Participation and Collaboration
I recently attended a talk at UO by Gardner Campbell, who works on New Media, Lit, & Pedagogy (and more) at Baylor U.. The focus of the talk was why we as educators should take new media, digital technologies, and networking quite seriously. I am sold, but of course I already bought in some time ago (to the extent that I, then a mere post-doc, and now a mere newly-minted t-t asst. has any purchasing power).
I also applaud Campbell for the way he brings new media tools and projects into his classes. We are at the stage of initial inquiry with all this stuff. This means that nobody knows and that it is time for experimentation. So that’s great. We need to learn from each other and, as Campbell points out, from our students, too.
Campbell really emphasized the ‘publish it to the web’ approach for harnessing the internet in his classes. Students, I guess, publish their work to the web, even if just on a blog, etc.. This seems to me useful, but just the beginning. The talk got me to thinking about what the specific diacritic of emerging internet technopractices might be. Of course, that’s something I (like to) think about anyway.
But here is one thought.
The internet facilitates new forms of social interaction whereby political, educational, and otherwise social processes work well. The forms that tend to work well in internetworking are not well-facilitated by traditional models of publication (the coffeehouse, newspaper, and broadcast models).
There is a broader context here in political theory. At its best, a focus on publicness in terms of ‘publication’ (rather than ‘internetworking’) has historically tended to assume two valences in political theory. One of those is participation (the ideal dream of democratic theory across the twentieth-century — be it deliberative participation or some other form), and the other is representation (which is a second-best when participation is not possible, or not desired).
My view (for today at least) is that democracy (et. al.) is now best facilitated not by forms of publication, but rather by way of forms of collaboration. This is not a critique of participation or representation (and it need not be), but rather a claim on behalf of collaboration.
Collaboration may sound strange as a new procedural ideal for, say, democracy, but I believe we are in a position now to see its increasing importance. Here is my (experimental) claim for today: Collaboration may lead us from the participatory-representative model to an innovative-connective model of politics, society, culture, &c..
Participation is the model of the citizen joining in the efforts of the public sphere. But there is no public sphere, indeed no public, in internetworked contexts. The public is no longer given. Not in advance. There is, rather, a plurality of publics. Publics are made. How to engage? Not by ‘participating’ in something that is already there. But rather by ‘innovation‘, which in a collaborative model sometimes (indeed often) means forming new publics.
Representation is what happens when interests need to be made public, yet there is no will (or practical means) to do so via participation. So then our interests are represented, e.g. by our representatives. This has long been a subject of severe critique in political theory. I will not rehearse those critiques here (but nor do I presume them). What’s new in the internetworked context? Representation is more difficult than ever, and perhaps more useless. Here again collaboration supplies a better conceptual model than publication, because the latter presumes a public up-and-running into which one’s interests are translated by a representative medium. What form does collaboration take instead? It takes the form of connection. Interests are connected, not represented. Mine and yours, and those as yet undreamt of, are woven together not only by us (which involves collaboration), but also by the technology itself and the entire knowledge ecology it sustains (which helps us in those instances where we have no will or means to collaborate).
So. To summarize….
From publication to collaboration.
From participation to innovation.
From representation to connection.
Therein you have a tidy little manifesto of sorts. I undoubtedly will abandon the manifesto before you have read this. I am just experimenting. And where is the harm in that? If you disagree, please do disagree out loud. That is just what this medium is good for: collaborative disagreements in virtue of which we connect and may even together innovate.