Interrogating audiences: Theoretical horizons of participation

Special CM Journal Issue ‘edited by Nico Carpentier & Peter Dahlgren

The special journal issue ‘Interrogating audiences: Theoretical horizons of participation’, edited by Nico Carpentier & Peter Dahlgren has just been published in the academic journal CM (Communication Management Quarterly). This peer-reviewed special issue aims to contribute to the development of participatory theory within the framework of communication and media studies. As always, this requires careful manoeuvring to reconcile conceptual contingency with the necessary fixity that protects the concept of participation from signifying anything and everything. In order to deepen the theorisations of participation, two strategies have been used in this special issue: In a first cluster of articles, the concept of participation will be confronted with another theoretical concept or tradition that will enrich the theoretical development of participation. In the second cluster of articles, the workings of the notion of participation will be analysed within a specific topical field, which will allow deepening participatory theory by confronting participation with the contextualised logics of that topical field.

The entire special issue can be downloaded from the Cost TATS website at the WG2 download page:
http://www.cost-transforming-audiences.eu/node/303

The direct link is:
http://www.cost-transforming-audiences.eu/system/files/pub/CM21-SE-Web.pdf

Alternatively, the special issue can also be downloaded from the CM webpage, at:
http://www.fpn.bg.ac.rs/2011/10/24/cm-casopis-za-upravljanje-komuniciranjem-2/

Here, the direct link is:
http://www.fpn.bg.ac.rs/wp-content/uploads/CM21-SE-Web.pdf

The theoretical work captured in the articles of this special issue originates from the Working Group on «Audience interactivity and participation» of the COST Action «Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies» (TATS), which is financed from 2010-2014. The main objective of the TATS COST Action is to advance state-of-the-art knowledge of the key transformations of European audiences within a changing media and communication environment, identifying their interrelationships with the social, cultural and political areas of European societies. This COST Action comprises more than 230 scholars from 30 countries. Its Working Group on «Audience interactivity and participation» focuses on the possibilities and constraints of mediated public participation; the roles that old and new media institutions and professionals (including journalists) play in facilitating public participation and in building citizenship; the interlocking of mainstream media and non-mainstream media and their production of new hybrid organisational structures and audience practices.

Table of contents
Interrogating audiences: Theoretical horizons of participation
CM Communication Management Quarterly, 21, 2011
ISSN 1452-7405

Introduction: Interrogating audiences – Theoretical horizons of participation
Nico Carpentier and Peter Dahlgren

The concept of participation. If they have access and interact, do they really participate?
Nico Carpentier

Social capital: Between interaction and participation
Manuel José Damásio

Applying genre theory to citizen participation in public policy making: Theoretical perspectives on participatory genres
Marie Dufrasne and Geoffroy Patriarche

Parameters of online participation: Conceptualising civic contingencies
Peter Dahlgren

Competing by participation – A winning marketing tool
Nóra Nyir?, Tamás Csordás and Dóra Horváth

Mediated public voices need theory to be heard
Nurçay Türko?lu

When the museum becomes the message for participating audiences
Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt and Pille Runnel

A critical analysis of two audience prototypes and their participatory dimensions
Miroljub Radojkovi? and Ana Milojevi?

The participatory turn in the publishing industry: Rhetorics and practices
Francesca Pasquali

Abstracts

Introduction: Interrogating audiences – Theoretical horizons of participation
Nico Carpentier and Peter Dahlgren

No abstract available

The concept of participation. If they have access and interact, do they really participate?
Nico Carpentier

Summary: Participation is a concept that is being used in a wide variety of fields, and that has obtained an evenly wide range of meanings. This article attempts first to ground participation in democratic theory, which allows introducing the distinction between minimalist and maximalist forms of participation. In the second part of the article, a broad definition of the political will be used to transcend to logics of institutionalized politics, and to emphasize that the distribution of power in society is a dimension of the social that permeates every possible societal field. Both discussions are used to describe the key characteristics of participation, and to increase the concept’s theoretical foundation. The article then zooms in on one of these characteristics, namely the difference between access, interaction and participation, as this distinction allows further sharpening the key meanings attributed to participation as a political process where the actors involved in decision-making processes are positioned towards each other through power relationships that are (to an extent) egalitarian.

