership of culture by big media industries. Here, participatory culture is better understood through the lens of civil claims to participation. Some authors claim the role of the consumer shifted to that of the producer, not only by the adoption and consuming of industrial goods, but also by constructing actively the current cultural landscape with the massification of amateur culture. The expansion of technical skills and technical capital, leading to a better grip on the means of production, reflects on the level of social organization and political influence. It's not that amateur culture was not always there, but the rise of the Internet allowed for its expansion and we can now witness the production of media texts by users, where well-known professionals use to take the lead. The concept of 'Netcritique' (Geert Lovink, Frank Hartman) represents a well known form of critique that witnessed it's birth due to the rise of the World Wide Web: it's an european-centered approach which aims at extending intellectual critique to actions, activism, which is greatly facilitated by software ("tactical media").

Users go beyond media text production and modification, they also extend this practices to software production (which is, after all, the production means of the digital age). It's important to distinguish between "culture participation", which pressuposes a more passive attitude of intellectual deconstruction and "participatory culture", which resonates with the ideas of action, construction, modification. The user interprets and constructs. Nowadays, the way we perceive participation has been shaped by the employment of media technology for social interaction and political activism. Participation here is viewed as a critical practice. In popular discourse, participation comes associated with the idea of promoting new technologies, whilst a more academic discourse perceives it as a cultural phenomenon which can help explain contemporary media practice. New terms have been coined to describe this user-generated culture: "produser", "prosumer", DIY culture, peer-to-peer and the ideas of a collective, of community and collaboration often come associated with it.

But the way we participate in culture may not always be explicit and for intrinsic reasons. There are some common misunderstanings which are interesting to explore and dissect regarding the discourse which currently claims that we are autonomously generating cultural content, with little or no meddling from the capital-driven forces. This misunderstandings, as outlined by Mirko Tobias Schäfer are the following:

"1. Thinking social progress is inherent to user participation
2. Assuming that participation is only explicit, community-based and primarily intrinsically motivated
3. Neglecting the fact that participating in cultural production does not mean participating in power structures or benefiting from general revenues
4. Neglecting how media practices in user participation are implemented into software design"

Explicit and Implicit Participation
Explicit participation is driven by extrinsic or intrinsic motivation, which varies according to the different users' skills. It should not be reduced to altruistic motivations, or critical activism against hegemonic culture, but perceived as heterogeneous in the sense that concerns users from the most different backgrounds whose range of skills vary greatly, from different contexts such as paid labour, leisure or unpaid voluntary work. It relies on the appropriation of technology by users, and further development of technical skills.
Implicit participation is a consequence of design choices that take advantage of user activity and habits by automating and facilitating. It doesn't necessarily require conscious activity of cultural production or problem-solving by users, nor is there any need for them to collaborate and communicate. There's no need for interaction, shared values and common goals. These are platforms which benefit from user generated content contributing to information management systems, which can be exploited for improving information retrieval or gathering user info for market research. For example, just by watching a video on YouTube we contribute to data generation. Furthermore, by contributing with metadata (tags, titles, description) we improve the search engine. It is generally an hybrid, as it implements user activities in software design and relies on the inherent interaction of users with this systems. Web 2.0 applications achieve the employment of user activities for the improvement of information management, marketing research and advertisement purposes.

Technology both enables and shapes Participatory Culture.

Raw Outline:

Based on this, I would like to explore more about the limits of explicit and implicit participation, the areas where they overlap, the way our digital activities are monetised and the more intricate economic flows that stray away from the simple binary of explorer/explored (picking up on the Pure Data example, that Aymeric presented at the "Mapping Free Culture" workshop). The way we are constructed by the data extorted from us and the way we feed that data back into culture industries, generating a feedback loop where the limits of the construction of the self become diffuse obscures subjectivity formation. As a part of the multitude, aren't we all in state of exception, our data being extracted by the legislative gray zones of the system? How much dependent/independent are we from the socioeconomical apparatus? We construct our subjectivities, but we construct them within a certain system - we collectively construct our subjectivity but an important part of that subjectivity is always determined by the disciplinary methods of the neoliberal apparatus. In that sense, we might control certain aspects of that subjectivity, but the way we produce it is still coded by a much bigger apparatus. Taking on the key issue that user participation in culture always appears within a space of conflict, how can we classify current attemps to work within Copyright law, such as Creative Commons and Copyleft licenses? Based on the example of the Mechanical Turk, which areas are really open for participation and how is the access to this partipation controlled and distributed within the socio-political-geographical landscape?


- Data extraction (Andrew Keen)
- Coded subjectivities / data shaping the individual (Mechanical Turk)
- Participatory Culture? (Bastard Culture)


- Accumulation, archiving, construction (explicit/implicit)
--> Copyright delicacies, DMCA, locking culture down, profit, users structuring the web, data "collaboration" (Get Over It - Zuckerberg's Next Move)


- An eye for an eye? ('Optimist view that amateur culture will take over'(Bastard Culture) =/= profits from implicit participation)

keywords: the 'social', infrastructure/superstructure, economy, multitude, crowd, collaboration/cooperation, isolation, explicit, implicit