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.