Social capital: Between interaction and participation
Manuel José Damásio

Summary: The purpose of this article is to discuss different ways of conceptualizing social capital in order to bring out the contested and multidimensional character of the concept and relate that with both social interaction and participation in the context of media and network technologies use and consumption. Throughout its history the media have always included a mix of centralized practices and interpersonal communication processes that shape different patterns of relationship between subjects and technologies and generate different social outcomes. The emergence of the communication and networks paradigm as central to the processes of social interaction and community building, invites us to look closely at the mechanisms that individuals use in order to interact and participate in the social networks in which they move themselves. Social capital is one of such mechanisms, a multidimensional concept with different dimensions and features. We discuss social capital’s complementary and sometimes antagonistic dimensions in relation with subjective forms of participation and interaction with and via the media. Finally, we will also tap into the different constructs that social capital allows for and exploit their potential for the argument around network media potential to generate original forms of interaction and participation.

Applying genre theory to citizen participation in public policy making: Theoretical perspectives on participatory genres
Marie Dufrasne and Geoffroy Patriarche

Summary: This research is aimed at constructing a theoretical framework for the study of citizen participation in public policy making, based on genre theory. Drawing on various approaches to genre (rhetorical analysis, literary analysis, sociolinguistics, media studies, organisational communication, user interface design, and computermediated communication), this paper suggests a series of theoretical perspectives on participatory genres, a notion freely borrowed from Erickson (1997) and applied to the methods, activities or applications of citizen participation in public policy making (e.g. consultations, petitions, citizens panels, opinion polls). The proposed theoretical framework takes into account the contexts of participation (conceived as both situations and communities) as well as the interrelationships between participatory genres, and focuses on the repertoires of elements (Lacey, 2000) that characterize participatory genres in terms of ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘who/m’, when’ and ‘where’ (Orlikowski & Yates, 1998). It is argued that approaching citizen participation in public policy making through the lens of participatory genres is valuable to both researchers and practitioners.

Parameters of online participation: Conceptualising civic contingencies
Peter Dahlgren

Summary: The new online media obviously offer very impressive opportunities for participation. Yet, we need to specify more carefully what we mean by participation, and try to illuminate its key elements. Thus, after first presenting some overarching, scene-setting perspectives on participation and digital media, this presentation offers five basic parameters of participation, a conceptual framework intended to be empirically useful. The five are: trajectories, modalities, motivations, sociality and visibility. Each parameter has some further subcategories; for example, I suggest three basic trajectories: consumption, civil society and politics. These obviously are entangled with each other in the real world, yet the distinctions allow us to focus on political participation as a specific form. To what extent and how participation is realised depends on many factors. Here I highlight the notion of contingency, underscoring the point that a complex interplay of conditions and circumstances both make possible and delimit political participation. I look at three sets of contingencies: institutional features of online media (illustrated with a brief look at Google), attributes of the mainstream online environments that have a clear hegemonic character, and established social patterns of use that can also impact on this environment. For the latter, I highlight what I call the solo sphere as an emerging feature of online political participation – the tendency towards isolated, individualised communication. I then run these three types of contingencies across the five parameters to arrive at a preliminary perspective on how the online environment both facilitates and deflects political participation of the non-mainstream kind.

Competing by participation – A winning marketing tool
Nóra Nyir?, Tamás Csordás and Dóra Horváth

Summary: In the new media and communications context audiences are more empowered than ever to make their voices heard. Audiences, consumers are actively influencing the marketing activities of firms and brands. In the new dominant logic of marketing, firms are constrained to engage in complex processes of exchange with their consumers. To be able to keep up with the competition and media noise, it is crucial for companies to involve their audiences, potential consumers. Consumer participation in this context does not end with special attention for the brand, as companies turned to electronic word-of-mouth and other interactive messages concerning the company. Consumers themselves not only create advertisements and broadcast them in favour of or against organizations, they also create new products via a number of co-creative procedures and they are pushing the organizations to launch new pricing models. Therefore the scope of user-generated content is rather diverse from a marketing perspective. By generating an overview of the participation phenomenon in marketing and marketing communications literature, this article endeavours to reconcile the related taxonomy used in the business and marketing literature by an extended summary and explanation of the key terms. This will allow us to conclude that the most important central theme of the very diverse literature of audience participation lies in the fact that it is inspired, facilitated, established or maintained by the participating corporation as a core element. As such, participating corporations manage to extract a source of additional satisfaction and thus an added value that in a long term can be transformed into a competitive advantage.

