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

Ulises Mejias ulises.mejias at oswego.edu
Fri Jun 11 11:18:27 UTC 2010


I've been doing some thinking along similar lines about what it means
to disidentify from/not participate in the network. Below are some
excerpts from a chapter titled The Poverty of Networks (my response to
the whole 'Wealth of Networks' trope) of a book I'm working on.

The rise of the monopsony means that corporations are playing and will
continue to play a major role in shaping the modes of social
participation and citizenship in the digital age. We should not expect
to see a decrease in participation in monopsonies, for participation
is rewarding, both a form of labor and a form of play (or playbor). It
is an activity that appeals to our superego, an imposition by an
authority that, rather than forbidding enjoyment, “enjoins one to
enjoy” (Diken and Laustsen, 2002). It is play, but not unconstrained,
free-form play --chaotic and unplanned, full of possibilities. Rather,
it is a rationalized game, standardized and institutionalized, that
contributes in very specific ways to a capitalist social order (Grimes
and Feenberg, 2009). This rationalized game is very much dependent on
the mechanics of exclusion and inclusion. In order to play, what is
outside the network must be assimilated and brought into the network.
This form of playbor is freely and enthusiastically performed by those
already inside (have you ever received an invitation to join the
latest social media craze from a friend, not a company?) Once inside,
players encounter a hierarchy between those new nodes with few links
and those super-rich nodes or hubs which everyone keeps linking to.
The game then becomes trying to acquire as many links as possible, in
an attempt to approximate the status of a super-rich node.


 Authority in the participatory culture operates not by threatening to
expel us from the network, but by making it difficult to resist
participating in the network in the first place. The more one
participates in digital networks, the more totalizing this form of
authority becomes. We are impelled to use only certain websites (you
must join this site; all your friends are doing it!), submit to their
terms of use, accept the barrage of advertisement while pretending we
can ignore it. This is a form of “friendly violence that doesn’t
appear violent at all” (Cox and Knahl, 2009). In fact, it looks and
feels positively pro-social. Perhaps that is why there is such an
emphasis on friending in social media, to conceal the violence of a
form of participation that undermines the public interest and
obliterates alternatives. In the face of this friendly violence,
perhaps it is only in the paranodal where we can imagine spaces where
disidentification from the monopsony is possible. Networks can manage
diversity as long as identity can be rendered as a node. But if the
process of articulating an identity involves precisely differentiating
the self from the rest of society, disidentification from the network
becomes the only way of challenging the nodocentrism of participation.

 The network episteme reinforces a narrative where participation is
productive, while non-participation is destructive. Within the
network, everything. Outside the network, nothing. All forms of
participation are allowed, as long as they submit to the organizing
logic of the network, which means difference is subsumed to the
ultimate truth that participation in the network is the only way to
express difference. By adopting this logic, however, we reject the
forms of difference and disidentification that are achieved through
non-participation. Thus, the belief that participation in networks
creates equality and diversity is a complete rejection of paranodal
difference; the network episteme makes the meaningful expression of
disidentification an impossibility within the network.
As trends towards the privatization of social spaces continue, we
might find ourselves in an age where deviation from social norms will
only be possible in the excluded, non-surveilled spaces of the
paranodal, away from the normalizing participation templates of the
monopsony. Disidentification—imagining and claiming difference in
opposition to the digital network monopsony—might become a necessary
step in the actualization of alternative ways of knowing and acting in
the world.



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