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Critiquing Henry Jenkins's Convergence Culture

The first full day of ICA 2010 starts with a session on convergence and culture, and a rather lengthy introduction, citing especially Henry Jenkins's work on convergence culture - however, historical perspectives on convergence, the geospatial distribution of convergence, the human and technological networks of convergence, the role of convergence beyond the media industries, the role of convergence in the creative industries, and the political implications of convergence all need to be considered further.

Nick Couldry is the first speaker in this session, then, and he begins by registering his unease with Jenkins's work on convergence. In the first place, of course, there is an expansion of media in the number of outlets and breadth of circulation between them, and in principle anyone can contribute to this; this might also have major implications for society and politics, but how remains much more uncertain. There is room for rethinking the politics of politics, and rediscovering ordinary politics here - the social practices that emerge from media convergence may provide clues to this process (and Jenkins takes a positive view on this).

However, key factors of differentiation and stratification in convergence must not be ignored. Convergence culture depends on the the processes at play; clearly, there is no simple substitution of old by new media - and while Jenkins suggests that we have a new media system and a convergence culture, and a shift towards old and new media interacting in new ways is underway, his interpretation of audience practices is more debatable, Nick says.

Jenkins stresses the social nature of contemporary knowledge construction, but how social are these practices? He also says that to fully experience convergence media, audiences must immerse themselves in these media - but to what extent are such immersed practices representative for the wider whole? Is it appropriate to generalise from such fan practices by early adopters and highly involved participants - hardcore fans, who are far from representative - to wider media use?

Do they - unusually strongly emotionally invested, with higher levels of disposable time - provide a useful window onto wider convergence culture? One part of the argument is also that media industries themselves are predisposed to weighting their products to such highly invested users (or high-value consumers) - but for Jenkins, highly intensive media use and fandom does not necessarily translate to high transaction value (they may consume more intensively, but not necessarily spend more).

Do new modes of production with a higher level of participatory power emerge from this process of convergence, then? Is it singular enough to produce a singular culture? If not, why do we talk about convergence culture? If not, what does the convergence culture tell us - what does it amount to beyond a story that the media industries want to tell themselves?

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