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CFP: Rescuing Participation (themed issue of Comunicação e Sociedade)

Participation has become a key concept in Communication and Media Studies, driven by the enthusiasm and hopes for democratic renewal, brought about in particular by the potentialities of digital technologies. These high expectations have not always been grounded in in-depth reflections about this desire for, and desirability of, participation.

This themed issue of Comunicação e Sociedade wants to discuss why we want and need participation in our contemporary societies. It aims to raise questions about which participatory intensities are considered necessary and sufficient, and why? Why do we, as societies and/or as academics, desire for increased levels of participation? What are its societal benefits? Why is participation so important to us?

These questions are becoming more and more relevant, now that the frustration, disillusion and disenchantment with participation is also becoming more visible, and the concept of participation can simultaneously benefit less from being novel or fashionable. Different groups in society have started to problematize participation, for a variety of reasons. For instance, some media professionals feel pressured to interact with the public, without having the proper tools and resources to do so. Others are confronted with so-called participatory formats which turn out to be little more than “marketing”, programmed just to fill gaps in broadcasting schedules or to increase audience ratings.

Frustration also occurs when the outcome of participation becomes meaningless because it is incorporated by powerful elites (active, for instance, in the fields of economics, politics or communication) in order to legitimate their decisions. Media companies struggle with their online commenting sections, as they witness their web pages being flooded with hate and prejudice, disturbing and flaming speech, with users that speak more than they listen, frustrating the desire for rational consensus. Moreover, governments are confronted with troll farms and other organised forms of resistance to their representative democratic processes, which results in ‘the people’ to be positioned as a threat to democracy, and not as part of it.

These problems should not be ignored. At the same time we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and acknowledge the social relevance of participation, and the need to have more (substantive and maximalist) participation, and not less. There is also a need for a much more developed legitimation why participation matters, and what kind of participation matters, so that the notion of participation is not buried under an avalanche of well-intended critiques. That’s why we now need academic work that protects, defends and rescues participation.

Proposals for articles should address one or more of the following topics:

The social relevance of participation – why does participation matter?
What kind of participation do we need? What kinds of participation

are beneficial for society and why? Where, in what fields does participation matter?

What are the conditions for socially beneficial forms of participation?
What ethics of participation do we need? What are the relations of a

more participatory culture with civility, respect for difference, tolerance, agonism, listening?

What counter-strategies should be developed to deal with the abuses

of participation? How do we address the problems with participation?

Important dates:
Deadline for abstracts – 30 September 2018
Editor decision (on basis of abstracts) – 15 October 2018
Full article submission deadline – 15 February 2019
Editor decision on full articles – 1 May 2019
Submissions final article – 1 July 2019
Issue Publication – December 2019

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