Participatory Culture – “Rethinking ‘Rethinking Convergence / Culture’” // Henry Jenkins.

“Participatory culture is one in which members believe their contributions matter, and some degree of social connections occur with one another” – Delwiche & Henderson, 2013.

In his essay, Jenkins aims to address some of the core themes that were featured in the September 2011 edition of Cultural Studies, titled ‘Rethinking Convergence/Culture’, Hay & Couldry, 2011. Many writers were featured in this issue, including Jenkins himself. At the heart of this special issue, points were centred around the “political and economic implications of convergence culture and especially on the adequacy of the concept of participatory culture to address the full range of experiences people are having in and through digital media.” Jenkins, along with many other scholars want to see a visible change in the twenty-first century, towards a more ‘meaningful participation’ from members of society.

Due to technological advances of epic proportions, we now exist in a world of connectedness, contribution and creativity… and also the ‘selfie’. Society has been promised mass media production by means of personal endorsement. The Port Huron Manifesto demanded that all citizens should have a say in those “social decisions determining the quality and direction of [their] life. It follows on to say that we should have “media for the citizens”, provided by the people and also the state.

An interesting point raised early on in the essay is a summary provided by Richard Schaull, extracted from the foreword to Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practise of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Shaull, 1972. In my opinion, education should always encourage the latter. Why create a generation of of passive, consumer machines with an acceptance of society as it is? Although the “making of society” requires finding the “common meaning and direction” (Raymond Williams, 1958) of the people, I do not think younger generations should be blindly led or encouraged towards conformity or to accept their current society as normality. The tools for participatory culture are here, we just need them to be deployed correctly to push forward democratic participation and cultural diversity. Furthermore, “change comes most often at moments of hope and crisis”; two cultural attributes abundant in our twenty-first century society.

Although a lot of emphasis is currently placed on technological advances, Jenkins outlines three ways in which we should “document the interactions that occur amongst media consumers”. He states that our new culture is taking shape at the intersection between:

  • New tools and technologies enabling consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate and recirculate media content.
  • A range of subcultures promoting DIY media production.
  • Economic trends favouring the horizontally integrated media conglomerates which encourages the flow of images, ideas and narratives across multiple media channels (Jenkins, 2006).

It seems then that we are being actively encouraged to fight against corporate media, against copyright regimes and against censorship. Grassroots communities are speaking up and attempting to make change a reality. However, should we really be encouraging the children of our society to become active players in this change? I agree that we should not let them “fall behind”, but at what age does education in “media literacy” become appropriate for them to become “full participants in their culture.”? Jenkins fails to acknowledge the potential ethical issues deeply rooted in exposing children to such technologies, and does not specify the age of “young people”, or what “skills and competencies” they should be acquiring.

How much power do we really exert as a collective society? It seems as though potential for change is still nestled in the hands of grassroots networks, and elite corporations still monopolise the political decision making. Furthermore, ‘participating’ through the use of social media is not the same as participating in ‘real life’. Are the personalities of these grassroots organisations true reflections of their members, or are alternative online personas at play here? I propose that we possess the necessary tools to make change happen, but do not yet possess the power.

The spike in technological advances has seen a rise also in communications and freedom of speech. Social media has provided society with a platform to discuss, create, share and be connected. People believe that their “contributions matter” and they have “social connection with one another” (Delwiche & Henderson, 2013). However, it has also provided the vast majority with a concerning amount of self-consciousness, façadism and obsession that seems to bring into question the value of such advances. We exist in a time where people vicariously live through technology, relying more and more on its uses as time goes by. Arguably, it’s impossible to evade and difficult to escape from; even as I finish typing this I have a Facebook tab open on the other half of the screen.



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