Media @ McGill

The Participatory Condition


We look forward to welcoming you in Montreal for the International Colloquium on The Participatory Condition in November 2013. The Colloquium will scrutinize the very idea of participation in the digital age, from our face-to-face encounters with beings and technologies, to the experiences we share as users, publics and producers, in the flesh and online. We hope you will join us for two days at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal to learn, exchange, and debate.
– Christine Ross,
Director of Media@McGill

Media@McGill is proud to host The Participatory Condition, an International Colloquium, which will be held in Montreal at the Museum of Contemporary Art on November 15 and 16, 2013. The Colloquium’s main objective is to assess the role of media in the development of a principle whose expansion has become so large as to become the condition of our contemporaneity. Watch the videos from the colloquium.


Media@McGill is a hub of research, scholarship and public outreach on issues and controversies in media, technology and culture, housed within the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. The Participatory Condition is presented within the framework of Media@McGill’s 2013-2014 focus on Participatory Media, Part II of its five-year program on Media and Democracy:

“The relationship between media and participation raises the overarching question of the role of media in the development of democracy in different historical periods and socio-political contexts. It highlights the participatory dimension of media, especially the citizen’s participation in the creation, processing and transmission of informational structure, content and form; the artistic reshaping of spectatorial participation; and the user’s participation in the (re)configuration of public spheres, public spaces and communities. It emphasizes the possibility of developing direct forms of democracy through specific uses of media-user interactivity.

In social- and interactive-media environments, participation entails the user’s active intervention in media content, form and structure (as in video gaming; chatting, texting and tweeting; and interactive art in which an artwork will only be finalized by the participation of users); it also entails the formation of communities of participants (the gamer’s participation in a community of gamers; the exchange of information between chatters and tweeters; the constitution of virtual communities).

Any user with the right technology can now produce his or her online media; any gamer can interact with a user interface to generate feedback on a video device; any spectator can be asked to respond to an intelligent (spatial or architectural) environment set up in an art gallery, a museum or a public space. But is this really the case? Who participates, who doesn’t, who can’t? What are the similarities, overlaps and differences between traditional media and new-media participation and interactivity?” (excerpt from Media@McGill’s 2012-2017 Program on Media and Democracy).


The Participatory Condition

An international colloquium hosted by Media@McGill

Since the late 1990s, contemporary societies have been increasingly mobilized by the relational principle of “participation.” Participation is not only a notion and a set of practices, but also a promise, a belief, a rhetoric, a form of distribution of power, a way of being actively involved with others in decision-making processes that potentially affect the direction and operation of communities, systems and organizations, politics and culture. Its contemporary expansion is manifest in the variety of fields it embraces, including: participative democracy; citizenship; governance; journalism (the collection, analysis and dissemination of news and information); everyday communication; commerce; labor; education; the formation of online communities; urban planning; design; videogaming and virtual game worlds; the culture of curating; and art. Of crucial interest for Media@McGill, this expansion has been facilitated by the development of social media technologies (internet forums, blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) and new interactive media devices, which favor participatory forms of communication—forms that support open access to information and allow participants to create, generate and exchange information in virtual communities, networks, and cultural co-productions. Hacktivism is the political practice par excellence of participatory politics in the age of the internet—a practice in which traffic can be redirected from one website to another, or websites defaced—shifting or interrupting, as it were, the “flow” of information.

The participatory impulse rests on the overarching expectation that participation empowers individuals, creates stronger communities and fulfills the ideals of representative democracy; that it secures the circulation of information and enhances decision-making processes by enabling the sharing of these processes between rulers and citizens, producers, spectators and users. But debates around participation and the actual unfolding of participatory practices show this assumption to be partway problematic. Because of its expansion as a relational principle, it might well have become a grand narrative that in fact hegemonizes participatory approaches instead of favoring heterogeneity (e.g., the diversity of positions and identity groups). It is imperative to examine the degree to which participation truly functions as a modality of change in contemporary society—a context in which participation is now so widespread that it seems to be more of a requirement than a choice. Has participation become “a new tyranny” (Cooke and Kothari, 2001)?

This is to say that the very media structures that enable participation risk overshadowing important questions related to the value of participation, the possible conformism it generates, as well as its ethical challenges and unforeseen consequences. For instance, does the contemporary imperative of participation deny the citizen’s and the spectator’s right not to participate and stay passive (Carpentier, 2011)? And how is surveillance—a practice enabled and sustained by new media technologies—impacting participation (Andrejevic, 2007)? What is the right balance between open access and privacy (Jónsdóttir, 2013; Cohen, 2012)? To what extent is participation making us better thinkers (Hayles, 2012) or increasing our “stupidity” (Stiegler, 2011)? How is participation affecting our understanding of knowledge, democracy, intimacy and subjectivity (Crawford, 2012)? Although participation is a decision-making process, and sometimes an activist process by which political regimes can be questioned and even dismantled (Cammaerts, 2012), can it not also be considered as a new aesthetics (Frieling 2008; Dezeuze, 2010; Bishop, 2012)? What would be the perceptual, sensorial and affective textures of this aesthetics? These questions are at the center of The Participatory Condition, a two-day colloquium organized by Media@McGill, whose main objective is to assess the role of media in the development of a principle whose expansion has become so large as to become the condition of our contemporaneity.

