This special issue stems from the debate that has been developed within the Cost Action ISO906 Transforming Audiences Transforming Societies (TATS) around the policy implications of scientific knowledge produced in the field of audience research.
The article starts with a general reflection on the social relevance of theory, and moves on to develop four arguments in this regard. We discuss theory’s ability to produce conceptual frameworks and to provide semi-autonomous reflective moments. The text also conceptualises theory as an opportunity to reflect on illegitimate imbalances of power relations, set against the normative visions of democracy. We further discuss the role theory can play in deconstructing societal fantasies (understood in Lacanian terms), illuminating the deeper material and discursive structures in society (e.g. in relation to power) as well as their contingencies. In the second part of the article, we focus specifically on participatory theory, applying the four arguments in favour of the social relevance of theory to the field of participatory theory. Some of the inspiration for this second part was gathered through an analysis of a series of short essays (labelled “individual reports”), written by colleagues within the framework of an academic network on audience studies, the Cost Action Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies (TATS). We link together some of these reports with our perspectives on participatory theory, highlighting key aspects of this theoretical horizon, and underscoring the importance of connecting such theory – of academic origins – with the social world beyond the university.
There is a long tradition of academic research addressing the role of media in democracy both in terms of formal political processes and broader political culture. Academic researchers have been concerned both to study the different ways in which the media are implicated in the political and to develop normative criteria by which the political role of the media can be evaluated. Recent developments in media and communications technology have combined with changes in democracy as it spreads to different social and cultural contexts across the world and to regional and global governance to raise new challenges concerning the role of media in democracy. At a time of transformation, perhaps, academics have a responsibility to bring theory and evidence into public debate and understanding. In this article I first outline some key features of the relation between media and democracy, focusing on how digital media are challenging concepts of political engagement. This is followed by a discussion of the different potential contributions made by communications and media researchers in this area using examples from reports of work conducted by members of the COST Action Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies (TATS). These contributions demonstrate the contribution of research to framing and interpreting social processes, providing evidence for particular policy concerns or initiatives and of academics developing ways of combining their academic interests with a more interactive or dialogic engagement with a variety of stakeholders.
This article discusses the many implications of participation in a cross-media scenario where actions and behaviours of digital audiences are reshaping some key processes in journalism, politics and the media industry. The development of this research agenda is based on an analysis of a state of the art of the latest researches in the field of communication and media studies, as identified in 26 individual reports, written by members of Working Group 2 of the Cost Action Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies (TATS). This article frames these emerging research topics as tensions, arguing that the idea of tension is the best metaphor to identify and analyse the challenges of the 21st century media landscape.
The relationship between academia and stakeholders is a complex one with outcomes being influenced by the prevailing paradigms that, both in economic and political terms, mould academia’s activities at a specific point in time. The relevance specific areas of study have for society, and more specifically towards identified constituents (i.e. the stakeholders) of society, are a key factor shaping society’s expectations towards academia. In the particular case of media studies that relevance has apparently increased in the past decades, if for instance the total number of students enrolled in different European universities in this area of studies is considered, or the number of publications and dedicated journals is listed. This article examines various contributions to the enunciation of stakeholder theory when considering media and audience studies and draws upon 26 individual reports, written by members of Working Group 2 of the Cost Action Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies (TATS). The resulting paradigms are used to describe the relations between academia and stakeholders and the implications those have for all working in the field.
This article explores the ‘the public’ in public engagement with research as a site of negotiation, production and possibility. In a contemporary context where the public cannot be taken for granted and is in a state of flux, it shows how three different perspectives on the public, drawn from the vast literature on this topic, are differently useful. The article reflects on several ways these perspectives were used as part of the process of setting up a new participatory public engagement initiative called Participation Now, at The Open University (UK). The article also begins to illuminate how this process led to a particular set of ways of thinking about the social relevance and the responsibilities of contemporary research. The article therefore contributes to this special issue but also to the literature on the public and public engagement by charting a new process that has recently been developed and used to negotiate and mediate ‘‘the public’’ in public engagement.
