In 2009, funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, new media scholar and “Aca-Fan,” Henry Jenkins, and four others published a report called Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. In this paper, Jenkins and his co-authors explain how the interactivity afforded by social media and the new technologies is altering the literacy landscape by changing the ways that individuals inhabit and utilize these spaces. According to Jenkins, “the explosion of new media technologies . . . make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and re-circulate media content in powerful new ways” (8). Rather than simply being readers, receivers, or consumers of (other people’s) information, people are actively participating as writers—producers, contributors, and creators of their own information. What Jenkins says about participatory culture has implications for how we approach teaching and learning in the university. More specifically, these ideas are particularly relevant for writing classes such as this one that seek to invite and foster your active participation, intellectual and critical engagement, and creative expression. Jenkins and his colleagues offer the following description of a participatory culture:
A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. A participatory culture is also one in which members believe that their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care about what other people think about what they have created). (3)
While academic cultures or disciplines may not demonstrate all the characteristics of participatory cultures that Jenkins mentions, they do exhibit some of these attributes. On the one hand, the “barriers” for expression and engagement in some academic fields are often less open and flexible. And both formal as well as informal structures exist for teaching and passing knowledge on to “novices.” On the other hand, members of academic communities generally feel a strong sense of connection to their subjects and disciplines; they believe their contributions matter, and they care about what other people think of their work.
From "Preface” (page v), Participating in Cultures of Writing and Reading, NY: Bedford/St. Martins, 2014. (The custom reading anthology for the first year writing program).