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Notes on the experience of Participation and Contribution

1 - These are my definitions, sort of. They are not trivial or merely formal. I use them to Figure Things Out. They might not stand the test of time. But that test is a bitch. And if I pass (the Test), it will be because the pattern I fill in, in the shape of duck, happens to be the right answer. It will be By Accident.

2 – Here I am interested in the experience of the person participating or contributing.

3 – Participation is the experience of oneself in relation to a group or system. Its focus is a verb related to self-definition. Participation is a “state of being related to a larger whole”.

4 - From the outside, participation can be invisible. It does not require hand raising or button pushing or jersey wearing. It is a perspective shift in the mind of an individual.

5 - “Passive consumption” can be participation. The passive consumer can place himself into the meaning of what is consumed. As he unpacks the images, the text, the sounds, he can extend the mythology of what he perceives, comparing moments to memories, and joining into the narratives of inclusion and exclusion. If there is no narrative he can make one.

6 – Participation can also be visible from the outside. But the point of participation is not how it is perceived from the outside.

7 – While participation is about a “state of being”, focused on the internal, contribution is about the external, the making of a thing to be perceived by someone (or something) else.

7.5 - There are unintentional contributions and intentional contributions. Here I am interested in intentional contributions.

8 – Intentional contribution is made of 1) an intention, 2) a thing to be perceived, and 3) an internal representation of an audience that will perceive it.**

9 – An actual audience may not exist.

9.5 - The audience can be non-human, for example a system or a deity.

10 – The audience can be the contributor herself, as long as the idea of herself as audience is thought to be separate from herself as contributor; for example “an older me”, or a “happier me”.

11 – But that gets Complicated.

12 – It is possible to contribute by Doing Nothing. In this case the contributor must intend that the Doing Nothing be a thing that will be perceived by someone else. The Silent Treatment is a contribution to an argument.

13. The same action by an individual can be participation or contribution depending on whether the individual intends for the action to be perceived by someone else.

14 – It is possible to participate without contributing.

15 – It is possible to contribute without participating.**

:: A Response To Mark's Comment ::

Mark wrote:

That was pretty. It makes me have many questions. Perhaps that is participation. But there were no questions there. Or maybe all that made a really big question.

Hard to talk of intention within the analytical. To define and categorize, as a means, is usually an effort to escape intention, or to move beyond it, into a truth. But as that is far away, and intention is often sneaky, even to ourselves, I just have to wonder what we're left with.

I could poke at stuff. Like #3. I don't know if participation is a "state of being related to a larger whole". Is participation the state of being? Or the relation? Perhaps participation is simply being related to some larger group? I think, it's more like, twiddling around with that larger group. Particularly since you say you're interested in the perspective of the person contributing or participating.

I don't know if you can participate simply by experiencing something. I think you participate if something is reflected back, even something very minor. In this sense, inaction can be participation, if you if you must actively hide, repress, dodge out of the way, willfully ignore, scream in terror, or cry with joy, etc. Obliviousness is not participation.

I suppose just an internal response could be considered participation. But I don't like that. It has to be done in the context of others. There must be a two-way connection to that larger group. You cannot participate in isolation, even reading what somebody wrote, by yourself. But you are, perhaps, participating, if you acted in ways that were a result of that reading. And you're certainly participating if you wrote it.

What an odd thing to be thinking about. Beautifully odd. And imagining how this helps you decide anything is even stranger. Good stuff in the basement, though.

:: ::

From me:

Thanks Mark. I think you are hitting on the distinction that I am trying to make. I should mention that the definition of participation as a "state of being related to a larger whole" was taken from Miriam Webster, which was quite convenient for me. With "contribution" however, I more or less hijacked the definition to suit my needs and have since run into a few snags that inevitably come with re purposing a thing.

What I am trying to get at is two ways that an individual can relate to a group, a system or an audience. Participation is an experience of being a part of - it is an extension of self. A Three Musketeer can participate in Three Musketeer-edness even when alone in the shower, he is in a state of being a Three Musketeer - imagining future rescues, wondering who is the better Musketeer. This does not require a two way connection. In a sense there is no two, there is just a one that you are part of. Reading a book can result in the same, as long as the reader experiences himself as part of some whole. Same with someone listening to a conversation. The active placement of oneself into a thing is in my view participation, even if it only exists in the mind.

As you point out - participation can not be oblivious and it cannot be passive. Participation is not the "feeling of belonging", it is what what was done to create that feeling.

To me contribution represents a different way of relating to the world. The definition for "contribute" supplied by Miriam is "to play a significant part in bringing about an end or result" or to "to give or supply in common with others." This gets me into a bit of hot water, since I am mainly interested in the experience of person contributing. Miriam's definition allows for the contributor to be oblivious. As a previous commenter pointed out - it would be possible to contribute to global warming without any awareness whatsoever.

Lacking a better word, I created the awkward phrase "intentional contribution". What I am trying to get at is a shift of focus, from the experience of me as part of a whole, to something to be perceived by an outside element. Participation flows through you, it is part of you. Contribution is the creation of something not you, and in a way an acknowledgment of separateness. There is an awareness of the other, which i believe is different from what happens in participation. Of the three parts i mentioned: the intention, the thing to be contributed, and the internal representation of audience, it is the representation of audience that is particularly interesting to me. I think this is one of the biggest challenges in a networked world - imagining those that are connected to you when you are creating something to be experienced.