The Participatory Condition scrutinizes the very idea of participation in the digital age, from our face-to-face encounters with beings and technologies, to the experiences we share as users, publics and producers, in the flesh and online. Like many of the new technologies that preceded it, from the telegraph to the telephone and the Internet, some have seen the “participatory web” as a tool for collective empowerment (Jenkins et al, 2006). While cyber-optimists project increased democratic representation and the levelling of social inequities thanks to the features of the interactive web, cyber-skeptics question the extent to which virtual participation corresponds to more tangible forms of political engagement (Morozov, 2012). Recent scholarship moreover confirms that digital divides or “participation gaps” hold strong, prompting us to interrogate the truly participatory nature of mobile, interactive, and social media.

Consistent with Media@McGill’s focus on Participatory Media in 2013-14, the colloquium The Participatory Condition addresses the history, problems and possibilities of participatory media: for instance, how the practices of the Internet may or may not have changed contemporary practices of citizenship; how participatory media negotiate with surveillance and data-collecting devices that are embedded within the very media that enable participation; and finally, how participatory processes are increasingly expected across the fields of art, design, social sciences, journalism and media, as well as computing.

Drawing from research in the fields of design, cognitive sciences, art, education, law, literature, gaming, and media studies, The Participatory Condition examines the relationships between diverse technological platforms that enable interactivity, the promise of participation they appear to imply, and the nature of the actual exchanges that are derived from their uses. Particular attention is also paid to the modes by which contemporary media transform our practices, as well as our thinking. At the root of our investigation is a questioning of the inherent participatory nature that is often attributed to emerging media, and a cautioning as to what other forms of participation might be obscured by promises of a digital utopia.


Friday, November 15, 2013:

9:00-9:15: Introduction – Media@McGill

9:15-10:30: Session 1 – Opening Keynote

N. Katherine Hayles, Duke University

11:00-12:30: Session 2 – Publics and Participation
Kate Crawford, Microsoft Research/MIT Center for Civic Media
Bart Cammaerts, London School of Economics
Christina Dunbar-Hester, Rutgers University

14:00-15:05: Session 3 – Surveillance
Jillian York, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Christopher Soghoian, American Civil Liberties Union

15:35-16:45: Session 4 – Regulating Participation
Julie Cohen, Georgetown Law
Birgitta Jónsdóttir, M.P. in Iceland

17:00-18:00: Session 5 – Keynote
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Antimodular Research

Saturday, November 16, 2013:

9:00-9:05: Welcome

9:05 -10:05: Session 6 – Participation in Art and Design
Rudolf Frieling, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Graham Pullin, University of Dundee

10:35-12:00: Session 7 – Gaming
T.L. Taylor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mia Consalvo, Concordia University
Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace

13:30-15:00: Session 8 — The Predicament of Participation
R. Trebor Scholz, The New School
Geert Lovink, Institute of Network Cultures
Nico Carpentier, Free University Brussels

15:30-16:45: Session 9 – Closing Keynote
Bernard Stiegler, Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation, Centre Pompidou

16:45-17:00: Closing remarks


Media@McGill has invited 19 speakers, from Canada and abroad, to participate in this international colloquium. All confirmed speakers have devoted a significant amount of their research to critically investigating the idea of participation in the digital age. Their interdisciplinary approaches to the subject are likely to appeal to the general public as well as university researchers across faculties of Arts, Law, Music, Fine Arts, Management, Education, Engineering, and Science. The entire colloquium will be recorded and live-streamed, making it accessible to viewers internationally.

Confirmed speakers are:


In this presentation, I will examine new forms of what I call mutual cooperation. Drawing on Kropotkin’s work on mutual aid and Sennett’s theorisation of cooperation, it will be argued that one of the important ways in which citizens demonstrate their resilience in these times of crisis is by working together and by sharing material or non-material resources. Mutual cooperation practices situate themselves at various levels of the social, the cultural and the political. Furthermore, while we can discern a whole set of sharing and cooperative practices that are clearly situated outside of the market economy, market actors also increasingly appropriate the discourse as well as practice of sharing and cooperation, commodifying it in the process. While there is a long and thriving legacy of offline modes of mutual cooperation (cf. cooperatives), just as in other parts of the social, the economic and the cultural, networked technologies play an increasingly important role in terms mutual cooperation practices, through facilitating them, by linking up people and potentially increasing their scale, reducing costs/the need of reciprocity and even by constituting new forms of mutual cooperation. Despite these obvious opportunities we should also not be blind to the potential dangers, negative consequences and caveats in this regard – f.e. in terms of class, who can afford to share, who has skills/time to share?, etc.

Bart Cammaerts is senior lecturer and director of the PhD program in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). His research focuses on the relationship between media as well as communication technologies and resistance with particular emphasis on multi-stakeholder policy processes, media strategies of activists, representations of protest, alternative cultures and issues relating to media power, mediation and public-ness. His most recent books include: Mediation and Protest Movements (eds with Alice Mattoni and Patrick McCurdy, intellect, 2013), Media Agoras: Democracy, Diversity and Communication (eds with Iñaki Garcia-Blanco and Sofie Van Bauwel, Cambridge Scholars Publisher, 2009), Internet-Mediated Participation beyond the Nation State (Manchester University Press, 2008) and Understanding Alternative Media (with Olga Bailey and Nico Carpentier, Open University Press, 2008). He is former chair of the Communication and Democracy Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and current vice-chair of the Communication Policy and Technology section of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR).


