Capturing the Imagination: Literary Expression, Participatory Culture and Digital Enclosure

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Today a substantial body of scholarship inquires into the ideological implications of user-generated content and participatory production. The active solicitation of user-generated content may be viewed negatively as a diffuse and sophisticated method for extracting economic value out of networked social relations and emergent configurations of creative self-realization in the form of free labour. Opposing views might characterize the proliferation of user-generated content as indicative of emancipatory possibilities for networked subjects to “broadcast themselves,” to disintermediate a corporatized process of making creative expressions public, and to assert ownership over their cultural work.

Without question, the increasing mediation and mediatization of everyday life implies that digital media is simultaneously a source and transmission vehicle for imagining lived experience, and an important outlet for creative self-realization. Stories and storytelling are as likely to emerge out of digitally and social mediated contexts as they are to be adapted or translated for them. At the same time, expressions of the creative imagination, insofar as they circulate through digital media platforms, become subject to end user license agreements with intellectual property implications. More of our thoughts and ideas are externalized and fixed or captured to communication platforms, and more of our day-to-day lives are visually and textually documented. These expressions of ourselves expand the resources available for data capture and analysis by digital technology conglomerates, and have the potential to increase the value of entertainment franchises controlled by the creative industries. Further complications arise in how such views of participatory cultural production invoke or draw upon conceptions of authorship in relation to forms of collective cultural production with indistinct economic implications.

Although user-generated content holds importance for electronic literature, critical perspectives on user-generated content have not been extensively applied to it. In the first portion of this paper, I survey different modes of digitally mediated additive participation, or participation that is incorporated into a cultural work as it is subsequently experienced by others. Drawing on examples from a variety of genres, I highlight distinct strategies for incorporating user participation into digital narratives. In the second half of the paper I evaluate these strategies in relation to literature on user-generated content in search of correspondences or correlations between participatory digital narrative strategies and models for understanding the production of user-generated content within contemporary digital economies.
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