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Reading Response: Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture

By October 12, 2016Reading response

I began reading a book called “Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture” by Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, and Robison (2009) that addresses the emerging widespread phenomena of our participatory culture in producing and distributing media. I will be looking at Chapters 1-2 in this reading response: The needed skills in the New Media Culture and Enabling Participation.

In chapter one Jenkins et al. takes a look at four teenagers who seemingly went outside the system in search of better ways to accomplish their goals, breaking perceived norms and ruffling some establishment-type feathers, but succeeding wildly at it.

wired0205For example, Blake Ross, who was 14-years-old when he was hired as a summer intern by Netscape, became frustrated by the many bureaucratic corporate decisions his company was making. Already skilled in computer programming, Ross decided to design his own Web Browser. He rallied thousands of other volunteer youths and together Firefox was born. Firefox soon eclipsed Netscape, which eventually disappeared altogether. And where did Ross’s interest in computing begin? By playing the popular video game Sim City (p. 5).

The authors go on to point out that these skills are ones we would hope our best schools would teach, but in reality, none of the examples – programming, campaigning, defending civil liberties, making movies, running a business – were skills that these students took away from school, but mostly in the informal communities of fandom and gaming.


And most astounding is that many teens from every demographic were what they considered “media creators,” heavily involved in collaborating and circulating content around the web, and oftentimes working with experts and professionals for their final products. Such as the example of Josh Meeter, who made a Claymation animation called Award Showdown and negotiated with composer John Williams for the rights to use his film scores (p. 5). His little animation ended up on Stephen Spielberg’s DreamWorks website! Connections that were formally impossible are now being forged through the power of online participation.

“Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement.”

Moving onto chapter two Jenkins et al. make an important distinction that lays the foundation for this writing. They say that “interactivity is the property of the technology, while participation is the property of culture” (p. 8). They focus on culture because of the relationship tie it has to technology – culture absorbs and responds to the new media, making it possible for the average person interact in powerful new ways. “Participatory culture is reworking the rules by which school, cultural expressions, civic life, and work operate” (p. 9).

The authors regard Affinity Spaces as important places where students interact on a deeper level than they do with textbooks, offering powerful learning opportunities (p. 9). Affinity spaces are simply informal online learning environments and are distinguishable from formal spaces in these ways:parts-cult

This new mediascape has more fluidity, offers opportunities for greater involvement, generates new aesthetics and creativity, and builds new skills not accessible before. Take the example of Ashley Richardson, a middle-schooler who ran for president of Alphaville, a city in the game, The Sims Online. She wanted to control a government that made policies that affected thousands of people and ended up debating her opponent live on NPR. Through this participatory process, Richardson went from spectator to “political actor” in the game world, closing the gap to acting politically in the “real world” (p. 5, p10). And although fictional, her lessons learned on citizenship, the electoral process, and democracy was completely authentic.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Mit Press.

One Comment

  • Matt says:

    Hi Lisa,

    When I think of our participatory culture the first thing that comes to mind is how far communication has advanced over the past 10 years. It really is astounding when you put it all into perspective! Today we are witnessing how this emerging culture is redefining landscapes, not only in education, but business as well.

    I believe that formal education is incredibly beneficial, although not always adaptable. Instead, it is often a one-size fits all approach. Educators do have the ability to create and implement individual or personalized learning solutions, but the overall educational system is well defined. As the authors of “Confronting the Challenges of a Participatory Culture” point out, students are now able to access many different resources to help them resolve problems and work toward goals in a very personalized way. I believe that this is leading to interactivity and shifting the culture.


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