The relationship between media and participation raises the overarching question of the role of media in the development of democracy in different historical periods and socio-political contexts. It highlights the participatory dimension of media, especially the citizen’s participation in the creation, processing and transmission of informational structure, content and form; the artistic reshaping of spectatorial participation; and the user’s participation in the (re)configuration of public spheres, public spaces and communities. It emphasizes the possibility of developing direct forms of democracy through specific uses of media-user interactivity.
Participatory Media examines these relationships; it addresses them critically, questioning the very notion of participation. It examines the striving for community formation and connectivity underlying the contemporary practices of participatory media. It asks: what do participatory media entail with regards to the politics of inclusion and exclusion intrinsic to any community formation?; and is participation a progressive or regressive set of media operations? It particularly investigates recent developments in social media (Internet-based applications “that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”*) and media interactivity. These developments—typified by Facebook, Twitter, blogs, viral videos, and YouTube—are unique insofar as they require participation from its users. They have generated innovative forms of media art, aesthetics, collocation and activism. In these social- and interactive-media environments, participation entails the user’s active intervention in media content, form and structure (as in video gaming; chatting, texting and tweeting; and interactive art in which an artwork will only be finalized by the participation of users); it also entails the formation of communities of participants (the gamer’s participation in a community of gamers; the exchange of information between chatters and tweeters; the constitution of virtual communities).
Any user with the right technology can now produce his or her online media; any gamer can interact with a user interface to generate feedback on a video device; any spectator can be asked to respond to an intelligent (spatial or architectural) environment set up in an art gallery, a museum or a public space. But is this really the case? Who participates, who doesn’t, who can’t? What are the similarities, overlaps and differences between traditional media and new-media participation and interactivity? Participatory Media thus seeks to address the history, problems and possibilities of participatory media. It examines how the practices of the Internet have or have not changed the practices of citizenship—the citizen’s participation in public life, citizen deliberation, knowledge and mobilization. It investigates how participatory media negotiate with surveillance, data-collecting and control devices embedded in the very media that enable participation. Overall, it asks: why this growing contemporary concern for participation across design, art, social sciences and computing sciences (leading to participatory design, participatory arts, and community informatics)?