The success of the new generation of media technologies – in combination with their presupposed interactive and even participatory nature – feeds the assumption that we are living another new communication revolution. In order to evaluate and value the contemporary (media) transformations, and the possibilities of the (mass) media to contribute to a participatory-democratic culture, we ironically need to ignore the media and their technologies (at least in a first phase) and to focus on the political-ideological processes which provide the discursive context for these media organisations and technologies. Only by taking this long but inevitable detour, it becomes possible to even begin to understand the democratic role(s) of the media and especially participatory media in the 21st century.
The conceptual starting point of this presentation is that participation is a politically-ideologically contested notion, and that the role of (participatory) media is intrinsically linked to these debates. For this reason, this presentation reflects on the participation debate, as a condition of possibility for the analysis the media’s role in this debate. The complexity of these participation debates entraps us in a painstaking process of including what is participatory and excluding what is not, a process which is complicated by the fluidity of all key concepts that are involved in this operation. In a second part of this presentation we can use these debates on participation (and access and interaction) to develop a first typology of participatory and semi-participatory organisations, which generates a first matrix to map the field of participatory media. But even after having (temporally) fixated and delineated these concepts (for analytical purposes), the diversity that characterises participatory organisations requires to move beyond the mapping exercise. In order to fully grasp the identity of these participatory organisations, a second typology is introduced, this time not aimed at delineating concepts but at diversifying and combining them. In this third part, four different theoretical approaches are combined to provide a (hopefully) increased insight in the world of participatory organisations. Given the diversity in this world, it is argued that the identities of specific organisations are always unique combinations of these four different theoretical approaches.