The ultimate impossibility of fixing the signifier participation is explained by its intimate connection with the political, the ideological and the democratic. Participation is seen as a political-ideological concept that is intrinsically linked to power. This becomes obvious in the discussion of democratic theory, where participation is in permanent tension with the concept of representation. And when we move beyond the field of institutionalized politics into the realm of the political, we again see how participation captures the power relations within a variety of societal spheres. What this paper will show is that the political nature of participation manifests itself in the struggles to minimize or to maximize the equal power positions of the actors involved in the decision-making processes that are omnipresent in all societal spheres, including the media sphere.

Nico Carpentier is Associate Professor at the Communication Studies Department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB – Free University of Brussels) and Lecturer at Charles University in Prague. He is also an executive board member of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and he was vice-president of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) from 2008 to 2012. His theoretical focus is on discourse theory, his research interests are situated in the relationship between media, journalism, politics and culture, especially towards social domains as war & conflict, ideology, participation and democracy. This has been translated into the following five topical areas: 1/Media, participation and democracy; 2/Media, death and war; 3/Journalism and identity; 4/Audience and reception; 5/Discourse theory. His publications include Researching media, democracy and participation (eds.)(2006); Reclaiming the media: communication rights and democratic media roles (eds.)(2007); Media technologies and democracy in an enlarged Europe (eds.)(2007); Participation and media production. Critical reflections on content creation (eds.)(2008); Democracy, journalism and technology (eds.)(2008), Communicative approaches to politics and ethics in Europe (eds.)(2009); Trans-reality television. The transgression of reality, genre, politics and audience (eds.)(2010) and Media and Participation. A Site of Ideological-Democratic Struggle (2011). In 2013, Transforming Audiences (eds.) will be published.


The crowd-sourcing and gamification of surveillance have become important strategies for collection and processing of personal information. Their ascendancy coincides with a shift in legal, policy, and popular discourse, in which privacy and innovation increasingly are positioned as opposites and predictive analytics and data-intensive applications development as shining exemplars of innovation. Legal strategies for open access and open innovation are important drivers of this process. Many development projects that rely on personal information are framed as open access projects, and seek to exploit and profit from the intellectual cachet that rhetorics of openness can confer. Commentators have long noted the existence of a surveillance-industrial complex: a symbiotic relationship between state surveillance and private-sector producers of surveillance technologies. The emerging surveillance-innovation complex represents a new phase of this symbiosis, one that casts surveillance in an unambiguously progressive light. Within the surveillance-innovation complex, participation and commodification are entwined. Particularly where health data is concerned, personal information processing has become the newest form of bioprospecting, as entities of all sizes compete to discover new patterns and extract their marketplace value. Crowd-sourcing and open access innovation feed the economic models they purport to resist, harvesting data for later commercialized use and providing a continual source of experiments about how best to gather, display, and harness its potential.

Julie E. Cohen is Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center. She teaches and writes about intellectual property law and information privacy law, with particular focus on digital works and on the intersection of copyright, privacy rights, and information architectures. She is the author of Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code and the Play of Everyday Practice (Yale University Press, 2012), and a co-author of Copyright in a Global Information Economy (Aspen Law & Business, 3d ed. 2010). Professor Cohen is a member of the Advisory Boards of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Public Knowledge.


This talk draws on multiple studies of players of videogames to explore how and why people play games and participate in a broader player culture. It challenges dominant assumptions and research showing how players identify with their avatars and questions how we conceptualize our gaming relationships. It also explores how platforms shape player expectations as well as play styles and norms; and how those platforms can encourage as well as discourage participation. Finally the talk explores how players think about ethical dilemmas in games and how they resist as well as sometimes accept styles of play that differ from their personal moral compasses.

Mia Consalvo is Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage of Videogames, and is co-editor of the Handbook of Internet Studies. She is currently writing a book about Japan’s influence on the videogame industry and game culture. Mia has published her work in Critical Studies in Media Communication, Games & Culture, Game Studies, Convergence, and many other journals. She has presented her work at professional as well as academic conferences including regular presentations at the Game Developers Conference. She is the President of the Digital Games Research Association, and has held positions at MIT, Ohio University, Chubu University in Japan and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


“Cities are the new laboratories of democracy,” claims Mike Bloomberg, and indeed, many cities are gathering enormous volumes of data about their citizens and combining them for new kinds of forensic insight. Meanwhile, Andorra, which calls itself the first ‘smart country,’ has decided to weather an economic crisis by selling all the metadata it gathers about citizens from cellphones to energy use, sensor data and buying habits. While no consent is requested, citizens are assured data is anonymized – although recent research has revealed how frequently anonymization fails. From internet data, gathered relentlessly by states and corporations alike, to our paths through cities, big data’s technocratic fantasy is one ‘implacable light’ (De Certeau 1984). Building on my earlier work on listening and subjectivity, this talk will consider the impacts of algorithmic systems ‘listening in,’ ideas of forced participation, and the inability to opt out.

