Henry Jenkins - The Transmedia Generation: Spreadable Media, Fan Activism, and Participatory Learning

What do we mean when we say "participatory culture" and what challenges do we face in trying to more fully realize this ideal, especially in regards to youth participation?

About The Speaker(s)

As one of the first media scholars to chart the changing role of the audience in an environment of increasingly pervasive digital content, Henry Jenkins has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media on society, politics and culture. His research gives key insights to the success of social-networking Web sites, networked computer games, online fan communities and other advocacy organizations, and emerging news media outlets. He is currently Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts: a joint professorship at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. You can Follow him on Twitter at @henryjenkins.

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"They have been called the Digital Generation, Generation.com, even Digital Natives, but perhaps it would be more accurate to call them 'the transmedia generation.' Young people around the world are thinking, learning, creating, and mobilizing politically in different ways as a consequence of their greater control over the means of cultural production and circulation than previous generations. And, as they do so, they are innovating new approaches to politics, education, business, entertainment, even religion. Yet, in order to create opportunities for more diverse participation, we need to think deeply about the skills and technology they require to meaningfully participate. In this webinar, Henry will offer some powerful examples of young people deploying the capacities of networked communication to make a difference in the world, propose some new vocabulary -- spreadable media, fan activism, participatory learning, transmedia mobilization. Ultimately, we will seek to explain what Henry means by "participatory culture" and explore what challenges we face in trying to more fully realize this ideal."
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Questions Asked/Key Comments Made

  • (09:51) What's the connection between cultural participation and political participation? How do we understand what politics mean in a world where remix is more and more a part of everyday life of young people? And how does politics change in a world where we have an expectation that we don't simply consume both culture and politics, but actively participate?
  • (13:45) Clearly, the telephone played a role in organizing political movements of that period, but we would never call the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s a 'telephone revolution.' We would insist that the telephone was one means, one channel among many. [...] Rather than focusing on Twitter, we should focus on the full range of modes of participation, ways of engaging with politics.
  • (17:09) "Occupy" was participatory politics, writ large. It was not so much a movement as traditionally understood, as it was a provocation for conversation--an attempt to shift discourse in a variety of ways.
  • (24:47) 85% of young people know they need more help in assessing the quality of information they receive online.
  • (26:21) Do you have any stories about educators successfully inviting the practices of a learner's participatory culture into the classroom in a meaningful way?
  • (30:32) One of the things I've discovered is, the more open-ended the assignment is, the richer it is for students' participation.
  • (33:26) Henry, when you first published the "New Media Literacies" white paper, you wrote "the greatest opportunities for change are found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities." Six years later, in what ways has the landscape changed, if at all?
  • (36:19) I'm curious what we do with these students that aren't so digitally 'native' [...] students that are at a disadvantage because they don't have experiences with technology like their peers do? Are we going to end up having teachers having lessons on how to use Twitter, and how to Google things?
  • (39:26) I think there's this quid pro quo, where students get 'free' access to these amazing tools, and--in exchange--their personal data is used for financial gain by major organizations. [...] Is this an equitable trade?
  • (42:36) Henry, you mentioned "slacktivism" in your talk. The question is: "should we bother with slacktivism? Is there a value in it?"
  • (48:32) I think we need to move away from this argument about [...] some kinds of activism not mattering because they're not the same as what we're used to looking at and, instead, think about under what conditions can moving people to do something be quite important.
  • (56:07) We're finding that the fan activism and the other kinds of youth networks that we've been looking at are offering another model of socialization, another point of entry where kids who are culturally participating find their way into political participation. The power of a connected learning model is that we connect those two things together.

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