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Dark Participation: A Critical Overview  

Thorsten Quandt and Johanna Klapproth

The profound sociopolitical transformation processes that characterize the second decade of the 21st century have also led to a focus on new topics and a reconsideration of previously established approaches in communication studies. In particular, the academic discussion of online communication has drastically changed in tone and focus. While the new possibilities of online participation were initially described from a predominantly optimistic perspective stressing the high potential for deliberative democracy, work in communication studies at the end of the second decade of the 21st century paints a rather dystopian picture of the online world. The growing attention paid to problematic forms of user participation has led to various new concepts describing phenomena such as toxicity, disinformation, or hate speech. The concept of “dark participation” introduced by Thorsten Quandt takes up the profound change in perspective with a systematization of negative forms of participation in a unifying umbrella model. This generalistic model delineates the variants of dark participation according to five dimensions: the actors, the reasons for their behavior, the targets or objects of their participation, the intended audiences, and the structure of the process. In addition to this systematic categorization of negative participatory forms, the term dark participation also serves as a rhetorical device for commenting on the observable change in perspective: The original publication encourages a process of critical reflection on normativity in the discussion of participation and, by calling for more balance in the analysis of online participation, warns against reducing complex social communication phenomena to a one-sided positive or negative perspective. Since its initial publication, the concept of dark participation has served as a theoretical point of reference for various empirical studies. Due to its use as a rhetorical device and the critical examination of previous participation approaches, the original publication also stimulated an intensive discussion about the proposed concept. In addition to the critique regarding the theoretical assumptions and the distinction between “dark” and positive participatory forms, some authors also demand an extension, a different contextualization, or an elaboration of specific details. As a universal concept with a deliberate openness to such further delimitations, dark participation can serve as a starting point for theoretical extensions, especially in the research field of (digital) journalism and social media, and as an impulse for transfers to other related fields.


Participatory Communication in International Context  

Tom Jacobson and Nicole Garlic

Participation through communication has been studied internationally in analyzing social change at varying levels of analysis. In modernization theory, it was used largely at the national level for analyzing media consumption and participation in democratic political institutions, particularly voting, in newly established countries. In postmodernization theory, Paulo Freire and others employed it to analyze both interpersonal interaction and community development processes. Since that time, interest in participatory processes has proliferated in a variety of community development, social movement, and other middle-level social change efforts, including some operating via social media. In addition, with increasingly urgent threats posed by pandemics, human rights violations, global warming, and other international pressures today, transnational forms of civic and political action are increasingly treated as processes of global level participation. The idea of a global political public sphere is one of these processes. Citizen representation in multilateral organizations, global social movements, and other forms of cosmopolitan action are also treated as participation. A comprehensive understanding of participatory communication in the international context must attend to social processes at various levels of analysis, ranging from local project interventions to national political processes to global change.