Participatory culture is generally a concept that involves the participation of users, audiences, consumers etc. in creating a culture. For Henry Jenkins, who has been developing the notion of participatory culture in web 2.0 emphasize the web 2.0 as spreadable media that involves user’s active shaping of the content that led culture to be a participatory one.
Jenkins defines participatory culture as culture “in which fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content”” (Fuchs, p.54)
There are 5 points that Jenkins defines participatory culture with
- relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement,
- strong support for creating and sharing creations with others,
- some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices,
- members who believe that their contributions matter, and
- members who feel some degree of social connection with one another
(Fuchs, 2014, p. 54)
Fuchs (2014) however, holds a very negative and critical view on Jenkins’ theory of participatory culture. He criticizes Jenkins of being overly optimistic on the issue. Fuchs also suspect that Jenkins positivity might be due to that his research is being funded. There are four main points of critique by Fuchs (2014) towards Jenkins’ theory.
First that Jenkins reduces the notion of participatory culture into a cultural notion which Fuchs strongly disagrees with. A problem of the “participatory culture” – it is a term that highly connected to the participatory democracy theory. As Fuchs (2014) suggest that one should use “participatory culture” in relation to participatory democracy theory to avoid the vulgar use of it. He criticizes Jenkins definition of participatory culture which ignores the aspect of democracy.
The second point criticizes the idealized view of fan culture in Jenkins theory. As Jenkins mistakenly made a link between fandom culture and political actions. With this Jenkins also have a mistaken view of politics by seeing it as micro politics within popular culture. The example, Fuchs suggests that fandom in popular culture is not what starting or motivate a political action, for instance, a political protest. Popular culture and fandom are involved in politics more as a medium to spread and support. However, for the real political actions, it is exercised by the political activists and not the fan community.
The third point Fuchs regards Jenkins theory of participatory culture as a theory of reductionism and determinism. Jenkins theory is reductionist in many aspects. It mainly all come back to the critique that the theory reduces the understanding the aspects of the social media and the world into the cultural dimension. In this, it ignores the political dimension that is very important for Fuchs.
The last main point is that Jenkins made a flawed assertion that exploitation of users’ digital labor is not a problem as they have social benefits from platform usage.
The ownership dimension of platforms is also being neglected. The large social platforms that own by large companies mediate the cultural expression of the internet user (p. 56) Users or employees are excluded from the decision making of it.
Some other points of criticism by Van Dijck & Nieborg (2009) will also be discussed and show how those link to Fuchs’ criticism.
Van Dijck & Nieborg (2009) criticism of Jenkins’ theory of participatory culture is that Jenkins works is replicating the cooperate discourse that is first found in the business sector. That Jenkins model is not a new or more critical model. But the fact is that Jenkins aimed to develop his theory for the business use, and therefore the criticism by VanDijk is rather unconvincing.
On the criticism of users, Van Dijck & Nieborg (2009) criticize Jenkins disregards the significance of a large amount passive spectators on the internet and a relatively small percentage of active creators even though Jenkins knows that not all users are equally active.
Van Dijck & Nieborg (2009) also made some critiques that related to Jenkins and Fuchs critiques. Similar to Fuchs, Van Dijck also criticizes Jenkins’ belief in communal action and collection intelligence as that belief made his argument to override the aspect on political economy.
To conclude, while Jenkins’ cultural theory of the detailed notion of participatory culture includes the acknowledging of the relevance of economic and ideological interests in social media, his ignores or avoidance of political culture/ theory led to much criticize from different authors.
Fuchs, C. (2014) Social Media: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage. (chapter 3)
Van Dijck, J., & Nieborg, D. (2009). Wikinomics and its Discontents: A Critical Analysis of Web 2.0 Business Manifestos. New Media & Society, 11(5), 855-874.