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Jenkins on ‘crud’ in participatory culture

There is an excellent recent post by Henry Jenkins titled ‘In Defense of Crud‘ in which he examines some of the recent debates around fan fiction, YouTube etc. Jenkins’ response to some of the criticisms of ‘participatory culture’ is wonderfully distilled into seven precepts which can be broadly applied.

1. We should not reduce the value of participatory culture to its products rather than its process.

2. All forms of art require a place where beginning artists can be bad, learn from their mistakes, and get better.

3. A world where there is a lot of bad art in circulation lowers the risks of experimentation and innovation.

4. Bad art inspires responses which push the culture to improve upon it over time.

5. Good and Bad, as artistic standards, are context specific.

6. Standards of good and bad are hard to define when the forms of expression being discussed are new and still evolving.

7. This is not a zero-sum game. It is not clear that the growth of participatory culture does, in fact, damage to professional media making.

What is the opportunity cost for museums of not engaging with participatory culture? I’d wager that the issues we face when we do engage are significantly less problematic than if we do not engage. Our audience are already engaging in a participatory culture – its very hard not to do so in a mainstream life – even our television shows are forcing us to vote or their outcomes.

4 replies on “Jenkins on ‘crud’ in participatory culture”

I wrote a post on this topic when someone shared with me Ze Frank’s treatise on ugly myspace pages. What is the role of museums in promoting process–when for years, we’ve promoted products? Our visitors come with expectations of a contextualized “good” experience, and may have little patience or tolerance for bad art in the service of learning and growth. We have to be really comfortable with the fact of number 7–that support of participatory programs comes at the sacrifice of traditional content design–to really engage with these questions.


I think it really depends on the ‘type’ of museum. Brian at SMM, and to a lesser extent, here at the Powerhouse, ‘learning’ and ‘education’ are explicitly stated aims/missions of our organisations.

(We even have a digital media learning centre – where students and visitors learn process and ‘make’ media)

I would expect that those organisations that have come to take learning and education as central tenets of their mission, and not just on paper but in practice as well, would be more amenable than those which do not.

Taking a stab at a broad brush continuum of ‘openness’ –

science centre (most amenable) – science museum – natural history museum – social history museum – art museum/art gallery (least amenable)


Interesting. I agree with your thoughts on explicit learning centres, although I would challenge your openness designations. There are plenty of social museums (I think mostly of the US Holocaust museum’s bboards, forums, SL stuff) doing participatory projects. And, ironically, more art museums are presenting hot-button content (4. Bad art inspires responses which push the culture to improve upon it over time.) than science museums, which tend to focus on the objective rather than the objectionable.

To me, this ‘crud’ list is less about participation than the kinds of content we’re open to. Schools are very participatory–within a narrow definition of “good” content. The kind of crud Jenkins defends requires letting go of standards of quality. And as long as most museums are about displaying rather than developing content, letting go is a real challenge.

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