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Participation (Un)Limited: Social Media and the Prospects of a Common Culture

Sandoval, M. (2014). Participation (Un)Limited: Social Media and the Prospects of a Common Culture. In: Miller, T. (Ed.), The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture. (pp. 66-76). USA: Routledge.


In this chapter I critically discuss whether the co-production, collaboration and sharing on social media indicate a shift towards a truly participatory popular culture. I consider both optimistic and pessimistic accounts of the popular and argue that popular culture on social media can neither be adequately understood as purely emancipatory or as necessarily dominative.

Without doubt, developments in computer technology and the rise of social media to a certain extent have called the distinction between cultural producers and cultural consumers into question. At a technical level social media enable an increased number or people to not only express themselves creatively but to make these creative expressions available to others. However, that does not mean that the locus of power in the cultural sector has shifted from corporations to individual users: Online collaboration, communication and sharing today takes place within a largely corporate controlled social media landscape. Among the key problems connected to the advertising based social media business model are surveillance, exploitation and the reinforcement of a consumerist culture. After a brief discussion of these problems I consider the perspective of social media enthusiasts, who stress that critics of the advertising based social media business model are overly pessimistic and fail to take popular cultural production online serious. I challenge this perspective by arguing that in downplaying the problems of the social media business model, social media enthusiasts provide legitimacy for corporate practices that take advantage of user engagement and turn it into a private financial surplus.

I conclude by suggesting Raymond Williams concept of a common culture as a fruitful starting point for thinking about a truly participatory social media culture.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in "The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture (Routledge Companions)" on 11 Dec 2014, available online:
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
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