Monday, March 16, 2015

PCH 17 and Fuchs 4 discussion

When I began reading Ch. 17 in the Participatory Cultures handbook, I decided to pay close attention to whether or not Fuchs achieved his goal of providing a narrow definition of participatory democracy. This term has been used quite a bit in our readings, but since I have many conflicting ideas of what democracy really is, its been difficult to pinpoint exactly what each author has meant. This chapter gave a somewhat clear idea of what the terms refers to in this context, but it was hardly concise. Fuchs notes that there is an endless dispute over the meaning of democracy, and practically every definition he provides branches off into many other subcategories. You’d think we’d be safe with the etymological definition— rule or power of the people— but that could mean government by the people, rule by the people, self government, or collective self rule. 
Well, in this chapter we are sticking to government by the people. Government here is composed of common affairs and the decisions that regulate them for all people. However, the meaning of “people” and the way these decisions are reached varies dramatically depending on the governments guidelines and methods for participation. The two subtypes of democracy are on opposite ends of the participation scale. Its basically direct vs. indirect democracy— participatory democracy involves active engagement of citizens in decision making, while representative democracy involves delegating the decision making to representatives. The three subtypes of participatory democracy demonstrate varying ratios of participatory to representative democracy, but I found his descriptions of these vague and far away. He touches on ideas of deliberation, but ultimately, I think the next chapter gives a better idea of participatory democracy, how it already exists, and ways in which people are moving towards a more collective decision making process. 
The authors of Ch. 18 gives a distinct sense of the ideas behind modern participatory democracy, and they provide ideological ideas that separate representative and participatory democracy. I was nodding my head in agreement when they said the historical evolution of democracy has privileged certain values over others— efficiency, delegation, vote, procedures, singular, professionalism, etc. The participatory “counter-democracy” is aiming to praise concepts like inclusion, process, plurality, and mutual understanding. Its appropriate this kind of movement occurs in in small scale, grassroots settings, as it corresponds with an antiauthoritarian mindset. In my opinion, the element of effective communication is what is missing from a representative democracy and one of the main reasons I distrust our form of government. Our current representative democracy is all about triumphing over others, while the the participatory counter-democracy discussed in this chapter is about reaching a consensus and transforming preferences through an open dialogue. 

      Fuchs really laid down the criticism in Chapter 4. He says that Castells lacks grounding in social theory, so he is unable to justify why he uses concepts in certain ways, and he fails to engage the history of the concepts. Chapter 17 of the PC handbook gave a clear sense of how one word (like democracy) can have a million different meanings, so its important to direct readers to the exact contextual address of the intended concept. I agree with Fuchs' criticism here, but at the same time, I don’t think people are somehow less entitled to express their opinion if they’re not familiar with all 1,000,000 definitions of “autonomy” that Fuchs’ bombarded us with. Just because Castells did not follow the precise way that Fuchs thinks an argument should be constructed, are his claims invalid?
I did, however, completely agree with Fuchs’ when he shot down Castells’ claim that violent, dominative power is the most fundamental process in society. This is an argument I have with a friend of mine all the time. He thinks that war is an inevitable quality of humankind and that trying to achieve a world without it is a waste of time— that “peace is categorically impossible.” I totally disagree (or at least I really want to) and think that this kind of violence is a historical and not fundamental characteristic of society. So yes Fuchs, cooperative, not coercive, power is the way to go!
At the beginning of the autonomy subsection, Fuchs brings up a really awesome observation of Castells- that the contemporary internet is shaped by a conflict between businesses trying to commodify the internet and a creative audience trying to establish a degree of citizen control— but he completely diverts our attention to his complaints concerning the use of autonomy. 
Obviously there is an asymmetry between the power of the corporations and the counter power of the citizens. They have more money, ownership, attention, and decision making abilities, but there is still that potential for the counter power to make a difference. Fuchs could have benefitted from discussing ways to maximize that potential instead of just dismissing it as an unlikely possibility. How can we overcome the constrains of this stratified online attention economy! 
One last thing— maybe Castells’ exaggerates the role of social media in recent protests, but I think Fuchs plays it down. What does everyone else think? I heard about all of these things through social media— especially the Occupy movement, and it definitely helped raise awareness and bring attention to the cause. 


  1. I somewhat agree with you that Fuchs tends to marginalize of the importance of social media in the context of protests for social change. I think tangible evidence exists for the positive potentials of social media in addressing various issues in the world. As an example, according to, “As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27). “ Additionally, according to CNN various social media platforms helped to raise $8 million dollars in relief funds by the end of the first week after the earthquake that devastated Haiti struck.

    Something I thought of while briefly investigating other examples of the efficacy of social media activism is that the most profound instances of positive social media action seem to relate to fundraising. It makes me think that the extent most users of social media will go to in terms of activism is clicking a button to donate money.
    It is much harder to use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to fight the inertia of the status quo imposed by powerful political and/or economic institutions. I think this is why Fuchs downplays the importance of social media in protests because they largely serve only to raise awareness about an issue for most of the population.

    In spite of this, Fuchs concedes that social media have the potential to catalyze tangible social change with statements like, “As a consequence, [social media] effects are actually contradictory. They can dampen/forestall or amplify/advance protest or have not much effect at all.”

  2. I enjoyed reading your analysis on the "true" definition of democracy. It can be hard to distinguish between a participatory democracy and representative democracy. A democratic government is vested in the people, whether it is directly or through elected representatives. The right to vote is a citizen's greatest right if they're not involved in the government. Some people believe this is enough of an influence while others believe the contrary. This is where the distinction between a participatory democracy and a representative democracy becomes critical. In a participatory democracy it is believed that for this type of government to be successful it has to be located in a central region with an appropriately small population. Nowadays people believe that a participatory democracy is feasible due to the technologies available allowing people to participate regardless of their location. This leads to the important role social media plays in politics. Aside from its largely significant role in campaigning and publicity, social media is crucial for citizens to be heard. Although Fuchs downplays the role of social media in activism and accomplishing great feats, it certainly has a powerful influence. Since we live in a representative democracy it can be often be hard to express your opinion and promote any form of change. With tools such as social media this becomes marginally easier. Even though social media in a representative democracy plays an important role, it is not comparable to the culture present in a participatory democracy.


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