[iDC] Participationism (was "why do we need physical campuses")

beka economopoulos beka at notanalternative.net
Thu Jun 10 04:07:12 UTC 2010

Hi all,

With due respect to the current thread, I won't speak directly to the issue
of education, but rather I want to share a more general statement about the
internet and power.

It feels relevant to introduce in light of George Siemen's Open University
post "Why do we need physical campuses", which in my mind promotes a
techno-utopic open source logic, one that often celebrates the dismantling
of contemporary institutions as the distribution of power.

Below is (one of) the curatorial statement(s) of a show that Not An
Alternative has curated with Upgrade NY! and Eyebeam, called Re:Group:
Beyond Models of
about the subjects of collaboration and participation. After constant
debate, the curatorial committee never came to consensus about the thesis
for the show, and so we've presented two distinct positions.

Below is that of our group, Not An Alternative. The opening is tomorrow,
with a curators talk at 5pm, so if you're in NY and you're ready for a
rumble join us there.




These days everyone – individuals, corporations, governments and DIY punks –
idealizes participation. Many believe that when horizontal structures of
participation replace top-down mechanisms of control, hierarchy and
authoritarianism, this will eliminate apathy and disenfranchisement. While
we acknowledge that distributed systems are proven and powerful tools for
dismantling certain monolithic structures, we question an unalloyed faith in
participation. As co-curators of the show we fought the temptation to simply
celebrate the subversive potential of networked collaborations. Instead, we
sought to critically analyze the contours of this emergent ideology, and to
re-evaluate refusal, non-engagement, antagonism, and disagreement as
fundamental to a participatory framework.

We are all the time besieged to Participate! Choose! Vote! Share! Join! And
Like! And yet, we are all, already, integrated into structures of
participation (whether we “like” it or not). We worry that a veneer of
engagement only obscures deep flaws in the participation paradigm. Too
often, it seems, progressives believe that power operates exclusively from
above, that command and control emanate from some centralized, closed
authority. It is no wonder that many latch on to notions of openness,
transparency, and participation as radical ends in themselves; however we
must not fetishize process over product.

Participatory frameworks are not in and of themselves politically
significant, nor is power limited to distant and impersonal structures.
Power is diffuse and distributed, operating through us and on us;
participation therefore can turn into a vector for dominant ideologies as
easily as it can liberate.

If participatory frameworks are to have any meaningful political consequence
or activist import, they must intervene on some object, to operate in
service of an end. Conflict is a necessary result of such collaboration, and
a key driving force within it. Current conversations around participation
idealize harmony and unison, but we ask whether synthesizing perspectives
and valorizing consensus might actually subsume dissenting viewpoints,
through the tyranny of compromise and the rule of the lowest common
denominator. From this view, we fear a disavowal of power rather than an
honest discussion about it.

And so we pass on politesse, and draw a line in the sand. We aren’t
interested in raising questions, exploring models of participation or
experiments in collaboration. We take a position: that participationism
plagues us. More than dismantling or distributing power, we’ve invisibilized
and extended it. An intervention is in order, and we offer practices and
programming that contribute to this conversation: foregrounding the contours
and boundaries inherent in participation, the contradictions and conflicts
in a fruitful collaboration.

Not An Alternative

The Change You Want To See Gallery

Fission Strategy

Phone: 917-202-5479
Skype: bekamop
Twitter: http://twitter.com/bekamop
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