Kate Crawford has widely published her research on the social, political and cultural contexts of networked technologies. Her current work focuses on the everyday uses of data, from the big data industry, to crisis informatics, networked journalism, and mobile and social media use. She uses the concept of ‘listening’ to reconceptualise participation online: away from the idea of ‘lurking’ as empty and unhelpful, and towards the ways we give attention to discussions, ideas, and communities in networked spaces.

Crawford has conducted small and large-scale ethnographic studies in Australia, India and the US. Her book on technology, culture and youth, Adult Themes, won the Academy of the Humanities medal and the Manning Clark National Cultural Award. She is currently working on a book on the politics and ethics of big data. Her work has featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC’s The World Today, ABC, and CBC, and her journal articles have been translated into multiple languages. Kate currently sits on the editorial boards of the Fibreculture Journal: Digital Media, Networks, and Transdisciplinary Critique, and Media International Australia.


In this talk, I consider media activism as a hybrid formation, combining expertise with amateurism and management with self-organizing practice. I ethnographically examine the technical and social practices of a group of activists who promote “appropriate technology”, including both the diffusion of hardware and technical skill as well as democratic, “participatory” social relations. The activists’ efforts fell along multiple lines, including policy and hands-on technical work to build hardware, but they considered their work to occur against the backdrop of a social movement for media democracy and a wider social justice agenda. A significant undertaking in their practice was pedagogy, predicated on a notion of expertise as widely accessible, through which they sought to widen technical and political participation. Yet, while imparting technical skill was a priority, arguably more important to this activist project was deepening political and affective commitment, and constructing technology as a site to enact participatory politics and challenge elite expertise.

Christina Dunbar-Hester is an ethnographer who studies the intersection of technical practice and political engagement. Her book on early-21st-century activism around low-power FM radio in the U.S. will be published in 2014 by MIT Press. Her recent research centers on advocacy to raise awareness about “diversity” issues in hackerspace and free software communities. She joined Journalism & Media Studies at SC&I in 2010 and Women’s & Gender Studies as an affiliated faculty member in 2011. Prior to Rutgers, she was a fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Andrew J. Mellon Humanities Project, and the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology & Society. She is an affiliated scholar at the McGannon Communication Research Center at Fordham University (since 2008) and an associate editor of the International Collaborative Dictionary of Communication (since 2010), a project of the Social Science Research Council.


The narratives of contemporary art and media art have often intersected in the past, but the discourses have still remained separate fields of research. In order to bring these separate realms into a shared context, I curated a survey show for SFMOMA in 2008, titled “The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now”. From Bruce Nauman’s dictum “I mistrust audience participation” to the promotion of audience engagement platforms and initiatives, I will discuss the framework of the show as well as reflect on the experience of integrating a more open and variable exhibition practice into an institutional setting. The conditions of participation in an artistically as well as institutionally defined context will be reviewed, discussing artist’s institutional critique, curatorial concepts, educational approaches and strategies of audience engagement.

Rudolf Frieling was appointed SFMOMA’s curator of media arts in January 2006. Most recently, Frieling organized Stage Presence: Theatricality in Art and Media (2012). He collaborated on the SFMOMA presentation of Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870 (2010) and organized SFMOMA’s survey exhibitions The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now (2008) and In Collaboration: Works from the Media Arts Collection (2008). From 1994 to 2001, Frieling was a curator at the ZKM Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, and head of its video collection. From 2001 to 2005, he headed the online research project Media Art Net at the ZKM. Frieling organized the exhibition and restoration project titled Digital Heritage – Video Art in Germany from 1963 until the present (2006), whose objective was to study the process of video art deterioration and to develop the processes for restoration. Frieling has written for major print, multimedia, and online publications, including the book series Media Art Action (1997), Media Art Interaction (2000), and Media Art Net 1/II (2004/2005), all published by Springer, Vienna and New York.


Throughout the spring and fall of 2013, faculty and students at Duke University, the University of Chicago, and Vassar College designed and participated in Speculation, an alternate reality game based loosely on the financial crisis of 2008. Playing across multiple platforms, including online and real life venues, Speculation evolved from an orientation based mainly on what the designers wanted players to learn, to a fully participatory experience in which designers and players collaborated in creating a complex distributed narrative, a convoluted temporality that formed a mobius-strip like connection between our present and a fictional future, and a denouement in which the players collectively decided how the narrative would end. The experience has many implications for the role of practice-based research in the humanities, and these will be explored in the conclusion of the talk.

N. Katherine Hayles is an internationally recognized authority on the relations of literature, science and technology. Her book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics won the 1998-99 Rene Wellek Prize for the Best Book in Literature Theory, and Writing Machines won the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarships. Her work has been recognized by numerous fellowships and honors, including a Guggenheim, two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, a Residential Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, a National Humanities Center Fellowship, and a Presidential Research Fellowship from the University of California. She is the author of ten books and over 70 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. She has also won two teaching awards, including the Eby Award for Distinction in Undergraduate Teaching. She sits on the Editorial Boards of numerous journals, including Science-Fiction Studies and Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science and the Arts.


