Nico Carpentier on Participation

Kindly supported by the EU COST(European Cooperation in Science and Technology) ACTION IS0906 “Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies” network, Nico Carpentier visited University of Salford today to give a guest lecture on ‘participation’ and feedback on students’s ongoing transmedia projects. As mentioned in an earlier entry, my students have been assigned to work in teams to deliver a video or an audio transcript / interpretation / translation of one of the two selected academic papers:

Carpentier, N. (2011). The concept of participation – If they have access and
interact, do they really participate? CM: Communication Management Quarterly,
21, pp. 13-36.

Pasquali, F. (2011). The participatory turn in the publishing industry: Rhetorics
and practices. CM: Communication Management Quarterly, 21, pp. 203-220.

Nico’s lecture most certainly enhanced and improved students’s understanding of these two articles, which may appear to be difficult for first-year undergraduate. I myself has learned a lot from his lecture, too.

Nico started by introducing various ladders / models of participation to foreground the longstanding and still ongoing debate within not only academia but also other public and private sectors: what does it mean by ‘participation’? Rightly so, the over-used term ‘participation’ requires problematisation and rethink so as to allow space for reflecting associated practices in the media sector and repositions strategies. I found his idea of treating ‘participation’ as a non-static, dynamic, politicising process refreshing. I also agree that the notion of “power” serves as a robust analytical unit for thinking and re-thinking a (discursive) struggle between participation and non-participation. According to Carpentier, participation is conditioned by power; it denotes one having power to make decisions, to exercise power. Having access (being present), or interaction (socio-communicative, having a dialogue, engage) are not (yet) participation because one does not have power to (co-)decide. We ought to look at who controls the decision-making process, who has influence, control and power to see who is participating. For example, it is not participation if we are only reading a piece of text or having an opportunity to interpret the text; we need to be able to write and re-write the piece of text to show that we are participating. 

This way of thinking ‘participation’ is useful for challenging ‘technological determinism’. In this digital age where technological discourses tend to dominate and overpower, we are often (mis-)led to believe that a better life is promised by new technologies. However, is it truly so? Instead of giving a direct negative answer, I think contextualisation is the key here. Take the question “has the web become more democratic because of the introduction of new technologies, social media tools, and mobile devices?” for example. For activists fighting for data freedom, the answer would be “no” – The web is not democratic / participatory unless we can make decisions on what services / tools to adopt, how to appropriate / domesticate them for our personal, everyday, situated needs. But, if we are talking about voting (elections or talent shows or song contests), then perhaps the web does democratise the scene, enable / enact certain levels of action / participation in that audience / voters can decide the outcomes. But then, one can always ask if being able to vote and having a say in the outcome truly means ‘participation’; isn’t there a possibility that we are all manipulated or coerced to vote or to take part? In the end, it does feel like a discursive struggle, a never-ending debate, despite being an interesting one. 

When students pitched their project ideas to us, Nico’s comments were very constructive. He was able to highlight the strengths of each single idea, and give it right directions. The majority of the students have chosen to transcribe / translate Francesca Pasquali’s article on digital publishing. While it may seem to be an easier exercise, the students seemed to forget that Nico’s conceptual framework of ‘participation’ is very much integrated in Francesca’s arguments. The common feedback from Nico (and indeed from both me and Greg as well) have also suggested some frequent mistakes undergraduate students make when reading/interpreting/translating complex academic texts:   

– Mixing too many jargon, conceptual terms or phrases on board without digesting them, presenting them in a fragmented manner. Instead, students should stay focus, present a consistent, coherent argument / storyline; all concepts need to be connected, linked, well-articulated.

– Over-simplifying the scene. It is easy to follow the tendency of over-emphasising ‘change’ introduced by new technologies (fall into the trap of technological determinism). But have we ever been modern? There are continuities and discontinuities in everything we do. The student should include those balanced voices in their work rather than going one-sided (and picking the easy side).  

– Lost in translation; lost in the creative process being carried away by the format. Need to engage with the original article from which the video is translated; balance the arguments by quoting the article (especially the critical approaches in both articles); do not misquote the article.

It’s definitely not an easy task to connect theoretical concepts with creative ideas. But today’s pitches were quite promising. I think we have 26 projects cooking on slow fire at the moment. Quite look forward to seeing them being realised. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Nico again for coming over and for his (and the COST ACTION’s) support for my experimental teaching 🙂 

2 thoughts on “Nico Carpentier on Participation

  1. Hi Yuwei,
    I am very curious to see the results of this experiment 🙂
    And please tell your students to fell free to contact me if they want to discuss my article (you have my e-mail). Thank you!


  2. […] multimedia pieces are featured in this 30-minute film. It is a result of a semester of learning media convergence and transmedia with myself and Greg Foster in the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford. The […]


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