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Opening-up the black box of participation. A reception study into the conditions of possibility of mediated participatory practices
Vrije Universiteit Brussel.ORCID iD: ncarpent
2012 (English)In: Media in the Swirl / [ed] Pooja Rana, Ravi K. Dhar, New Delhi: Pentagon Books , 2012, 155-173 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Within the Web 2.0 hype, participation (again) became a key signifier, promising the fulfilment of our democratic fantasies. Looking at the history of mediated participation we can distinguish a number of these upsurges, like the 1970s debates about the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), combined with the rise of the Community (and Alternative) Media Movement. On a positive note, these increased forms of participation within the sphere of the media can be seen as part of what Mouffe has called the democratic revolution, which affects all societal spheres (and not just politics): "... the effects of the democratic revolution can be analysed in the arts, theory, and all aspects of culture in general ..." (Mouffe, 1997: 11). Slowly but surely the impact of this 200-year democratic revolution has generated a more egalitarian society, and has facilitated (in the case of mediated participation) citizens to exert the communication rights. On the downside, the democratisation of democracy is a slow process that has not undone (and will not undo) all societal power imbalances. This also affects the nature of participation itself, as its definition (and its intensity) is part of the societal-political struggle between minimalist and maximalist versions of democracy. Quite often the contemporary celebratory uses of participation (implicitly) subscribe to a more minimalist ideological-democratic position, black boxing participation's diversities of meanings and intensities, and ignoring its role within the democratic revolution. Through these logics, participation risks becoming an object of celebration, trapped in a reductionist discourse of novelty, detached from the reception of its audiences and decontextualised from its political-ideological, communicative-cultural and communicative-structural contexts. This chapter aims to add to the debates on the democratic revolution and the political-ideological significance of mediated participation by comparing the reception of two North Belgian participatory media products. One of these case studies is based on the "new" world of a YouTube-like online platform called 16plus, the second case study is based on the "old" concept of access television in a 2002 TV programme called Barometer. In both cases, the reception study shows little enthusiasm or downright rejection from the part of their audiences, although the focus group members still use a maximalist (and almost contradictory) discourse of media democracy, and fiercely critique the mainstream media and their professionals. Through an analysis of these multi-layered audience receptions, this chapter will show that participatory practices are not unconditionally appreciated by audience members, but subject to specific conditions of possibility. Albeit in different degrees, these case studies show the importance of quality and social relevance for the evaluation of participatory practices.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New Delhi: Pentagon Books , 2012. 155-173 p.
Keyword [en]
media studies, participation
National Category
Media Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-278493ISBN: 978-81-8274-653-4OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-278493DiVA: diva2:906612
Available from: 2016-02-24 Created: 2016-02-24 Last updated: 2016-02-24

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