Produsing Theory in a Digital World 2.0

The Intersection of Audiences and Production in Contemporary Theory – Volume 2

by Rebecca Ann Lind (Volume editor)
Textbook VIII, 299 Pages
Series: Digital Formations, Volume 99

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editor
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1 Produsing Theory in a Digital World: Life in the Interstices
  • 2 The Interpretive Community Redux: The Once and Future Saga of a Media Studies Concept
  • 3 Duality Squared: On Structuration of Internet Governance
  • 4 Produsing the Hidden: Darknet Consummativities
  • 5 Online Performative Identity Theory: A Preliminary Model for Social Media’s Impact on Adolescent Identity Formation
  • 6 Understanding the Popularity of Social Media: Flow Theory, Optimal Experience, and Public Media Engagement
  • 7 “For this much work, I need a Guild card!”: Video Gameplay as a (Demanding) Coproduction
  • 8 The Mobile Conversion, Internet Regression, and the Repassification of the Media Audience
  • 9 Social Media Audience Metrics as a New Form of TV Audience Measurement
  • 10 Staging the Subaltern Self and the Subaltern Other: Digital Labor and Digital Leisure in ICT4D
  • 11 Race, Gender, and Virtual Inequality: Exploring the Liberatory Potential of Black Cyberfeminist Theory
  • 12 Digital Human Rights Reporting by Civilian Witnesses: Surmounting the Verification Barrier
  • 13 Twitter as a Pedagogical Tool in Higher Education
  • 14 Engaging Adolescents in Narrative Research and interventions on Cyberbullying
  • 15 Produsing Ethics [for the Digital Near Future]
  • 16 Afterword: What’s So New About New Media?
  • Contributors
  • Index


My greatest thanks are to the contributors to this volume. It has been a pleasure working with them; besides sharing their intriguing ideas on these pages, they have been responsive, understanding, and willing to engage in some fairly intense conversations with me during the writing process. I hope they are pleased with the outcome.

As always, many thanks are due to my colleagues (especially Steve Jones and Zizi Papacharissi) in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for their support. I appreciate the always cheerful, prompt, and excellent work of research assistant Paul Couture.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to use copyrighted material:

Cover image SONOMA I by Chuck Sabec (2015). Reprinted with kind permission of the artist and Studio Eight Fine Art (www.StudioEightFineArt.com). All rights reserved.

Figure 3.1 reprinted with kind permission from The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, by Anthony Giddens, © 1986 by Anthony Giddens. Published by the University of California Press.

To my parents and my students. ← vii | viii → ← viii | ix →


Produsing Theory in a Digital World: Life in the Interstices

Rebecca Ann Lind

The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms. (Rukeyser, 1968)

Without a doubt, our universe—digital and physical—is socially constructed. And if the universe is made up of stories, we can argue that increasingly (courtesy of new/digital/social media), these are stories of our own creation. Or can we? To what extent do our stories represent our unbridled expression and the full measure of our creativity? Are we free to create, share, and receive the stories we desire? Or are we inhibited in meaningful ways? In the introduction to the first Produsing Theory volume, I explored some of the tensions generated in the spaces enabled by the confluence of the formerly disparate activities of producing and consuming media (Lind, 2012). These tensions have not dissipated; our universe—digital and physical—although socially constructed, remains socially constricted.

This volume continues the exploration of the new worlds we inhabit, the interstitial spaces lying between freedom and control, between self and other, between exploration and inhibition, between the production and use of media. It provides a site at which varied theories—some still emerging—can intersect and shine a light into the spaces between what previously had been neatly separated and discrete components of media systems. In some settings, division by audience, content, and production settings remains useful (e.g., Lind, 2013), but this volume, like the first, is all about the interstices.

Each of the chapters in this book takes a different perspective in its approach to the spaces formed as a result of rapidly developing and swiftly deploying new communications technologies and social software. Each has some type of connection to what Axel Bruns (2008) called produsage, ← 1 | 2 → briefly defined as “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement” (p. 21). Produsers, embodying the interstitial spaces they inhabit, enact a hybrid role in the system—they both produce and use media content.

