Thinkbelt

Interstitial EP026

The Participant
by Christopher Kelty

Why do we participate, and what is that experience really like? Anthropologist Christopher Kelty traces different ways that participation has been formatted across the twentieth century, and, as new technologies obscure the meaning of the concept, considers its potential.

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TITLE
The Participant: A History of Participation in Four Stories
AUTHOR
Christopher M. Kelty
PUBLISHER
University of Chicago Press
PAGES
344
PUBLICATION DATE
January 2020

Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has appointments in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the Department of Information Studies, and the Department of Anthropology. His research interests center on social theory and technology, the cultural significance of information technology; the relationship of participation, technology and the public sphere; and more recently, the role that wild animals play in contemporary urban Los Angeles. Kelty has written two books: The Participant: A Century of Participation in Four Stories (Chicago, 2019); and Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008). He has written articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, participation as a political concept, open access in the academy, piracy, the history of software, hackers and hacking, and many other inadvisably diverse topics.

Recommendations

Participation and Democratic Theory

Carole Pateman

There’s really not a lot of books about participation, but this is one of the most famous ones. It’s a classic statement of participation, which I think is actually an underappreciated book about democratic theory.

The Book of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa

The book is Pessoa’s attempt to produce heteronyms—these people who wrote poems and stories under assumed names. He basically invented a series of authors, and the authors would write stories, and sometimes they would even get involved with each other. They’d start writing letters back and forth to each other. So it was a bit of inspiration for The Participant, thinking about how you could invent these anthropological characters who could do some research for you in the lack of a real research team.

Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship

Claire Bishop

Artificial Hells is a really great account of participation. It’s restricted to the art world, but it’s a very expansive book as far as the debates that have taken place in art history.

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