Kelty, C. (2012) From Participation to Power. The Participatory Cultures Handbook.

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Kelty starts his essay with a reflection of Gladwell's criticism on social media and the kind of networked activism that is based on adaptability and resilience instead of strategic and disciplined confrontation. Kelty raises the question if networks and hierarchies are mutually exclusive, and if they are the appropriate terms for analyzing the kind of participation that is happening today.

As Kelty points out, several terms and concepts have emerged for describing how participation has changed with networked media such as the Internet and digital media. He makes a list of terms that refer to social media, the Internet, software, fan cultures and "knowledge societies":

  • peer production (Benkler, 2006)
  • produsage (Bruns, 2008)
  • the wisdom of crowds (Surowiecki, 2004)
  • prosuemrs/prosumption (Toftler, 1980; Ritzer & Jurgeson, 2010)
  • the network society (Castells, 1996, 2001)
  • user-lead innovations (von Hippel, 2005)
  • recursive publics (Kelty, 2008)
  • Creation capitalim (Boelstorrf, 2008)
  • Organizing netors (Rossister, 2006)
  • Wikinomics (Tapscott and Williams, 2006)
  • convergence culture (Jenkinsm 2oo6)
  • Networked Publics (Varnells, 2008; boyd, 2008)

Proposes viewing participation in a naturalistic light, in where we simply ask what kind of practices and organizational forms of participation are happening today. Can we talk about audience participation, participatory democracy, user-generated content, and peer production as the same thing?

He claims that participation is a pluralistic thing that is valuable: "participation is now expected to have an effect on the structures, institutions, organizations, or technologies in which one participates. Participation is no longer simply an opening up, an expansion, a liberation, it is now also a principle of improvement, and instrument of change, a creative force. It no longer threatens, but has become a resource: participation has been made valuable." (24)

Since participation is pluralistic, it is important to understand the different forms of participation. Kelty points out that is necessary to understand the concepts of hierarchy, market, network, organization, and platform.

The use of the term "platforms" reveals the "lack of words and concepts for making sense of the concrete assemblages and apparatuses that respond to this problematization of participation and organization." (Gillespie, 2010) The term platform is rhetorically allied with participation: "it raises people up, it levels the field, it structures from bellow, not from above," etc.

Organized publics are the opposite to formal organizations. Membership of these publics is "informal, termporary, and constituted primarily through attention." People can participate in different publics according to their capacity to put attention and commitment. Kelty explains that participation in a public is structured by platforms, by "forms and technologies of address and circulation." (25) He refers to Warner (2002) definition of publics as "ad hoc entities that come into existence only when addressed and exist only while they pay attention to that address." Kelty claims that organized publics are different to the "general public" because they are making choices and paying attention (the general public is a sort of virtual entity). "Anyone can join" organized publics as long as pays attention to something, and interacts with others who are also doing so.

"organized publics become real instances of a virtual general public instantaneously: as soon as a group of individuals begins to pay attention to something, and continues so long as they interact with others who are also paying attention. This could mean watching a video online, signing up for an account, or joining protesters in the streets, etc." (27)

Using Twitter Inc. as an example Kelty reveals how technical capacities of a platform can compensate the absence of formal organizations of protest and participation. Anyone can sign for a Twitter account, make a tweet, and subscribe to other people twitter feeds. Participation in social media, open source projects, and other kinds of publics that are addressed and interact with new media, is very different to the classical political participation that happened in previous stages of the modern era.

Instead of being instances of the general public, formal organizations require formal two-way recognition. Formal enterprises can have a relationship with organized publics as they "distributes rights, power, and resources under the label of "participation" or "democratization."(27) Resources are valued by formal enterprises and its organized publics. A resource could be transferred between an enterprise and a public or could also be co-produced and co-consumed by both. Who owns the resources and who takes decisions about them need to be considered when analyzing their relationships.

In social and new media, shared resources between enterprises and publics are common. The resource could be a product (an article, status update, picture, video) or a process (liking, digging, tumblring, tweeting). As Kelty explains, reources are essential to the relationships between organized publics and formal enterprises. As he states, "wherever ther is both a formal enterprise and organized public, ther is likely to be a concrete (and contested) resource of value for both the formal enterprise and the informal public."(27)

Resources are actively governed. The relationship between a Formal Social Enterprise and an organized public is defined by the kind of participation that is allowed and the resource that is produced. Kelty explains that the relationship is defined by the goals concerning the resource produced and the assignation of specific tasks that produce the resource.

Kelty formulates a series of questions that help to identify each instance of participation (questions about structure of participation, resources, goals, tasks):

  • What is/are the resource(s)?
  • What rights to a resource do people in a formal enterprise have vs. the rights of those in organized public vs. those of everyone else (the general public)?
  • Who decides goals and who has ultimate authority over a resource?
  • Who manages tasks, assigns them, or encourages participation?
  • How modular/granular are tasts (i.e. how small is a task and how finely divided in orer to achieve something)?
  • What is the cost of performing a task?
  • Who can use, change, fork, or make claims about a resource?
  • Who takes legal responsibility for a resource?
  • Who is the maintainer of last resort?
  • Are the resources "tethered" (controlled by the enterprise) or are they "generative"(allow for unconstrained re-use, remixing, modification, or republication)?

As Kelty explains, Zitrain (2008) distinguishes between tethered and generative resources. Both copyright licenses and the management of the infrastructure through which resources are distributed are important.

Participation in the goals of a project is not the same as participating in the tasks that have been set to perform. Kelty gives the example that is different to design a game than to be invited to play it, different to design a strategy for a public protest and other to be a participant in the designed protest. As Kelty points out, some projects blend taks and goals as in the case of Wikipedia where the "discuss" pages become sites of policy discussion.

Kelty identifies three types of taks:

  • voluntary: self-chosen tasks that require some minimum level of conscious effort.
  • assigned
  • involuntary: tasks that people may not know they are performing.

Goals can be explicit or implicit. As Kelty explains, in FLOS projects goals are implicit, diffuse, and idscussed much less than the practical problems of creating software.

Other kind of important questions due the value of participation are the ones related to sustainability, profitability, and power. These refer to the macrostructure of relationships between elites and clients. Elites are formed by venture capitalists, advisory boards, founders, shareholders, etc. As Kelty explains, elites can emerge through active participation or approached independently (29). How the elites are chosen and elected depend on the participatory structures.

Clients are "often those for whom participation is valuable but who may or may not provide structures of participation themselves: advertisers, corporations, researchers, non-profits, or governments."(29) As Kelty points out, formal enterprises develop partnerships that determine aspects about how the content is branded, categorized, promoted, etc. "Clients influence the structures of participation in ways that are different from the influence of participants themselves or of elites. It might be said that they have a more direct access to the fovernance of tasks as opposed to the outcomes of those tasks." (29)

Participation, value, and power

"Participation is a plural thing and its relationship to power is continuously being obscured." (29)

It is necessary to distinguish between the different kinds of participation people can now have. There are different "participatory cultures" and each one has concrete practices, tools, ideologies, and technologies.

"Participation is about power, and, no matter how "open a platform is, participation will reach a limit circumscribing power and its distribution. Understanding those limits requires carefully describing the structures of participation, the processes of governance and inclusion, the infrastructure of software, protocols and networkd, as well as the rhetoric and expectations of individuals." (29)