Media and Participation. Between Demand and Entitlement

The research unit “Media and Participation. Between Demand and Entitlement” is headquarted at the University of Konstanz. Principal Investigators from the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, University of Hamburg, and Zurich University of the Arts participate in the project. With its five subprojects, FOR 2252 investigates media-cultural processes of Teilhabe (participation), positions these in an interdisciplinary framework, and develops a theory of media participation.

By drawing on the concept of Teilhabe, the project problematizes the binary logic of inclusion and exclusion in order to grasp the complex logics and multi-faceted character of participation, especially to its specific temporalities, networked structures, and community building efforts. The subprojects analyse these processes of digital cultures in their concrete historical, political, infrastructural, or transcultural dimensions and situate them in relation to knowledge-power assemblages. As Professor Beate Ochsner, the research unit’s principal spokesperson puts it: “Media participation is a central issue for our contemporary societies shaped by digital cultures and technologies. The concept allows for an analysis of the complex processual character and multi-dimensionality of Teilhabe that goes beyond individual or collective media use.”

The research unit takes an interdisciplinary approach to its research, which includes perspectives from media history as well as ethnographic, aesthetic, sociological and art historical frames of reference. FOR 2252 is funded by the German Research Foundation.

Information about the subprojects

Our theory of media participation is based on a processual mediality, which en- or disables the relational assemblages and heterogeneous configurations of participation. Participation can thus be described through processes of mediatisation and their co-constitutive relations. In the proceeding phase we will accentuate the historical and political dimensions in the context of negotiating possible alternatives within modernity. This not only allows for a critical observation of ‚relationality‘ in the field of relational anthropology, but also for a specific kind of theorisation, by which precarious subjects and their sociocultural, political and economic enivronmentalities are thought as co-constitutive. Based on the research of the first phase we identified theoretical problems that will now be addressed both in case studies and in theory. With regard to the research conducted in the sub-projects, we will further develop Nancy’s radical ontological concept of ‘community’ in socio-political, techno-ecological and economic discourses of ‘the common’. In doing so, we will strengthen the aspect of practices and especially that of processual constitution. Also, we will address current discourses on the interconnection between capitalist economy and ecology that has become more and more significant in discussions about communities and collectives.

Against the background of the first phase, we specify a media theroy of processes of participation following three modalities: interconnecting (TP, 1, 2, 3), temporalising (TP 3,4) and criticising (TP 1,5). These modalities can be understood as systematic extensions to the modalities that guided the first phase (co-existence – ‘Mitsprechen’, promises – ‘Versprechen’ and dissent – ‘Widersprechen’). Based on these central modalities, we will broaden our perspective to include non-verbal operations, such as sensory-affective interconnections. Furthermore, we will not address the modality of promise as a utopian vision, but instead analyse the immanent temporalisation of participation processes. The modality of dissent will be conceptualized as a means of analysing specific forms of a participatory criticism taking into account the relationality of power relations that come into being in the course of such processes. The description and analysis of different media assemblages in the sub-projects will provide fundamental insights into the sociotechnical interconnections and the specific temporalities that generate new forms of participatory criticism and can therefore serve as the basis for a theory of media participation. All sub-projects’ research is founded in the concept of processual mediality and a methodological approach combining both discourse history and discourse analysis with praxeological methods. The subprojects will use texts, pictures, interviews and data as objects to their extended discourse analysis (TP 1, 2, 5) as well as studies of practices visualised by digital processes (TP 3, 4).

By using „medial participation“ as a key concept, the research unit proceeds on the supposition that participation is to be located in media-cultural exchange processes. This reconceptualization is founded on a processual understanding of media, which allows the description of the relations between demand and entitlement in the structures of subjects, technological objects, practices and communities.

The interdisciplinary project combines media-historical, -ethnological, -aesthetic, -sociological, -philosophical as well as artistic and literary case studies. This is in order to fill the unmet need of grasping the relations between media and participation taking into consideration the full scope of its sociopolitical and cultural implications and to enrich the currently mainly application oriented approaches with a deliberation of participation from a media theoretic perspective.

The studies of the research unit are focused on historically and culturally different configurations of (tele-)technological participating, in which the conditions for in- or exclusion can change and where the specific challenges for participants and non-(or not yet)-participants are posed. These configurations are regarded as socio-technical power structures, in which human and non-human actors are generated reciprocally. The research unit therefore focusses its analyses on the reciprocal relation of the central parameters ‘media configuration’ and ‘community building’ considering ‘media participation’ as undetermined and unfinished. It assumes that the calling to partake in a community is always connected to the interpellation of subjects, which is fed by the high attractiveness level of participation offers and at the same time includes demands towards the interpellated subject.

The research questions emerging from this can be sorted into three modalities, which are referred to in the sub-projects with different emphases and which are located in the interlacing of discourse analytical and praxeological methods: under the term ‘co-existence’ community building or obstructing operations of “Sharing” (Nancy) are of interest. Political imaginations and utopias of participations are focused on regarding their ‘promises’. The studies in relation to the modality of ‘dissent’ concentrate on disruptions in participation processes, which can be located in the media configurations themselves.

The gain from the cooperation between the sub-projects to form a media theoretic approach the term participation and the flipsides of media participation lies in answering urgent, current and socially relevant questions. This creates a differentiated media-cultural basis for future scientific analyses and political facilitation of participatory cultures.

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