Convergence Culture

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Convergence Culture: Consumer Participation and the Economics of Mass Media

URL = http://forum.wgbh.org/wgbh/forum.php?lecture_id=3017


Book by Henry Jenkins

Henry Jenkins. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, 2006.

This book on Media Convergence is extensively reviewed at http://www.watercoolergames.org/archives/000590.shtml


The book is a study of fan communities (such as TV series Survivor and American Idol, Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars, The Matrix Trilogy, and Harry Potter) and how they spread across different media (hence 'convergence'), re-influencing back the old media, thus acquiring a new kind of particpatory power as consumers.


Key arguments of the book

Henry Jenkings/Joshua Green:

"The book's argument might be reduced to the following core claims - that convergence is a cultural, rather than technological, process; that networking computing encourages collective intelligence; that a new form of participatory culture is emerging; and that skills acquired through 'leisure' activities are increasingly being applied in more "serious" contexts.


1. Convergence is a cultural rather than a technological process. We now live in a world where every story, image, sound, idea, brand, and relationship will play itself out across all possible media platforms.

Convergence is understood here not as the bringing together of all media functions within a single device but rather as a cultural logic involving an ever more complex interplay across multiple channels of distribution. A decade ago, people predicted the digital revolution would displace older one-to-many broadcast media systems with newer many-to-many modes of communication. Today, the major changes emerge from the interactions between old and new media, sometimes working in concert (as in transmedia storytelling or branding efforts) and sometimes in opposition (as when consumers use new media channels to talk back to media conglomerates.). This convergence is being shaped both by media conglomerates' desires to exploit "synergies" between different divisions and consumer demands for media content where, when, and in what form they want it.


2. In a networked society, people are increasingly forming knowledge communities to pool information and work together to solve problems they could not confront individually. We call that collective intelligence.

This capacity of consumers to work together across geographic and social distances has been at the heart of Web 2.0 discourse. Networked communities, as Pierre Levy (1997) has suggested, represent an alternative source of knowledge and power which intersect, but remain autonomous from, the transnational reach of consumer capitalism and the sovereignty of nation-states over their citizens. Web 2.0 companies incorporate and embrace (in Tim O'Reilly's (2005) terms, "harness") this collective intelligence rather than allowing it to exist as an independent source of consumer power and critique.


3. We are seeing the emergence of a new form of participatory culture (a contemporary version of folk culture) as consumers take media in their own hands, reworking its content to serve their personal and collective interests.

Patterns of media consumption have been profoundly altered by new media technologies that enable us to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content. An increasingly more digitally enabled and media literate population has taken tools once the reserve of professional media producers and made reworking photographs, video, and music a routine practice. The "remixability" of media content, shared platforms for the distribution of grassroots media, and the social networks that have grown up around media properties are reshaping audience expectations about the entertainment experience.


4. We are acquiring skills now through our play and recreational lives which we will later apply towards more serious ends.

This logic of participation is extending from consumer relations within the entertainment industry towards a broader range of interactions, including the interface of political candidates and government agencies with consumers, ministers with congregations, corporations with their employees, and educators with students. Indeed, as Yochai Benkler (2006) argues in his book, The Wealth of Networks, the emergence of new media technologies, platforms, and practices results in a hybrid media ecology, where commercial, amateur, nonprofit, governmental, and educational media producers interact in ever more complex ways, often deploying the same media channels towards very different ends. These groups come together at YouTube, which has provided a distribution channel, or Second Life, which has provided a meeting ground for diverse companies, institutions, and subcultural communities. A model based purely on amateur consumers and commercial producers can't adequately account for the diverse points of intersection between these various stakeholders. Far from the frictionless economy envisioned by some corporate gurus, there seems to be rather a lot of friction when one looks closely at any point of contact between these groups." (http://henryjenkins.org/2008/03/the_moral_economy_of_web_20_pa_1.html)



Lecture at the Open Content Symposium

Context of the lecture

The Economics of Open Content Symposium:

The Economics of Open Text

Convergence Culture: Consumer Participation and the Economics of Mass Media

Fred Beshears, University of California at Berkeley Ellen Faran, MIT Press Henry Jenkins, MIT Joel Greenberg, GSD&M Sande Scoredos, Sony Pictures Imageworks

The economics of open text and new models for textbook, university-press, and commercial publishing are described by University of California Berkeley's Senior Strategist Fred Beshears, MIT Press Director Ellen Faran, and University of British Columbia's John Willinsky. New modalities of consumer participation in mass media are discussed by Henry Jenkins, MIT Professor of Literature and Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program, Joel Greenberg from the GSD&M advertising agency in Austin, Texas, and Sande Scoredos, Sony Pictures Imageworks's Executive Director of Technical Training and Artist Development.

Industry Study: The Economics of Open Text Fred Beshears, University of California, Berkeley Ellen W. Faran, MIT Press

Convergence Culture: Consumer Participation and the Economics of Mass Media Henry Jenkins, MIT Joel Greenberg, GSD&M Sande Scoredos, Sony Pictures Imageworks

Context for the Symposium

On January 23-24, 2006, Intelligent Television hosts the Economics of Open Content symposium at MIT to bring together representatives from media industries, cultural and educational institutions, and legal and business minds to discuss how to make open content happen better and faster.

With the support of the Hewlett Foundation and MIT Open Courseware, Intelligent Television brings representatives of commercial media industries (publishing, film, music, television, video, software, education/courseware, gaming) together with representatives of cultural and educational institutions who are innovative in this area and legal and business minds in the academy who are studying how to make this happen faster and better. New Yorker economics columnist and bestselling author (The Wisdom of Crowds) James Surowiecki keynotes at the Cambridge meeting, with a presentation entitled 'Openness as an Ethos.'

Intelligent Television has been conducting a year-long investigation into the economics of open content. This project is a systematic study of why and how it makes sense for commercial companies and noncommercial institutions active in culture, education, and media to make certain materials widely available for free, and also how free services are finding new (sometimes commercial) ways of becoming sustainable. The project builds upon written work that Intelligent Television recently completed with the support of the Mellon Foundation and Ithaka on Marketing Culture in the Digital Age, and also upon work now being completed as part of the Mellon Foundation-supported Commission on Cyberinfrastructure in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The project also informs new economic models that Intelligent Television is establishing for its documentary work."


Discussion

José Van Dijck and David Nieborg:

"Jenkins’ book ushers its readers into a brave new world of digital culture in a way that strongly resembles the language of Wikinomics: “Welcome to convergence culture, where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (Jenkins 2006: 2). The book introduces and elaborates upon three defining concepts: media convergence, participatory culture and collective intelligence—concepts that strongly reverberate the ideas of co-creation and produsage. Jenkins is unequivocally positive about the power of millions of active internet users who provide an alternative source of creativity and information. By the same token, he appeals to industry leaders to accept a cultural paradigm shift as a major driver to change business as usual: “More and more, industry leaders are returning to convergence as a way of making sense of a moment of disorienting change” (2006: 6).

The inescapability of this cultural-cum-economic principle forms a peculiar mirror to the logic promoted in business manifestoes. As discussed above, Wikinomics and We-Think assume that all users who contribute content are (equally) creative and articulate the same expressive desire. Jenkins proffers a similar idea, even if his ideas of participatory culture have historical roots in fan culture (Jenkins, 1992). Long before the advent of digital platforms, there was already a rich subculture of fans who actively engaged with their favourite authors, rewrote the endings of their books, discussed their favourable bands, etc. Jenkins (2006) argues this kind of engagement is finally fulfilled by the current generation of internet tools. While he clearly assumes creative fandom as his guiding principle for hailing the Web 2.0, it remains unclear whether he defends a cultural model or a business model; in fact, the distinction between the two is rendered entirely irrelevant because they converge beyond distinction. According to the logic of affective economics, he argues “the ideal consumer is active, emotionally engaged and socially networked” and companies invite these ideal consumers or audiences “inside the brand community” (2006: 20).