In so doing, as is the case with all communicative acts, they are constructing their social realities. They create and recreate their social worlds, and in the process they may also join, strengthen, or perhaps abandon various communities. In the process, they may also explore and experiment with various identities. These ideas recur throughout this book, necessarily entwined with the tensions between structurally imposed limitations and human agency.

Creating Our (Constrained) Reality

In their pivotal book, Berger and Luckmann (1967) introduced the term the social construction of reality and provided a well-thought-out consideration of how our day-to-day and even mundane interactions generate/maintain shared mental representations. Reciprocal roles become habituated and eventually institutionalized. “Social order,” they argued, “exists only as a product of human activity” (p. 52, emphasis in original). Both reality and knowledge, according to Berger and Luckmann, are socially relative and contextually situated. Through our interactions, subjective meanings become objective facticities, and human activities produce a world of things. We create institutions through engaging in processes of reciprocal habitualized activity, yet these institutions function as control mechanisms by “setting up predefined patterns of conduct” (p. 55). Even as we create our world, therefore, we create, recreate, and legitimate institutions, and we begin to see these socially constructed institutions—which restrict, limit, and inhibit us—as objective realities. Institutions are continually reified, the symbolic universes (belief systems) underlying them reinforced, and their supposed objective status augmented as they are passed on to subsequent generations. “They have always been there,” we think, and we may not even be able to imagine a world without them. Often unaware, we continue to enact behaviors consistent with institutionally predetermined expectations and constraints. Nonnormative behaviors are at least discouraged and often punished; they are framed as deviant, not natural, outside the realm of what is (seen as) self-evident. These institutions limit us—yet we ourselves create and perpetuate them. To Berger and Luckmann, the relationship between structure and agency is a dialectical one. ← 2 | 3 →

Although Berger and Luckmann’s consideration of the mutual influence of social structures and human interactions is important, it is not the only way scholars have approached the nature of the relationship between structure and agency. Bourdieu (1977), who also presumed a dialectical relationship between structure and agency, added to our understanding the ideas of habitus, field, and capital. Habitus “is an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it is constituted,” according to Bourdieu (p. 95); it “engenders all the thoughts, all the perceptions, and all the actions consistent with those conditions, and no others.” Bourdieu’s conceptualization of habitus bears some similarity to, but is different from, Berger and Luckmann’s presentation of the social construction of reality. As Swartz (2012) noted, Bourdieu attended more fully to issues of class in socialization processes than Berger and Luckmann did, but Bourdieu did “not conceptualize the possibility of a ‘deviant habitus’” (p. 110).

An extremely useful approach to exploring the interrelationships between structure and agency, fully applicable to the intersection of audience and production that is produsage, is provided in Dreier’s (2008) theory of persons as situated participants in social practices. As I noted in the introduction to the first Produsing Theory volume, Dreier advocated “a conception of a structure of ongoing social practice in a set of linked and diverse, local social contexts” (p. 23). The contextualization of social practices is key, with “local” being a quasiphysical and sociomaterial construct. Although Dreier sees social structures and social practices as interrelated and mutually influencing, and social practices as producing and reproducing the social world (as do other theorists referenced here), he argued that “notions about an abstract, individual agency must be replaced by a contextual conception of personal modes of participation rendering personal abilities many-sided and variable” (p. 40).

To Dreier (2008), individuals act and interact within and across a variety of social contexts, with context defined as “a delineated, local place in social practice that is re-produced and changed by the linked activities of its participants and through its links with other places in a structure of social practice” (p. 23). Any given culture includes any number of social contexts, differing according to duration, degree of openness to participants, relative flexibility or restriction of the range of social practices deemed appropriate, definitiveness of structural arrangements, and so forth.