In the Creative Act, Marcel Duchamp tries to get at these relationships, but from the point of view of the artist. In the age of authorship, the social age, this thinking applies to the creation of almost all media by a population growing larger than anything Duchamp had experienced.

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Comments (6)

Em:

Not in response to this entry per se, but in response to your general interest in creative projects that encourage wide participation...

There's a gallery here in Atlanta called the Art House Co-op that organizes large-scale projects and encourages wide participation. They generally charge a small fee, send supplies, define parameters, and participants send back completed projects for a gallery showing. For example, I recently participated in their Canvas Project and I found the experience enjoyable.

Anyway, I just thought you might be interested.

Your fan,
Em

Ze, I'm not sure why you perceive intention to be integral to contribution. Maybe you're using 'contribution' in a specific context?

(From Ze: Yes - specifically see #2)

In the case of complex issues, like climate change, it's very easy to unwittingly contribute to the problem through our actions.

(From Ze: yes - this is tricky - i have since changed this to "intentional contribution"...ick)

Or as a member of a team (work, school, sports, etc), we're not always aware of the contributions we make to the group's dynamics - yet they're very real contributions that can dramatically affect the overall success of the team.

(From Ze: Again - in this set of notes i am interested in the perspective of the person contributing or participating... In the case that they are unaware, there is nothing to talk about.)

boo:

When I do either it begins with an intention to help. Ulterior motivation is always to learn and figure out how use what I learn in the process to help elsewhere (the built in redemption). But it usually begins with the mistaken notion that I will be helping in some way. And upon reflecting after, it is the humbling norm to know that I received far more than I gave.

This is true in my real life role as a teacher. Everything I have to give is returned many times over.

Online it was your show that made clear that the same holds true virtually. I learned far more than I gave even though online I was and am more a student than anything.

A sense of guilt or shame can arise when I realize that once again I have received more than I feel I deserve, but not everyone has that problem. Probably at least a quarter have some back end bummage that goes down from participating or contributing. I think anyone with a tendency to feel worthless likely has less afterglow than aftergloom for a little while until they find a way to redeem themselves. Yeah, it is a disorder but it's real for many and as a teacher I have to figure out how to make redemptive acts accessible for those that need them.

One difference with online participation or contribution is that it is easier to do. Many factors are not present. No eye contact is necessary, no touch either. This feels safer. It's like the people who feel free to flame like mad in a comment not understanding that a real person is reading, but the good side of what that mistaken freedom can do is ditch inhibitions and allow for involvement.

And so far personally it seems to transfer. One example is that I never would have sought out bell ringing for the Salvation Army had I not contributed to another person's virtual kettle. Don't know if it is that way for everyone.

Mark:

That was pretty. It makes me have many questions. Perhaps that is participation. But there were no questions there. Or maybe all that made a really big question.

Hard to talk of intention within the analytical. To define and categorize, as a means, is usually an effort to escape intention, or to move beyond it, into a truth. But as that is far away, and intention is often sneaky, even to ourselves, I just have to wonder what we're left with.

I could poke at stuff. Like #3. I don't know if participation is a "state of being related to a larger whole". Is participation the state of being? Or the relation? Perhaps participation is simply being related to some larger group? I think, it's more like, twiddling around with that larger group. Particularly since you say you're interested in the perspective of the person contributing or participating.

I don't know if you can participate simply by experiencing something. I think you participate if something is reflected back, even something very minor. In this sense, inaction can be participation, if you if you must actively hide, repress, dodge out of the way, willfully ignore, scream in terror, or cry with joy, etc. Obliviousness is not participation.

I suppose just an internal response could be considered participation. But I don't like that. It has to be done in the context of others. There must be a two-way connection to that larger group. You cannot participate in isolation, even reading what somebody wrote, by yourself. But you are, perhaps, participating, if you acted in ways that were a result of that reading. And you're certainly participating if you wrote it.

What an odd thing to be thinking about. Beautifully odd. And imagining how this helps you decide anything is even stranger. Good stuff in the basement, though.

Do allow me to get all metaphysical on you here:
By dipping my pen in the infinite well of participation and sharing in what others have experienced, I react to that experience. The energy(love/hate) that comes forth because of my experience may not be a quantifiable contribution but it affects the global system. The energy from my reaction affects by association the thing that was experienced in the first place.

Sick people report feeling better when others have, unknown to the sick people, prayed for the sick people. This intentional contribution has multiple benefits; Clarity of purpose for the person praying, getting better for the person being prayed for, promotion of the activity of prayer itself.

Whenever I read something like "But that gets complicated," I get interested. Can my participation in handwritten correspondence as a man of 18 years old have something to contribute to me as a man of 39 years old? My intentions may have been to relay information and to seek advice on some problems. Seen in the context of a series of correspondences over a period of 20 years, trends emerge and a longitudinal contribution can be made when taken in the aggregate.

I like unintentional contributions. I like jazz. There are notes laid down that are improvised but how the drummer or bassist interprets that contribution, that contribution's intention, that artist's intention can take the song in exciting new directions. Happy Accidents. The unintentional contributions often have more to say about the those that pick up on them than those that laid them down.

Eve:

Regarding #4: Does participation require suspension of critique?

:: ::

From Ze: Not sure what you mean, can you explain?

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 30, 2008 10:50 PM.

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