The contrast between academic/critical and administrative research inaugurated by Lazarsfeld is extremely a living matter in the context of the research about social media communication. More and more business entities, in fact, commission academic research aimed at increasing the understanding of the dynamics of communication activated into social media, in order to develop its potential in terms of business. It is a relatively new area of research that contains dynamic tensions to explore and to solve. Building upon the choices made by an administrative research project carried out in an academic context, the article aims to investigate the open issues of such a field of research and to analyze the relationship between academic and administrative research. The proposal is that it is no longer useful to contrast the two areas, but, rather, it is desirable to build a connection in order to make their relationship virtuous. This link is found in a cross-cutting aspect to the two areas, that is the ethics of research that it is not limited to the application of rules or protocols, however indispensable, but it becomes a self-reflexive practice in which the researcher is constantly assessing its role, the object and the method of investigation. Ethics, then, is intended as a practice of accountability and boost the knowledge of a genuine portion of reality. Finally, it is as an impetus to establish a system of “permanent criticism” that holds open the potential of social media and it is proposed to establish a thoughtful process about the context in which they are used.
This essay explores a fact-finding inquiry that generated different and unexpected ways for research dissemination. The experience has been very generative and produced new answers, awareness and perspectives. Rebirth is a leit motiv of the interviewees’ life stories about grandparenthood. All steps of the research project have been repeatedly regenerating. We first organized a conference on the educational role of grandparents, then we projected and realized a field research work; and lastly, we staged a theatrical performance. This performance used various languages such as body, music and movement, which are more effective than scientific writing in conveying the emotions of life stories. The performance has been played in many different places, in different social contexts. This study increased my idea of reflexivity, also thanks to the audiences’ feedback. This project involves some key-concepts of the current sociological and anthropological debate, such as reflexivity, biographical narrative, generational perspective and gender habitus. I suggest that the ‘epistemic egoism’ of academic dissemination can (and should) be overcome, allowing theoretical knowledge to go back to being part of the real world.
In the Cambodian society victims of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) are taking up an uncommon discursive position. Anyone that has suffered from the Khmer Rouge is considered to be a victim including former Khmer Rouge members who were brutaly disadvantaged by their own party. The nuanced discourse on victims (and perpetrators) is in contrast with authoritarian Cambodian state politics. This photo essay about an exhibition in former torture prison S-21 demonstrates this uncommon and contrasting discourse.
The paper presents the first results of an empirical study aimed at analysing the model of participatory cultures in local, rural areas. It is based on the first results of the research project “In Media Loci”. The project aims to identify new solutions for the communication of natural environment and for the empowerment of local communities, experimenting the web 2.0 approach for connecting digital contents held by institutional actors, broadcasters and individuals. Starting from different theoretical approaches provided by literature ‒ such as those of transmedia storytelling, participatory culture, augmented spaces ‒ the empirical analysis, based on the participatory design method, has seen 24 local actors discuss topics such as: the ability to co-construct open / closed community around digital contents, the concepts of social sharing, ratings and comments and the imaginary related to mediated communication into local areas. The hypothesis was that web 2.0 approach could support participative practices into the territories, favouring the relationship among different local stakeholders. The results highlighted a complex interpretation of the web 2.0, underlining how the inclusion of local socio-cultural contexts is essential in the development of design strategies capable of understanding and interpreting innovation at a global and local level.
Social communication, aimed at promoting people’s rights and solidarity, has a marginal role both in the research and academic education supply of Italy. Yet the nonprofit sector of the country, the protagonist of this communication and its ideal stakeholder, has greatly developed in the last years, both in terms of dimensions, competence and reputation. The nonprofit sector today has become strategic for production development and employment creation of the country. Our contribution has the aim of exploring the demand of knowledge within the field of communication, inspired by the perception of the distance between the meagre university research and didactics, and the dynamic nonprofit sector, with its potential interest in the development of cultural capital. In particular, we see two main objectives in this paper: first to examine the communication needs of some of the emblematic institutions of the national Third Sector; second to try to understand what kind of perception and awareness they have of these needs, trying to reconstruct the context and the ways that favour or prevent the birth and the recognition of these. The research is based on the analysis of three projects, realised by just as many national nonprofit organisations, considered particularly meaningful due to their witness of the ongoing unexpected raise of a problem around communication, resulting in a surprising urgent social need for professional knowledge and skills around these themes. These are: FQTS-Formazione Quadri Terzo Settore (Formation of Managers of Third Sector), a strategic line of intervention by the Fondazione con il Sud (Foundation with the South of Italy); the project La comunicazione al centro (Communication at the core) by CSVnet, the National Coordination of Centers which provide services for voluntary associations and Sapienza University of Rome; the activities of study, research and promotion of the culture of common goods by Labsus-Laboratorio per la sussidiarietà (Laboratory for Subsidiary Work). The case study came about thanks to analysis of the research outputs as provided by the organisations, and of interviews to privileged testimonies. 12_