Participatory Culture

In the video Henry Jenkins on participatory culture (2010) Henry Jenkins discusses the nature of participatory culture and how is has progressed over the years.

Jenkins discusses the notion that participatory culture is a result of the technologies available at the time, he takes us back to what he calls ‘Web -10’ in the 1850’s when young people were using printing presses to print zines, which would circulate around the country as part of ‘The Amateur Press Association’. He alleges that codes and initials were used in these zines and that many of these can be traced to the terms we use today on the internet. The types of cultures that emerged around the print can be considered examples of social networks for the time, using the technologies available to establish a culture of similar interests. Jenkins also lists the example of radio operators in the 1920’s when churches, schools and scout groups used these resources and the younger people in these groups took a real ownership of the communication resources available at the time. Jenkins then relates to the science fiction community who started publishing their own works discussing science and fiction works, he then moves on to the underground press of the 1960’s and then the super 8 and camcorder movements. Jenkins’ main point in all of this is that participatory cultures will use the technologies available at the time to create a culture and engage with the world. Creating works they can share with each other and discuss is one of the key elements of participatory culture; Jenkins talks to the fact that participatory culture has low barriers for engagement and that there is strong support for the sharing of work.

In the video Howard Rheingold: The new power of collaboration (2005) Rheingold discusses the new world of collaboration and how people are coming together to get things done. He discusses the history of pre-agricultural hunters banding together to hunt bigger game, back in the time when the wealth was having enough food to survive. Rheingold argues there must have been a form of symbolic communication to bring the hunters together in this way. He speaks of the printing press emerging and within decades millions of people becoming literate, a new wealth had emerged. With this literacy came new forms of collective action within knowledge, religion and politics – this had not been possible before.

Rheingold also discusses how fantastic software like Mozilla can be created without the traditional bureaucratic structure. Mozilla, along with websites like Wikipedia, in which thousands of volunteers have contributed to create a free encyclopedia, show people co-operating with altruistic intentions to create works that can be shared by many. This fits in with the idea of the participatory culture in that like minded individuals got together to create these things and share their work with millions of internet users. The work is constantly being modified and improved.

Rheingold also discusses this in his writing Net Smart : How to Thrive Online (Rheingold 2012) with a similar example of the use of the music sharing software Napster. Rheingold explains how when a user downloaded music from Napster they automatically made the music on their own computer available for download (Rheingold 2012). This type of participation facilitated a participatory culture and community between users who share common interests.

Rheingold also solidifies Jenkins’ description of participatory culture when he states “Participatory culture is one in which a significant portion of the population, not just a small professional guild, can participate in the production of cultural materials” (Rheingold 2012).



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