Of primary importance, in his focus on personal stability and change, Dreier (2008) rejected the pathologizing of the non-fully integrated or non-fully coherent personality. As a psychotherapist, he argued that for most ← 3 | 4 → people, varying one’s social practices across contexts is adaptive behavior, not pathological. His work is concerned with “how personal stability and change are allowed and inhibited by a person’s trajectory of participation in structures of social practice” (p. 40).

One of several benefits of considering the recursive relationship between structure and agency is that the very process of attending to these phenomena heightens our awareness and presumably the salience of forces that often remain hidden. If we acknowledge that we play an important role vis-à-vis socially constructed limitations, we may choose to do something about it. A number of contributors to this volume urge us to attend more actively to our roles in perpetuating or contesting hegemonic ideologies. The most emphatic challenge is issued by Markham (Chapter 15), who argues that in all of our actions, we create and recreate (or resist) socially constructed understandings of what is right, good, or just. “Ethics matter,” she says, and her chapter is a clarion call for us to assume our responsibility to create the sort of world in which we would wish to live. Unless we do so, “the future will seem to just happen to us.”

But if we wanted to move toward fostering a more acute and aware acknowledgment of the part we play in the social construction of reality, how might we think about engaging our agency?

Engaging Our Agency

Various theories include concepts relevant to the possibility that we may change our social worlds, including those explicitly concerned with structure and agency. For example, emancipatory potential is ever present in Giddens’s (1984) structuration theory by virtue of his concept of reflexivity, which sees agents as holding the capability to act in such a way as to effect change (or, obviously, to perpetuate the status quo). Unger’s (2001) antinecessitarian social theory presents the possibility that we might reject or transcend social rules. Social institutions can be “denaturalized” (pp. 125–126). Unger posited that our behaviors can reflect various types of agency and that empowerment can take multiple forms. Again, change is possible (although not without challenge in the face of existing structures); we are not necessarily doomed to repeat our past and reproduce what we have inherited.

Perhaps we might also increase the likelihood that we’ll create the world we desire—and in that sense engage our agency—by approaching our social world in a more intentional manner. As a concept, intentionality appears with varying degrees of specificity and rigor across academic and professional ← 4 | 5 → fields as well as among the lay population. Presenting a folk-theoretical approach to intentionality, which is consistent with the point being made here, Malle, Moses, and Baldwin (2001) argued that

those who endorse the folk-theoretical approach do not try to clarify the nature of explanation in the philosophical sense, nor do they necessarily try to postulate the objective existence of intentionality. Instead, they analyze explanations and intentionality as cognitive tools that guide people’s perception, prediction, and control of their environment. (p. 17)

Malle et al. (2001) presented the concept of intentionality as a tool with a number of functions. This tool allows us to consider basic mental categories (e.g., desire, awareness) and to detect structure (intentions and actions) in human behavior. Perceivers determine others’ intentionality by making inferences based on the behaviors, the context, and other characteristics. Such inferences are necessary because “the content of agents’ intentions is radically underdetermined by their behavior” (p. 10), which otherwise could yield an almost infinite range of possibilities. According to Malle et al., the inference approach is consistent with constructivism, because our understandings are modified through social interactions. Intentionality “supports coordinated social interaction by helping people explain their own and others’ behavior” and “plays a normative role in the social evaluation of behavior through its impact on assessments of responsibility and blame” (p. 1). Normative responsibility is defined as “a normative relation” (in the form of duties and liabilities) “between an agent and a specific action or outcome” (p. 20).

Such a view considers behaviors intentional if the explanations for the behaviors reflect the following five components: “a desire for that outcome; beliefs about an action that leads to that outcome; an intention to perform the action; skill to perform the action; and awareness of fulfilling the intention while performing the action” (Malle & Knobe, 1997, p. 111). It also ties responsibility to agency, or “the capacity to perform autonomous, rational action” (Malle et al., 2001, p. 22).

