Networked Participation

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A Critique of the limits of Networked Participation

Ulises Mejias at

"Participatory media networks are the culmination —I would argue— of a shift from the economy being part of the social to the social becoming part of the economy (to paraphrase Vandenberghe, F. (2002). Reconstructing Humants: A Humanist Critique of Actant- Network Theory. Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 19(5/6): 51-67. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: SAGE).

Networks run on self-interest. While nodes are part of vast arrays, the goals of a node are entirely individual. Networks remove the 'inconvenience' of having to negotiate shared interests by making it possible for individuals to cooperate without having to collaborate (as Trebor points out, cooperation makes it possible for individuals to retain their personal goals and account for gain or loss individually)."

All the individual has to do, then, is to participate in the network by being and acting like an individual. The network does the rest through search and aggregation, matching the individual with other like-minded individuals, but without requiring that they modify their goals in any way. The social becomes subordinate to the economic in this process because, by giving primacy to self-interest, the network reduces social exchange to the exchange of commodities that fulfill our self-interest." (

Citation 3:

"exchanges between nodes are market driven because they do not establish an authentic bond between people. I don't mean that gifts are impossible in the network, but that gifts fails to create authentic bonds between people because the network subordinates the social to the economic. The gift-giver is alienated or isolated from the gift-receiver. This is true of other forms of altruism, of course (I can do something for the good of my community in general, not for the good of an individual in particular). But networks act as single-point mediators or gatekeepers in gift exchange. As a result, the only bond created is that between the isolated individual and the network.

Or we can say it like this: Individuals keep the network running through participation. The network converts this participation into a commodity which it can offer to other individuals in exchange for their participation. But the network must ensure that the individuals remain isolated. If individuals can exchange gifts with each other directly, then they stop needing the network. Therefore, we pledge allegiance to the network, and forgo the ability to create direct bonds with others." (

Networks do not represent a strengthening of the public sphere

Ulises Mejias takes the principles of a well-functioning public sphere, as defined by C. Wright Mills, and compares it to the functioning of the participatory media networks:

(all citations from

1) Balance between the ability to produce and consume ideas

"the power to be a producer may not translate into a more robust public sphere, but may actually get us closer to what Mills describes as a community of publics that "becomes an abstract collection of individuals who receive impressions from the mass media." Increased opportunities to express oneself mean little if we have already been conditioned and limited to express ourselves in only certain ways."

2) Affordable and effective means of producing ideas

"low-cost and immediate means of generating ideas necessarily constitute effective publics? Take, for instance. As a member of this community, you can vote on one of the 'resolves' proposed by members of the community, join a discussion about a resolve, or create your own resolve ((the one pictured here has to do with enforcing English as the only language allowed at school and work). But how is this expression of opinion translated into action? The quote from Deleuze about the over-abundace of expression comes to mind, as well as these words from Hubert Dreyfus: "when everything is up for endless critical commentary, action finally becomes impossible. The public sphere becomes a realm of idle talk in which one merely passes the word along."

3) Ideas are translated into action

"The key point here is to acknowledge that in a mass there are indeed opportunities to transform ideas into action, but that these opportunities are controlled and channeled by someone in a position of authority." (

More Information

A meditation on Networked Proximity at the Ideant blog at

The full presentation on Networked Participation by Ulises Mejias is well worth reading in full, at