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The Participant: A History of Participation in Four Stories
Christopher M. Kelty
University of Chicago Press
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.
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 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 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.