In contrast to folk-theoretical considerations of intentionality, philosopher Edmund Husserl’s conception of intentionality is much broader, addressing any experience or object-directed thought. It was described by McIntyre and Smith (1989) as “a phenomenological property of mental states or experiences” (p. 150, emphasis in original). Husserl’s articulations of intentionality include but go well beyond “the everyday notion of doing something ‘intentionally’: an action is intentional when done with … a mental state of ‘aiming’ toward a certain state of affairs” (p. 148) and thus include but go well beyond the folk-theoretical considerations of intentionali ← 5 | 6 → ty. Some of Husserl’s thinking most relevant to the present discussion includes his considerations that we know about intentionality based on our own subjective experiences; we focus on what an act represents and how; and we connect our understanding of any given act to other mental states and experiences. He noted that as we encounter objects, we approach from a particular angle. The angle of approach necessarily provides a restricted and partial view of an object, rendering it at least partly indeterminate and making inevitable the possibility of having other experiences of/with that object. Each discrete perception of and experience with an object is but one of many possible experiences, each of which can be found on an open-ended horizon of possible perceptions and experiences. We may explore multiple perceptions of and experiences with an object, and if we do, we will attain a greater understanding of that object’s properties. Objects have both internal and external horizons, differentiated by whether the properties are relational and which are constrained by our existing beliefs or presuppositions about the object or object type. The external horizon is particularly relevant to our considerations here; according to McIntyre and Smith, “the external horizon … reflects the fact that objects are not perceived as solitary things [but are] related to” other things (p. 174).

Even limiting our consideration of Husserl to these concepts—concepts that map onto a folk-theoretical understanding of intentionality—we can see the value of engaging with our social world in an intentional manner. We can actively consider how we will approach and respond to the situations we encounter. We can try to be more aware of the inferences we make about others and their intentionality. We can try harder to explore the limitations of the restricted and restrictive nature of our perceptions and experiences. We can try to be more aware of the behaviors we enact and the outcomes they are likely to produce. Again, although changing our social structures is challenging, if we strive to act with greater intentionality, we may enact the change we seek.

We might also choose to engage in reflection as we approach various situations and as we engage in the construction of the most desirable social world. The concepts of reflection and reflective practices have their roots in the work of John Dewey (1933, 1938) and Donald Schon (1983, 1987) and are fundamental in a number of fields. Indeed, as Farrell (2012) wrote, “it seems that the terms reflection and reflective practice are so popular in education that they are nearly mandatory” (p. 8) in teacher education and professional development.

Engaging in reflection has a clear connection to our objective of rising to the challenge of actively working to construct the world in which we wish to ← 6 | 7 → live. According to Dewey (1938), reflection “is the heart of intellectual organization and of the disciplined mind” (p. 10). As he conceived it, reflection is a holistic process leading to change and professional growth; reflective action requires open-mindedness (being open to multiple perspectives), responsibility (considering the consequences of actions), and wholeheartedness (continually examining assumptions, beliefs, and results and being open to learning). In contrast with reflective actions, routine actions are “guided primarily by impulse, tradition, and authority” (Zeichner & Liston, 2013, p. 10) and can “serve as a barrier to recognizing and experimenting with alternative viewpoints.”

The process of inquiry during the reflective practice begins when we encounter an indeterminate situation and strive to clarify it or make it more determinate. Because the process of inquiry by definition engages us with the situation, Dewey believed that inquiry is social. However, Schon (1992)—whose “theory of reflective practice” (according to Kinsella, 2007, p. 103) “has gained unprecedented popularity in the professional discourses of the health and social sciences”—emphatically stated that even though Dewey acknowledged the social contexts in which transactions of inquiry occur, he was not a constructivist.


VIII, 299
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. VI, 299 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Rebecca Ann Lind (Volume editor)

Rebecca Ann Lind (PhD, University of Minnesota) is Associate Professor of Communication and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published on race, gender, class, and media; new media studies; media ethics; and media audiences.


Title: Produsing Theory in a Digital World 2.0