Our societies are transforming because of interconnectivity across borders. The laws we make in individual countries no longer apply because the world has become stateless in regard to media, information, sharing and community building. The media is in a metamorphosis, our democracies are in metamorphosis and we do not know if they will transform into a hideous gigantic insect or a beautiful butterfly effect. Since we are living at times of quickening, anything goes — the states are out of control when it comes to surveillance, we are out of control when it comes to our own privacy. There are talks of fragmenting the internet, of building walls around countries to protect their citizens from probing of other states. Things can very easily get out of control unless we redefine international standards so that basic human rights are honored and we can ensure democratic principles, so that journalists can protect their sources, doctors the privacy of their patients, and lawyers can ensure confidentiality with their clients. We need new solutions and we need them fast. We need to crowdsource lawmaking with the best minds across countries. I already experimented with such a platform when we crafted and wrote IMMI (Icelandic Modern Media Initiative) in 2010. IMMI is the first of its kind. Real-time lawmaking on an etherpad across countries was one part of it; cherry picking the best functioning laws from other countries another element; but most of all it was innovation in lawmaking, and that is something we desperately need. Pirates in Iceland are teaching other parties to work with the same method across parties. We should be innovative and maximize the positive elements of a borderless world. Journalists, lawmakers, artists, any field of expertise can utilize the fact we have no limitations for collaborations but our minds. We don’t need to reboot our democracies, we need to create new hardware to install the new systems into. It is time for a new joint global vision for what sort of societies we want to be.

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is an Icelandic Poetician and activist. She is currently serving as a member of the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party and is one of its founders. Birgitta is also a founder and Chairperson of the International Modern Media Institute, better known as IMMI. She specializes in lawmaking for the 21st century. She was the chief sponsor of the Icelandic Modern Media initiative, a parliamentary proposal that was unanimously voted for in the Icelandic parliament in 2010. The proposal tasked the government to make Iceland into a safe haven for freedom of information, expression and speech: legalize freedom of information in such a way that websites like WikiLeaks were no longer needed. The laws are currently being crafted in 3 different ministries. You can follow Birgitta at or twitter @birgittaj


Jason Edward Lewis and Skawennati, co-directors of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, will present several of their projects which demonstrate their attempts at creating Aboriginally-determined spaces in the websites, video games, virtual worlds and other networked, non-physical places that we inhabit. They will discuss the goals and outcomes of Skins, a workshop that teaches Aboriginal youth how to “translate” a traditional story into a video game; and will tell you about CyberPowWow and AbTeC Island, two projects, one ancient (by digital standards) and one that may never be complete, but which are connected by similar technological impulses and the continual desire for a home, and a voice, in cyberspace.

Jason Edward Lewis is Associate Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University. He is a digital media artist, poet and software designer. He founded Obx Laboratory for Experimental Media, where he directs research/ creation projects using virtual environments to assist Aboriginal communities in preserving, interpreting and communicating cultural histories, devising new means of creating and reading digital texts, developing systems for creative use of mobile technology. He co-founded and co-directs the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace research network that is investigating how Aboriginal people can participate in the shaping of our digital media future, and co-directs workshop combining traditional stories and game design at the Kahnawake First Nations’ high school. Lewis is deeply committed to developing intriguing new forms of expression by working on conceptual, creative and technical levels simultaneously. His creative work has been featured at the Ars Electronica Center, ISEA, SIGGRAPH, Urban Screens and Mobilefest, among other venues, his writing about new media has been presented at conferences, festivals and exhibitions on four continents and his work with Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace has won multiple awards. He received his MPhil from the Royal College of Art for Dynamic Poetry: Introductory Remarks to a New Medium.

Skawennati is an artist and independent curator with a BFA from Concordia University in Montreal. Since 1996, she has been working in New Media, beginning with the pioneering, Aboriginally-determined, on-line gallery and chat space, CyberPowWow. Her own artwork, which addresses history, the future, and change, has been widely exhibited. Imagining Indians in the 25th Century, a web-based paper doll/time-travel journal has been presented across North America, most notably in Artrain USA’s three-year, coast-to-coast tour of the show “Native Views: Influences of Modern Culture”. A print version of this piece is in the collection of the Canada Art Bank. 80 Minutes, 80 Movies, 80s Music, her ongoing series of one-minute music videos, continues to grow; and her current production, TimeTraveller™, is a multi-platform project featuring a machinima series. Its website,, won imagineNative’s 2009 Best New Media Award. Skawennati is currently Co-Director, with Jason E. Lewis, of Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, a network of artists, academics and technologists investigating, creating and critiquing Aboriginal virtual environments. Their project, Otsì:!, a game mod created with students from Kahnawake Survival School, won imagineNative’s 2010 Best New Media Award. Skawennati has also been awarded a 2011 Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art.


“Unlike Us” is a network of designers, activists, and researchers concerned with critiquing social media. Because of the lack of privacy (see Prism), many think that we should not get stuck in a ‘culture of complaint’, and that it is better to act. But how do we overcome our anxieties about the flood of information? “Unlike Us” discusses concepts of alternative network architectures in a time when leaving Facebook is seen as an individual lifestyle choice. Has the time come to collectively bail out of the stream of Tweets and updates? “Unlike Us” does not want to create the perfect alternative to Facebook, but, inspired by experimental platforms such as Lorea and Diaspora, wishes to inscribe other social relationships into the internet protocol instead. What’s the social today, for us?

