Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics

This posting describes the book Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics by Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd.  This is not a book review, but rather a discussion of the key points in this book in relation to library and information science (LIS) practice.

The book, which was published in 2016, reads like a discussion panel at an academic conference.  The authors take turns responding to various topics related to participatory culture and building on each other’s observations.  The three authors are academics with significant research histories on the topic and provide numerous citations to their own work and others in crafting their arguments. The discussion focuses on youth.

The book begins by defining participatory culture. The authors identify several factors that must be present in a participatory culture.  These include:

  • A value of diversity and democracy which is translated into collective decision making
  • Low barriers to expression and engagement
  • Mentorship or knowledge sharing mechanisms
  • A degree of social connection

Although the discussion focuses on communities that are technology-enabled, the authors state that participatory culture can exist without technology. A technology-enabled community may have low barriers to artistic creation or content sharing, but not be participatory in its values and governance.  They define several criteria for participation among members of the community.  These include:

  • Agency
  • Skills in contributing (content, artistic works, etc.)
  • Connections with others
  • Emotional resilience
  • Enough social status to speak (Jenkins, Ito & boyd, 2016, p. 22)

They link participatory culture with social equality and “the struggle of many different groups to gain greater access to the means of cultural production and circulation” (Jenkins, Ito & boyd, 2016, p. 22) and identify cultural and structural barriers that prevent participation such as lack of mentorship structure and opportunities, a lack of self-confidence or empowerment, and a lack of value placed on the capacities of nondominant communities. They argue that interventions to promote participative culture should not address a skills gap, citing examples of ingenuity in technology use among populations who are described as lacking skills or access to technology, but to create social connections for opportunity (Jenkins, Ito & boyd, 2016, p. 77).

So why should this matter to the library and information science (LIS) community? Because the creation or fostering of participatory communities aligns with the democratic values of librarianship which see information access and sharing as a means of empowerment, particularly for “nondominant” groups. This book provides research-based evidence that can be used to craft or justify strategies for encouraging youth engagement and artistic production such as makerspace programs.

Featured image by Mark Kens


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