Participation and the dimension of power

Parallel zu einer Präsentation über Web 2.0 und User Created Content verfasste ich diese Woche einen Wikieintrag zum Thema "participation and the dimension of power".

Ich bin nicht sicher ob er konfus, genial oder einfach nur mediocre ist - eigentlich spielt das auch gar keine Rolle -  dem Vorbild meines Kommilitonen folgend dachte ich: ach poste es doch mal auf deinem (armen, vernachlässigten, wahnsinnig einsamen) Blog und teile dein Wissen mit deinen Mitmenschen. Here we go, enjoy.

Participation and the dimension of power
In the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary the term to participate is defined as a synonym for to take part. On the Web 2.0 internet-users are experimenting with their “new power” to take part in any feasible way, for example by contributing to new inventions and applications; stating, posting and rating opinions; engaging in discussions, building communities, reporting, exchanging, creating, sharing or whatever else comes to their mind while the borders of impossibility seem to go down continuously in the online-environment (OECD, 2006; Jenkins, 2004). This new, strong form of participation is determined by the constantly evolving and expanding possibilities to actively take part and get involved in a vast variety of mediated processes. Providers of internet platforms offer open spaces for consumers’ contributions in order keep up with service expectations and benefit individually, collectively or economically from the outcomes of ‘collective intelligence’ (OECD, 2006). According to O’Reilly (2005) this new openness towards the recipient defines the term Web 2.0.

But what defines participation?
Participation as such relies on access as well as interaction (Carpentier, & De Cleen, 2007). This is due to the fact that a lack of access simply inhibits the entry to a sphere of exchange and a lack of interaction automatically implies a lack of exchange itself. Consequently, reciprocity is a necessary prerequisite for participation, since a contribution without response remains to be an unheard statement. Consequently, participation relies on an at least two-sided process of involvement, contribution, response and reaction which optimally continues in a dynamic cycle.
In his book Democratic Theory and Participation Pateman (1970; in Carpentier, & De Cleen, 2007) defines the term participation by differentiating two levels of intensity:

1.)    Partial participation, which describes “a process in which two or more parties influence each other in the making of decisions but the final power to decide rests with one party only.” While

full participation means that “each individual member of a decision-making body has equal power to determine the outcome of decisions.”

This understanding surely is based on political dimensions but can also be applied to the internet and the Web 2.0, especially as it also addresses the relevance of power in this context.
Reciprocity being a precondition for participation is closely connected to the dimension of power within this term. Being heard, recognized and replied to shows a certain amount of power and impact on others. Thus, the power of a participatory contribution can be defined by the response(s) it evokes and the impact it has on a discussion or, to follow Pateman (1970), a decision-making process without regarding its important or trivial nature.
But power can also be seen as a monopoly of providers and companies in the sphere of the Web 2.0 in terms of control over users’ options and opportunities to participate. This parallel empowerment of the enormous amount of participating users as well as few, huge providers of internet applications such as Google is discussed by Jenkins (2004), who raises the question if this current top- down and bottom-up processes on the internet are rather symbiotic or contradictory in terms of power. Deuze (2007, p. 32) argues in favor of the latter position and says that the convergence of Web 2.0 “serves both as a mechanism to increase revenue and further the agenda of industry; at the same time, it enables people to enact some kind of agency regarding the omnipresent messages and commodities of this industry.” O’Reilly (2005) also argues that the power hold by companies, conglomerates and providers is none without using and encouraging user-participation. He states:
“The competitive opportunity for new entrants is to fully embrace the potential of Web 2.0. Companies that succeed will create applications that learn from their users, using an architecture of participation to build a commanding advantage not just in the software interface, but in the richness of the shared data.” (O’Reilly, 2005)
Following these arguments, the ‘richness of shared data’ relies on user-participation as a constituting factor in order to build collective intelligence which, in turn, can be seen as a new kind of ‘online-currency’ for mutual empowerment. Depending on openness and transparency and, thus, on the possible intensity of participation (full or partial), both sides, providers as well as users, can benefit from participation and collective intelligence to the same extent in terms of empowerment, development and reciprocity.
Carpentier, N., & De Cleen, B. (2007). Introduction. In: N. Carpentier & B. De Cleen (Eds.) Participation and media production. Critical reflections on content creation (pp. 1-15). San Francisco: ICA.
Deuze, M. (2007). Corporate appropriation of participatory culture. In: N. Carpentier & B. De Cleen (Eds.) Participation and media production. Critical reflections on content creation (pp. 27-40). San Francisco: ICA.
Jenkins, H. (2004). The cultural logic of media convergence. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 7(1), 33-43.
OECD (2007). Participative web: User created content (pp. 1-20). Paris: OECD.
O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is web 2.0? Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved Febuary 11, 2009, from
Oxford English Online Dictionary: participation. Retrieved Febuary 21, 2009, from




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