Geert Lovink is a media theorist, internet critic and author of Zero Comments (2007) and Networks Without a Cause (2012). Since 2004 he is researcher in the School for Communication and Media Design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (HvA) where he is the founding director of the Institute of Network Cultures. His institute has recently organized conferences and research networks around topics such as the politics and aesthetics of online video, urban screens, Wikipedia, the culture of search, internet currencies and digital publishing. Until 2013 he also taught in the new media masters program at Mediastudies, University of Amsterdam. In 2009 he was appointed media theory professor at the European Graduate School (Saas-Fee).


Media artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will present his recent interactive installations that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art. Using technologies such as robotics, computerized surveillance and telematic networks he creates platforms for public participation. Inspired by phantasmagoria, carnival and animatronics, his light and shadow works are “antimonuments for alien agency”.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican-Canadian artist. Recently the subject of solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Fundación Telefónica in Buenos Aires and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, he was the first artist to officially represent Mexico at the Venice Biennale with an exhibition at Palazzo Van Axel in 2007. He has also shown at Biennials and Triennials in Havana, Istanbul, Liverpool, Montréal, Beijing, Moscow, New Orleans, Seoul, Seville, Shanghai, Singapore and Sydney. His work is in collections such as MoMA in New York, Jumex in Mexico, Daros in Zürich and TATE in London.


Design research is exploring more expressive communication for people without speech–speculative speech generating devices which afford nuanced control of tone of voice, whereas Text-To-Speech typically offers only three choices of punctuation. Recent advances in technology are promising realistic yet more flexible speech synthesis. Participatory research is illuminating how laypeople (as opposed to phoneticians) might think of tone of voice in the first place, and thereby interact with it.The question is not just how tone of voice can be defined, but, more profoundly, by whom? Because tone of voice is freighted with cultural and social, as well as conversational and emotional meaning. This research is recommending that speech technology be conceived of as an open source medium in which myriad tones of voice are crafted, exchanged and appropriated by the people who use it in their everyday lives.

Graham Pullin is Director of Digital Interaction Design at the University of Dundee. He is a researcher, designer and teacher, influential in the fields of universal design, assistive technology and Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Invited keynotes include ‘Arts Inclusion: Disability, Design, Curation’ at UC Irvine, RESNA 2013 in Seattle and AAC-RERC ‘State of the Science’ Conference in Baltimore and he co-chaired the international Include universal design conference at the Royal College of Art, London. At the innovation consultancy IDEO, Graham ran a multidisciplinary studio of user researchers, designers and engineers. He led projects out of London and San Francisco, including a $1mproject for Vodafone. His research projects were exhibited at MoMA, New York. Initially trained as an engineer, Graham specialised in rehabilitiation engineering. Realising the potential of design skills and sensibilities in this context, he studied at the Royal College of Art, followed by extensive experience as an industrial designer and interaction designer. Over 25 years involvement in disability-related design informed and inspired the monograph and manifesto Design meets Disability (The MIT Press).


This talk is based on the recently published book “Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory.” Scholz argues that the distinctions between work, leisure, play, and communication have faded and that labor, without being recognized as such, generates data and profits for a small number of governmental and commercial stakeholders. Residents in virtual worlds like Second Life co-create the products and experiences, which they then consume. What is the nature of this “digital labor” and the new forms of digital sociality on platforms like’s Mechanical Turk, Crowdflower, or TxtEagle that it brings into being? Newly gained freedoms and visions of empowerment through digital media have complex social costs that are often invisible. This talk explores the violence of participation and asks how economic value is generated in the actual rather than speculative economy of the Internet.

R. Trebor Scholz is Associate Professor for Culture and Media at The New School in NYC. He is the editor of several collections of essays including Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory (Routledge, 2012). His forthcoming monograph with Polity offers a history of the Social Web and its Orwellian economies. Scholz frequently lectures at conferences and festivals with recent venues including Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University, The Obama White House, and Transmediale. Trebor Scholz chaired seven major conferences, including the Internet as Playground and Factory ( and MobilityShifts ( He is the founder of the Institute for Distributed Creativity that is internationally known for its online discussions of critical network culture.


Governments are now in the hacking business. Not just against each other, but increasingly targeted at their own citizens. Private sector companies now provide governments around the world with the means to break into and spy on the computers of their citizens through malware. Our governments use these hacking technologies, we are told, to protect national security, to stop terrorists and catch criminals. Of course, terrorists, drug dealers and paedophiles use the same computers and phones as the rest of us. At a technical level then, our governments must have the capability to hack into the computers of law abiding citizens if they are to be able to hack into the computers of criminals too. It also means that the computers of citizens, businesses and government agencies must be left vulnerable to particular hacking techniques so that governments will maintain the ability to access the computers of legitimate surveillance targets.

Christopher Soghoian is a privacy researcher and activist, working at the intersection of technology, law and policy. His Ph.D. focused on the role that third party service providers play in facilitating law enforcement surveillance of their customers. His research has appeared in publications including the Berkeley Technology Law Journal and been cited by several federal courts. Between 2009 and 2010, he was the first ever in-house technologist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, where he worked on investigations of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Netflix. Prior to joining the FTC, he co-created the Do Not Track privacy anti-tracking mechanism now adopted by all of the major web browsers. He is a TEDGlobal 2012 Fellow, was an Open Society Foundations Fellow between 2011 and 2012, and was a Student Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University between 2008 and 2009.


