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Bastard Culture! User participation and the extension of the cultural industries

By M.T. Schäfer

Abstract

Over the past decade a culture of user participation has developed on a global scale contributing to the development of software as well as changing, commenting, creating and distributing media content. With the personal computer, the internet and software, users have powerful production means at their hands and are able to connect to social worlds of like minded individuals around the world. Users have the necessary skills, tools and networks to develop modified products which are originally invented by corporate companies. Reverse companies will exploit the ideas of competent users. The results are products which are developed by both, users and companies. This phenomenon has been labeled as participatory culture. Participation has become a key concept to frame the emerging media practice. It considers the transformation of former audiences into active participants and agents of cultural production on the Internet. The understanding of participation is very much informed by a popular discourse, that emphasizes user activities without questioning the actual capacity of actions user have gained, and without taking the specific quality of technology into account. This research maps the discourses shaping the public understanding of participation and shows to what extent it affects the perception and development of technology. Analyzing the role of technology shows to what extent discursive elements are inscribed into technical design and how it can either avert or stimulate certain media practices. Participation is approached as a dispositif, in which discourses, technologies, users, corporations and legal administrations are interconnected. The heterogeneous quality of user activities and the blurring of user-producer relations is analyzed in case examples of design appropriation and its formalization in new design steps. It reveals complex configurations (actor networks) consisting of hackers, lay users, companies, market interests, technological design and its appropriation by users. Those case examples demonstrate the appropriation and further development of technological knowledge and show that the production channels of the culture industry extend into the realm of the users. The case examples point out, that a software-based product introduced to the market is actually entering a second stage of development where users explicitly participate by appropriation. However, the emergence of Web 2.0 applications shows a different quality of participation, and a different extension of the culture industry. Instead of creating content media companies provide platforms for user-created content. Their software design channels user actions and implements their activities into new businesses models. User participate implicitly through their actions channeled by software design. A reconfiguration of power structures in cultural production is taking place and users will have a significant role in it, but industries also achieve the implementation of users into new business models and raise old questions about cultural freedom, control, privacy and the right to question technological design. Different dynamics are unfolding in consequence to the emerging media practices. They are either aimed at confronting user activities and prevent them form challenging established business models, attempt to implement them into new revenue models, or to integrate the new practices in socio-political responsible ways to technological design and its various uses

Publisher: Utrecht University
Year: 2008
OAI identifier: oai:dspace.library.uu.nl:1874/33564
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