Mediated public voices need theory to be heard
Nurçay Türko?lu

Summary: This article, grounded in the need for critical theory for a better comprehension of the social world, engages with the concept of critical media literacy as an example of a combination of distance and involvement. Critical theory, and more particularly critical media literacy, is seen as a wordly matter that can play a significant role in both theoretical and practical worlds. The article then focuses on the mediation of public voices and the need for critical media literacy to deal with media participation. Motivated by mediatic hopes, audiences, media scholars and media professionals can appeal to critical media literacy to go beyond the barriers of conservatism, intolerance and consumerism. At the same time, all three groups face many different restrictions that impede upon the organisation of critical media literacy, and its focus on participation.

When the museum becomes the message for participating audiences
Pille Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt and Pille Runnel

Summary: This article aims to analyse the notion of participation in the museum context using an audience studies perspective. Museums are increasingly competing for the attention of the public in the arenas of leisure and education, the process of which is part of the commercialisation of the museum institution. In addition, a turn towards interactivity is taking place in museums, and while that might serve well to revitalise the museum and bring it closer to its audiences, it does not sufficiently support realisation of the change of the museum institution into a laboratory-type museum (de Varine, 1988; van Mensch, 2005) – a concept defined through the communicative and democratic aspects of the museum. As is the case with many public institutions, the democratisation of society is increasing the need for transparency and accountability, which in turn has brought public engagement to the attention of the museum. According to Simon (2010), museums need to find a balance between the activities of the museum and audiences: the (potential) need to overcome the shyness of expertise combined with the need to organise the (potential) flood of amateurs. These different evolutions – the ambiguity of expertise, the move towards interactivity and the need for public engagement – increase the need to understand participation at museums. This paper discusses the ideas of what participation means in the museum context through Giddens’ framework of democratising democracy (1995) by looking at the museum through three key roles: as cultural, economic and public institutions, each of which has different reasons for and meanings of museum participation.

A critical analysis of two audience prototypes and their participatory dimensions
Miroljub Radojkovi? and Ana Milojevi?

Summary: This article discusses how the concept of audience theory has been developed within two basic intellectual traditions, resulting in two basic prototypes. On one side, there is the trajectory of the «mass audience» that was created and developed parallel with the emergence of the media of mass communication. The mass audience is regarded as a multilayer collectivity, residing at the end of a successive linear communication process – sender, channel, message, receiver and effects. In this one-way communication model, the audience is primarily the receiving structure, with little or no opportunity for feedback and participation in the communication process. The other prototype is linked to the development of new digital media and the internet; here the public is theoretically considered as «cross media» and active. The audience of new media is seen as a heterogeneous and structural collective in the communication model that characterizes the flow of information «many to many». This prototype attributes to the new, active audiences or users unlimited power to participate and shape the communication processes. We discuss features of the two prototypes, including media usage, media access, information resources, time engagement and functions derived from media use. The most important feature we take up, however, is participation. We point out the problems and limitations of both prototypes in this regard. On the one hand the study of audiences has long been rooted in the concept of mass audience and limited with its primal orientation towards the effects of mass communication, while on the other hand, the emerging prototype 2 is all too easily granted participatory capacities, especially concerning the public sphere. Therefore, the theorists of new and old media must step outside the prevailing postulates and consider the audience beyond the two prevailing prototypes in order to further deepen our knowledge and understanding of contemporary audiences and their participation.

The participatory turn in the publishing industry: Rhetorics and practices
Francesca Pasquali

Summary: One of the cultural and media areas in which the issue of participation – with all its ambiguity – has recently emerged to full significance is the area of literature and publishing. Following the music, film and television industries, the publishing industry is in fact facing a vast renewal due to digitalization processes (assuming digitalization as a complex negotiation between social and technological forces). New textual formats and devices (such as e-books), new forms of distribution (e.g. online retailing), new marketing strategies (e.g. in the social media), new models of business (e.g. the print on demand) are becoming increasingly popular. At the same time digitalization has enabled the creation of a whole new participatory, grassroots publishing market, while grassroots storytelling and social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook), used as a collaborative writing environment, bring out participatory forms of online writing that continue the tradition started almost fifteen years ago by the so-called «hypertextual fiction» and the avant-gardes before that. In this context, by addressing the theoretical debate and recent social discourses on the e-book, this article suggests a recognition of the diversity of the forms of participation that are ascribed to the new publishing scenario. Secondly – moving from the Foucauldian notion of author-function – the article solicits the relationship between author and reader in the contemporary digital publishing scenario and addresses the question whether and under what conditions the supposed participatory turn in writing and publishing we are facing promotes the construction of a polyphonic, co-authored, recognizable, collaborative dialogue, or rather points to a cultural landscape where «all discourses […] would develop in the anonymity of a murmur» (Foucault, 1969).