The nature of participatory culture is rationalized differently in Convergence Culture than it is in Wikinomics and We-Think, and yet there is a remarkable similarity in how economics and cultural theory assign equal motivational and creative drives to users. Jenkins duly acknowledges the fact that not all users are equally active when he perfunctorily points out how “some consumers have greater abilities to participate in this emerging culture than others” (3). But, much like Tapscott and Williams, Jenkins disregards the significance of a large contingent of passive spectators vis-à-vis a relatively small percentage of active creators—a disregard that warrants the definition of all users as contributors to (or participants of) culture. Convergence Culture trumpets the virtues of active users as creative fans, “spoilers”, citizen journalists, and grass roots political organizers without ever discussing the different (economic or ideological) interests of various kinds of users. Five core chapters in the book describe how citizen-consumers use their newly acquired power to tinker and intervene in commercially produced content (such as television shows or major Hollywood films) via electronic platforms; this process, which is both “top down” and “bottom up”, leads to rich “knowledge communities” who share their intelligence to subvert established powers and provide alternative cultural contents (Jenkins 2006: 18). Even if these examples are interesting and convincing, the fact that the large majority of users are passive consumers rather than active producers is not entirely irrelevant in a theory of culture. “Participatory culture” is presented as the new hegemony, a cultural mentality that drives everyone and from which everyone profits.


In contrast to the manifestoes Wikinomics and We-Think, Convergence Culture does acknowledge the need to make a distinction between producers and consumers or, for that matter, between commercial and communal platforms. At various points in the book, Jenkins points at their diverging interests, but, often in the very same paragraph, he redirects both parties towards a mutually profitable idea of convergence:

- “What we need to keep in mind here and throughout the book is that the interests of producers and consumers are not the same. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they conflict… In this way, we will come to understand how entertainment companies are reappraising the economic value of fan participation.” (Jenkins 2006: 58)

Much like Tapscott, Williams and Leadbeater, Jenkins’ belief in communal action and collective intelligence overrides every argument rooted in political economy. In the interplay between two kinds of media power, the new digital environment of the Web 2.0 assumedly renders the “old rhetoric of opposition and co-optation” irrelevant because consumers are given more power to shape media content (Jenkins 2006: 215). Examples to back up these claims are the Abu Ghraib photographs, bloggers who promote campaigns of minority candidates (moveon.org) and many other grassroots media who mobilize mainstream media to include their views. However, the proven “success” of these instances of participatory culture does not warrant their extension to culture in general, and neither does it excuse cultural theorists from exploring the profound socio-economic consequences of this presumed paradigm shift towards an all-encompassing idea of culture. As Bassett (2008) subtly points out, Jenkins assumes “different kinds of cultural producers—the market, the public sector, activists for instance—to work with corporations to shape and forge agendas for forms of participation that satisfy perceived social and cultural needs.” In an interesting twist of the cultural rhetoric introduced by economists and business people, Jenkins (2006: 19) adopts the terms “synergy” “franchise” and “extensions” to explain how media industries are pushed to embrace convergence because corporately and collectively produced and distributed culture now equally operates within the same Web 2.0 realm.

Convergence Culture thus advocates the smooth alliance of old and new media, producers and consumers, commerce and commons in much the same way as they are promoted in Wikinomics and We Think. While Jenkins’ cultural theory includes statements acknowledging the relevance of economic and ideological diverging interests, he hardly lets political economy get in the way of claiming the universal hegemony of convergence culture. In more than one way, his theory peculiarly mirrors the rhetoric of contemporary Web 2.0 business manifestoes."


Source: Wikinomics and its Discontents: a critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos. By José Van Dijck and David Nieborg [1]

More Information

  1. Moral Economy