The question of participation opened with digital technologies cannot be thought apart from a new industrial model. Failing such an approach, “participation” will inevitably be pushed downwards into becoming that which is made concrete by social networks like Facebook: participation will constitute an “hyperconsumerism”, where the consumer becomes the principal actor of her own disindividuation – and of the correlative desocialization of the world. Future beyond becoming – as the preservation and intensification of psychic and collective processes of individuation – presupposes digital technologies to be implemented in the framework of a non-consumerist economy of contribution. Now, such an economy needs itself a deep rethinking of what constitutes the condition of any industrial economy, that is: the academic sphere. This lecture will attempt to define the outlines of a digital organology of knowledge that Ars Industrialis and the Institute for Research and Innovation think and develop in their common seminar dedicated to digital studies on the basis of contributive technologies
of transindividuation.

Bernard Stiegler is the Director of the Institute for Research and Innovation in Paris, a Professorial Fellow at Goldsmith College in London and a professor at the University of Technology of Compiègne where he teaches philosophy. He is one of the founders of the political group Ars Industrialis based in Paris, which calls for an industrial politics of spirit, by exploring the possibilities of the technology of spirit, to bring forth a new “life of the mind”. Stiegler has published numerous books and articles on philosophy, technology, digitization, capitalism, consumer culture, etc. Among his writings, his three volumes of La technique et le temps (English Translation: Technics and Time), two volumes of De la misère symbolique, three volumes of Mécréance et Discrédit and two volumes Constituer l’Europe are particularly well known.


The internet has long been a home to video sharing. From the earliest days of CU-SeeMe and webcams to YouTube, people have been producing content for each other ranging from the highly polished to the raw and unedited. Game live-streaming – the real-time network broadcast and spectatorship of computer game play – draws on this tradition but also reflects a community still working through what it means to shift often private gameplay to a public outlet. This talk explores live-streaming as not only grassroots participatory culture but also corporate media platform. From everyday play to large-scale tournaments, live-streaming practice reflects a complex mix of emergent and traditional forms. Currently undergirding the system are also financial structures (advertising, partnerships, subscriptions) and intellectual property regimes (digital game properties) that critically shape how live-streaming is developing as a new cultural and economic space. This talk explores the complex assemblage of networks, practices, and structures shaping this emerging form of public broadcast.

T.L. Taylor is Associate Professor in Comparative Media Studies at MIT and Consulting Researcher with the Social Media Collective at Microsoft Research New England. She is a qualitative sociologist working in the fields of internet and game studies. Her work focuses on the interrelation between culture, social practice, and technology in online leisure environments. She has spoken and written on topics such as network play and social life, values in design, intellectual property, co-creative practices, avatars, and gender & gaming. Her most recent research explores the professionalization of computer game play, examining the developing scene of high-end competitive play, spectatorship, and the growing institutionalization of e-sports. She is currently at work on a project about games and live-streaming. You can find her, and many of her published pieces, online at


Following the initial 2011 uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, a wealth of revolutionary media sites have emerged, creating a culture of independent, participatory journalism in places where state control had long stifled the free flow of information. The balance now tipped, the next challenge is for these media to create a lasting space for democratic debate.

Jillian C. York is Director for International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), where her work focuses on user rights, digital security, and Internet regulation. She has written extensively on censorship and media in the Arab world, most recently contributing a chapter on the effects of WikiLeaks on the region to the volume Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society. She writes a column for Al Jazeera English and has written for publications including the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, CNN, and Slate. She is also a frequent public speaker, with recent appearances at South by Southwest, the Strasbourg World Forum on Democracy, and Mozilla Festival. Jillian sits on the board of directors of Global Voices Online, and the advisory boards of R-Shief and Internews’ Global Internet Policy Project.

Research delegations

With its Research Delegation initiative, The Participatory Condition colloquium provides opportunities for the training and professional development of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and emerging scholars. Five doctoral and postdoctoral researchers have accepted to act as colloquium Research Delegates, and head a small team of researchers (consisting in 4-5 students and/or community media practitioners) for their assigned colloquium sections.

Members of the research delegations are expected to:

  1. conduct background research on their assigned colloquium sections and contribute informed postings to the colloquium website, blog, POOC (participatory open online course), and social media sites before, during, and after the colloquium;
  2. attend the colloquium in its entirety, and take detailed notes of their assigned sessions;
  3. pose the first formal question(s) to panelists during the Q&A session with the public;
  4. present a critical account of the assigned section in a post-colloquium seminar at McGill.

Research delegations will also be invited to submit a text for an open access, peer-reviewed publication on Media@McGill’s website following the colloquium.

