23 June Seminar: The Participant in Troubled Times with Christopher M. Kelty

A seminar with Christopher Kelty (UCLA) about the rise of participation across multiple spheres of life, hosted by the Deakin SSN.

Please register here



Christopher Kelty’s new book The Participant (University of Chicago Press, 2019) is a historical ethnography of the concept of participation. It argues that participation is a problem for liberal representative democracy, and provides a genealogical account of how it has become central to our contemporary understanding of democratic institutions, social arrangements, platforms, algorithms, and infrastructures. Participation has been formatted, proceduralized, scaled-up, and turned into a tool-kit in the effort to spread it everywhere, and make it more effective. But at the same time, we forsake the core experience of participation: the feeling of being an instance of a collective—not a part of a whole, but the very feeling of being a collective itself.

Through cases and vignettes, the book explores the tension inherent in treating participation as either a fundamentally individual or as a group phenomena; the opposition of participation and expertise, and the growth of “experts in participation”; and the desire to “scale up” participation through the proliferation of handbooks, sourcebooks, and tool kits that are the precursors of the platforms and algorithms that saturate our world today. It explores the idea of “contributory autonomy” and the desire to make individuals into collectives; and it explores how the immediate, affective feeling of participating should be understood as more than just a fleeting satisfaction, but as a valuable ethical experience often revealed through perplexity.

About the speaker:

Christopher M. Kelty is 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. Research interests center on social theory and technology, the cultural significance of information technology; the relationship of participation, technology and the public sphere. He is the author of the book Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous 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, and many other inadvisably diverse topics


Timothy Neale is DECRA Senior Research Fellow at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation and Deputy Convener of the Deakin Science and Society Network.

Radhika Gorur is Associate Professor in Education at Deakin University and a Director of the Laboratory of International Assessment Studies.

Watch the seminar:

Seminar will be available to stream on YouTube live. Access using the live link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAEindMn8_A

Date/time: Tuesday 23rd June, 10am – 11:00am (Australian Eastern Standard Time, GMT+10)

Q&A with the speaker to follow. To send questions/participate in the chat, you’ll need to sign-in using a YouTube account.

The seminar will be recorded and available to watch on the SSN YouTube channel after the Livestream.

If you have any questions, please send to ssn-info@deakin.edu.au