Participatory Culture

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Participatory Culture

General Concept and also the name of a particular organization.



By Henry Jenkins at

1. there are relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

2. there is strong support for creating and sharing what you create with others

3. there is some kind of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced gets passed along to newbies and novices

4. members feel that their contributions matter

5. members feel some degree of social connection with each other at least to the degree to which they care what other people think about what they have created.


Henry Jenkins defends participatory culture as a process at

"1.We should not reduce the value of participatory culture to its products rather than its process. Consider, for a moment, all of the arts and creative writing classes being offered at schools around the world. Consider, for example, all of the school children being taught to produce pots. We don't do this because we anticipate that very many of them are going to grow up to be professional potters. In fact, most of them are going to produce pots that look like lopsided lumps of clay only a mother could love (though it does say something about how we value culture that many of them do get cherished for decades). We do so because we see a value in the process of creating something, of learning to work with clay as a material, or what have you. There is a value in creating, in other words, quite apart from the value attached to what we create. And from that perspective, the expansion of who gets to create and share what they create with others is important even if none of us produces anything beyond the literary equivalent of a lopsided lump of clay that will be cherished by the intended recipient (whether Mom or the fan community) and nobody else.

2. All forms of art require a place where beginning artists can be bad, learn from their mistakes, and get better. A world of totally professionalized expression masks the apprenticeship process all artists need to undergo if they are going to achieve their full potential. A world where amateur artists can share their work is a world where learning can take place. If the only films you see are multimillion dollar productions by Steven Spielberg, then most of us will assume that we have nothing meaningful to contribute to the culture and give up. If we see films with a range of quality, including some that are, in Sturgeon's terms, "crud," then it becomes possible to imagine ourselves as potentially becoming artists. Bad art inspires more new artists than good art does for this reason: I can do better than that!

3. A world where there is a lot of bad art in circulation lowers the risks of experimentation and innovation. In such a world, one doesn't have to worry about hitting the marks or even making a fool out of oneself. One can take risks, try challenging things, push in new directions because the cost of failure is relatively low. That is why a participatory culture is potentially so generative. Right now, innovation occurs most often at the grassroots level and only subsequently gets amplified by mass media. Professional media is afraid to take risks.

4. Bad art inspires responses which push the culture to improve upon it over time. I have argued elsewhere that fandom is inspired by a mixture of fascination and frustration. If the show didn't fascinate us, we would not keep returning to it. If it fully satisfied us, we would not feel compelled to remake it. Many of the shows that have inspired the most fan fiction are not the best shows but rather they are shows with real potential -- the literary equivalent of the "fixer-upper" that real estate agents always talk about. Over time, bad art may become an irritant, like sand in the oyster, which becomes a pearl when it gets worked over by many different imaginations. Good art may simply close off conversations.

5. Good and Bad, as artistic standards, are context specific. Good for what purposes? Good by what standards? Good for what audiences? In some ways, one can argue that professionally published fiction about popular television shows is superior to at least most fan fiction -- in terms of a certain professional polish in the writing style, in terms of its copy editing, in terms of perhaps its construction of plots. But it is not going to be as good as fan fiction on other levels -- in terms of its insight into the characters and their relationship, in terms of its match with the shared fantasies of the fan community, in terms of its freedom to push beyond certain constraints of the genre.

6. Standards of good and bad are hard to define when the forms of expression being discussed are new and still evolving. This would apply to many of the forms of participatory culture which are growing up around digital media. The forms are too new to have well established standards or fixed cannons.

7. This is not a zero-sum game. It is not clear that the growth of participatory culture does, in fact, damage to professional media making. One could argue that so far most popular work by amateur media makers has been reactive to stories, characters, and ideas generated by mass culture. The two may exist in dialogue with each other. This is certainly true of the kinds of fan culture that Cathy Young is discussing." (




Makers of the - The Broadcast Machine now called Democracy TV

"It's a php tool for your website for publishing / posting video 'channels' (rich metadata rss feeds). It's the easiest way to post torrent files and it's also a really good way to make collections of videos from around the web (or to make channels out of stuff that you've posted elsewhere, eg or The goal of the software is to help people make channels of video that will be browsable, downloadable, and watchable in our video player." ( )

Information about the Broadcast Machine is located at

Interview with creator Steve Holmes at


The following quote by Downhill Battle, now show the connection between technological developments in filesharing and a conscious intentionality to promote participatory culture.

- Consciously working for a participatory culture: Interview of Nicholas Reville of Downhill Battle

The following quote shows that developers of filesharing programs are aware of the social and political import of their work. See the previous quotes on how the whole development of filesharing is driven by a political and social struggle. It's not technology causing change (technological determinism), it is technology in turn determined by the dynamics of struggle.

Question by Greplaw editors: Is there anything about Bit Torrent that helps foster a participatory culture?

Reply: “It can definitely be a part of big step forward. 'Participatory culture' is how we've started thinking about the intersection of all these phenomenons like blogs, filesharing networks, wikis, and just the web in general. They all make it easier for people to create and distribute art/ideas and also let people act as filters and editors. But we're really at the very, very beginning of all this. The shift that we're going to see from the current top-down culture model will be absolutely revolutionary. As overused as that term is, there's really no other word that captures the magnitude of what's going on here.

As for BitTorrent specifically, searching for content on napster-style search and download clients really sucks and, on its own, creates a huge bias towards corporate content that people already know about. On the other hand, websites and blogs organize and present content so that you can discover things you didn't even know you were looking for. Since BitTorrent uses web-based links, it has the potential to fit very well with blogs and content management systems while making it possible for anyone to offer very large files without worrying about bandwidth." (

More Information

  • Book-length report: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

By Henry Jenkins with Ravi Purushotma, Margaret Weigel, Katie Clinton, and Alice J. Robison


Reviewed here at