Research Delegations:

The Predicament of Participation I

Speakers: N. Katherine Hayles, Trebor Scholz, Geert Lovink
Research Delegate: Adair Ronthwaite (McGill)
Team members: Rodrigo Davies (MIT); Christine Mitchell (Concordia)

The central focus of our research will be the question of how participation relates to agency in the work of Katherine Hayles, Geert Lovink, and Trebor Scholz. In the work of these three authors, we see a concern with identifying “genuine” participation that empowers individuals and collectives, in a cultural context where participation constitutes a dominant paradigm of discipline and capitalist productivity. How can we identify resistant or grassroots participation, given the fact that our affective experiences and critical faculties increasingly are shaped by compulsory, non-liberatory participation? Or does the participatory condition necessitate a conception of agency that is beyond resistance and compliance? Specific sites for our analysis will include blogs, crowdsourced translation, crowdfunding for community projects, and contemporary art.

The Predicament of Participation II

Speakers:Nico Carpentier, Bernard Stiegler
Research Delegate: Alessandro Delfanti (McGill)
Team members: Nathalie Casemajor (McGill); Stéphane Couture (McGill); Mauricio Delfin (McGill); Matt Goerzen (McGill); Molly Sauter (McGill)

Our delegation aims to understand how digital technologies allow or restrict the possibilities of participation. We will focus on the affordances of digital media, as well as on the theories and practices that enact forms of participation in the civic sphere. Different conditions of participation shape and sometimes disrupt the social worlds within which participation is actualized. In technology-driven societies, new aspirations surrounding participation resonate with the cultures and values that are actively promoted and put to work by digital platforms. The predicament of participation is the product of these frictions.

Gaming, Art and Design

Speakers:Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Rudolf Frieling, Graham Pullin, T.L. Taylor, Mia Consalvo, Jason Lewis and Skawennati
Research Delegate: Erandy Vergara-Vargas (McGill)
Team members: Michael Lithgow (McGill); Heather Mills (McGill); Anne Pasek (McGill); Saelan Twerdy (McGill)

Our delegation aims to reflect on the practices and critical debates regarding participation in the fields of art, design and gaming. Particular attention will be paid to the knowledge / power implications of the aesthetics of public participation—in terms of cultural outcomes and policy decisions; the distributed and permeable nature of embodiment through participatory digital networks; the history of participation in the radical politics of the avant-garde (i.e. Futurism and Dadaism), and more recent trends such as community art, interactive art, public art, and relational aesthetics. In addition, we are interested in investigating the participatory impulse in relation to cyber-feminism, global art histories, and postcolonial theories in an effort to examine hegemonic flows of participation across nations, as well as within nations and communities.

Publics and Participation

Speakers:Kate Crawford, Bart Cammaerts, Christina Dunbar-Hester
Research Delegate: Gretchen King (McGill)
Team members: Stefanie Duguay (Oxford); Ali Karimi (McGill); Candace Mooers (CKUT 90.3 FM); Errol Salamon (McGill); Samine Tabatabaei (McGill)

Headlines proclaimed the 2011 political changes in Tunisia and Egypt as “Twitter” or “Facebook” revolutions, yet a more grounded analysis moves beyond technological reductionism by recognizing the limitations of Internet availability, which is a necessary precondition for the use of social media. This is especially true in a region where governments regularly block websites, slow down Internet traffic, and disrupt cell phone transmissions as means to repress political dissent and organizing. The theme Publics and Participation within the Participatory Condition is an opportunity to problematize accessibility, cooperation, and resistance within these and other participatory platforms. We are interested in counter-hegemonic articulations of mediated forms of political participation and activism within specific social movements, such as the 2012 Quebec Student Strike or the more recent Idle No More mobilization. Specifically, our delegation will: 1) reflect on the cultural-centrism underpinning contemporary conceptualizations of participation; 2) examine the limits of participatory platforms among a diversity of publics and contexts; and 3) consider invisible or illegitimate forms of participation and the manifestation of not participating.

Regulation and Surveillance

(Julie Cohen, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Jillian C. York, Christopher Soghoian, Marc Andrejevic)
Research Delegate: Ian Kalman (McGill)
Team members: Fiona Achi (McGill); Alex Dean Cybulski (Univ. of Toronto); Darcie Deangelo (McGill); Joshua Friesen (McGill); Samine Tabatabaei (McGill)

As a group, we inquire what becomes of the concept of surveillance once it is participatory. Emphasizing surveillance’s technological modalities, and their emergent regulation, dissemination, and evaluation in a legal context, we explore the distribution of power and agency over surveillance practices and how participation can redefine the balance over hegemonic and counter-hegemonic activities. Paying special attention to ways in which these practices extend beyond the historical provenience of the state, we look at questions of representation, and consequent frictions between state and citizenry.

Colloquium committee

Prof. Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Prof. Gabriella Coleman, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Prof. Jonathan Sterne, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Dr. Tamar Tembeck, Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Organizing team

Prof. Christine Ross, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Dr. Tamar Tembeck, Academic Associate, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Sophie Toupin, Project Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Mary Chin, Administrative Coordinator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Caitlin Loney, Web Administrator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Justin Berot-Burns, CMS Coordinator, Media@McGill, Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

Conor Prendergast, Graphic Designer

Mauricio Delfin, Social Media


Media@McGill Colloquium Partners: Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Dean of Arts Development Fund, Department of Art History and Communication Studies Speaker Series, Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, James McGill Chair in Contemporary Art History, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy, Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas, McGill University; Hexagram-Concordia, Concordia University