Blog Post

From Fan Activism to Political Activism: Participatory Democracy around Popular Media Affinity Groups

More live-blogging, although I missed a little at the beginning! More standing room only and people sitting cross-legged on the floor trying to squeeze in and listen.

From Activism to Political Activism: Participatory Democracy around Popular Media Affinity Groups

Participants: Anna van Someren, Clement Chau, Lana Schwartz, Ray Vichot, Benjamin Stokes, Ritesh Mehta, Lori Kido Lopez, M. Flourish Klink, Kevin Driscoll, Ray Vichot, Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, Melissa Brough.

(Chart showing Participatory Cultures: Rang de Basanti, Racebending, Harry Potter Alliance, World of Warcraft, Verb Noire, Anonymous, Tribute not Theft, Pricescope, Post Secret Invisible Children, Peter Packet Synaptic Crowd. And then an arrow pointing from top of the chart down to the words: Civic Engagement.)

The format is pecha kucha, so presenters are speaking in short periods to discuss how these different participatory cultures have elements of activism and civic engagement within them. From the conference description: "Looking at the continuities between online participatory culture and civic engagement using case studies from the MIT/USC Civic Engagement Lab pilot phase."

So, jumping in here:

How do we go to spending time in games to participating in civic engagement? Next, brief intros to different communities:

Science Fiction: race-fail 2009, began with Blood and Iron, and she posted as a white writer to write as what she called "the other." So then FlameWars. There was a big response, and why there are deeply Western biases in science fiction. This has spilled out far beyond this one small exchange. The exchange started primarily on Out of this Flame War, things changed, such as River's Daughter. Is this capitalism that is masquerading as civic engagement? If you are volunteering for a company, is that civic engagement?

Anonymous (the online group): protesting the Church of Scientology. Origins of Anonymous: confluence of many factors, Japanese message board to channel, it spawned back in 2003. The name Anonymous is affordance of message board, plus media who referred to the group as Anonymous, which then became it's self-selected name. They got in an online fight with Church of Scientology over a YouTube video, so then a decision was made to start real online protests. Structured rules were made. Other Anonymous projects were made.

Tribute Not Theft: highly technical group, formed virtual bands. Tag your videos with same label (Living Room Rock Gods or LRRG). They experience many hours of copyright-related takedowns, but because they had a forum they knew they were not alone. They decided to use media skills to create a group about free culture, terms of serivce, copyright. Should we use a different service, should we respond? They got in touch with lawyers, and got in touch and shared knowledge with each other. People outside the community started to participate. What to do when you encounter a takedown notice. Strengthened their relationship with these platforms. They made info videos for other rock bands. Now there are groups calling themselves Living Room Rock Gods so that they have an identity.

PriceScope: started as a database of diamonds from small jewelers all over the country. Became a place to conquer to the high prices at stores. So it demanded the attention of the diamond geek, someone who is able to traverse esoteric community of knowledge. They mentor each other through these processes, as they navigated a major purchase marked by a major milestone like engagement. They began talking about political activism, intense partisan discussion. In lead up to 2008 election, people who were not part of the community found out it was a great place to discuss politics, so flame wars began when outsiders started divisive political conversations. Eventually the forum was shut down by the moderators. In the aftermath of this, the community has returned to focus on the original focus of the participatory culture, and made a coffee table book to raise money for charity.

Post Secret: started in 2005 as a community art project. Submit a secret on back of a postcard. Just reveal something about yourself that had never been published before. Secrets refreshed every week -- from guilty consciences to secret crushes to everything that can happen in the human condition. One post was about a sister commenting on her brother's suicide. From that suicide prevention started (I think?) This community engages people to push scripts. (lost the thread here...)

Invisible Children: youth-driven community that uses pop culture for participatory engagement with youth. Get kids across the US to sleep overnight in American city parks to bring attention to youth being abducted for child-soldiers in Uganda. Explicitly trying to redefine civic engagement through pop culture. They don't call themselves a charity, they call themselves a movement. They start how to brand their humanitarian process and wake up Western youth to political activism and civic engagement. Organize events that are ethical or participatory spectacles, a form of transformative play.

(Missed the one on Peter Packet, but @annmythai wrote on Twitter: cisco's peter packet: experiential learning, kids can get points for raising awareness, getting adults to donate #dml2010) I cheated!

Synaptic Crowd: (Josua McVeigh-Schultz's [HASTAC Scholar!] project here: -- platform allows collaborative interviewing, allows live interviews with online audience. Traditional voxpop broadcast journalism invites interviewees to answer implicit questions, but now you can shuffle the agencies of the interviews, constant negotiation and renegotiation.

Henry Jenkins: Most of our case studies today were American, but this is in fact a global phenomenon. Palestinians used Avatar imagery to rally people, using Avatar as the platform for defending indigenous peoples to protect their rights. In Singapore, people set up action figures that stood in as avatars for the protesters to signify support. Mass idol in India on the way competitions over national identity sparked activism in India and mass public rallies. People talk about American Idol, trivializing politics because more people vote there than elections, but there are serious democracy movements that start out of popular culture. Why don't we mobilize around American Idol like other cultures have done with other kinds of pop culture? Utopian fantasies get stirred up, gathers people together who are not defined by political terms. Provides a new set of images or languages that doesn't feel like the deadening speech of inside-the-beltway politics. We're trying to understand these kinds of activism: they occur in unlikely places. There are a lot of interesting spaces where politics and activism are taking place. We want to drill down and ask, with ethnographic studies, what is going on with these people, these kids, who may be interest-driven and civically engaged based on their identification with groups. What do we do with this? Joshua gave us a tool and practices that might enable activism to take place. We create context where these kinds of activities can take place.

How we think about politics in the classroom may change if we take these instances and think about how they matter to civic engagement.




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