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Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage

Author: Axel Bruns
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang, 2008
Review Published: November 2009

 REVIEW 1: Verena Laschinger
 REVIEW 2: Alan Razee
 REVIEW 3: Erin Stark
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Axel Bruns

There is more to this book than meets the eye. After a tranquil opening, which follows the generics of academic writing in its concern with terminology and historical framing, Axel Bruns' Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage strikes a sudden loud chord: "Be aware!" The book is built around the theme of how the internet community remodels traditional modes of production so fundamentally that the very term "production" becomes obsolete. Bruns describes how countless internet enthusiasts ceaselessly engage in content creation, willfully sharing their knowledge via blogs, wikis, videos, and podcasts. The social software found on Facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, or OurMedia is all they need as a toolkit. In joint efforts, they fuel the wheels of postindustrial knowledge production -- incessantly, anonymously and mostly without remuneration.

Web 2.0's technosocial framework has turned users into creators and the outstanding genius author, sole producer of ideas, owner of original inspiration, and thus copyrights has given way to a crowd of nicknamed peers, who freely cooperate, communicate, and collaborate online. For Bruns, these peers are members of "an entire new Generation C" (4). By way of participating in the development of open source software, or via their communal world-building of Second Life, Generation C turns taylorized, industrial modes of production into the faster, cheaper, and socially advanced forms of what Bruns terms "produsage":
Such modes of content creation -- involving large communities of users, who act without an all-controlling, coordinating hierarchy -- operate along lines which are fluid, flexible, heterarchical, and organized ad hoc as required by the ongoing process of development; they are more closely aligned with the emergent organizational principles in social communities than with the predetermined, supposedly optimized rigid structures of governance in the corporate sphere. (1)
Thus, according to Bruns, Generation C transforms industrial production modes into user-led, collaborative, connective, communicative processes of produsage. A Senior Lecturer in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, Bruns explores his thesis and the dynamics that accompany it, in a variety of ways. In the first half of the study, he shows how social software and Web 2.0 promote the produsage of information and knowledge in the collaborative development of open source software and in news blogs by way of citizen journalism. Bruns uses Wikipedia as a prime example of how knowledge is represented and managed in new heterarchical ways, which leads to the emergence of folksonomies. Such self-governing online communities structure the emerging knowledge space according to communally developed principles:
Much like other forms of produsage, they overcome the disruption caused by the domination of human interaction by industrial processes during the past century. Open software development reacts against the corporately driven model of software innovation; citizen journalism corrects the biases built into the top-down, commercialized industrial news and media system; Wikipedia breaks the stranglehold of "dead white men" on defining what is and is not deserving inclusion and preservation in the knowledge spaces of humanity -- folksonomies undermine models of top-down classification which emerged in their current form alongside the modern sciences and put in place a canonization of "worthy" knowledge and intellectual pursuits which no longer represents the lived experience of humanity. (195)
While setting out the innovative, corrective, supplementary, and grassrooted character of these activities, Bruns reveals the kettledrum stroke of his agenda in Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: behind the technicalities of Web 2.0 lies an intellectual, social, cultural, and political revolution.

In Bruns' view, the paradigm has shifted. Members of Generation C valorize and employ the key principles of produsage: "open participation, communal evaluation"; "fluid heterarchy, ad hoc meritocracy"; "unfinished artefacts, continuing process"; and "common property, individual rewards." A new consciousness will arise from these principles, too, and it will revolutionize the world. Produsage leads to new forms of corporate communications, new forms of governance and knowledge management. Social media has made its way into the world of enterprise, social software has been implemented and is currently changing the operational modes, making it hard for old-guard executives to get their heads around these anti-hierarchical, transparent, democratized forms of interaction and production. Bruns' book makes it obvious that we have come to the end of a labour experiment begun in the middle of the nineteenth-century: an experiment in which workers were (ab)used and often dehumanized as parts of the huge wealth producing industrial machinery. The industrial age is long over. Now, the modes of industrial production are also outmoded. Production turns into produsage, bringing along a creative, collaborative, and communicative consciousness.

In fact, Generation C, the technosocial modes of produsage, and the knowledge culture it creates not only revolutionizes the world of business and corporate culture, it also penetrates the educational sector and promises to drastically change the modes of knowledge production, research, scholarship, pedagogy, and classroom performance. Ultimately, produsage will put an end to academia as we know it. Formerly, professional intellectuals could speak from a superior position of truth and uncontestable wisdom, but now expertise is short-lived: knowledge is constantly created in a dialogical mode, in an exchange among peers. Dialogue and heterarchy replace traditional models of command and control, and "this means especially a rethinking of the roles of teachers and learners, much as the roles of experts and amateurs are being rethought" (340). Produsage creates a whole new knowledge culture which will consequently lead to fundamental changes in the educational, economic, artistic, and informational sectors.

"Produsage" may be a rather clumsy neologism, but linguistics aside, the term certainly exposes the latest ramifications of the postindustrial value chain. Bruns' book is an inspirational, soundly researched, and clearly written attempt to fully grasp the prevailing modes and principles of the process to develop a "global knowledge space of humanity" (405). We are on our way to become "a hyperpeople, a collective intelligence," as Bruns puts it. And while we are enthusiastically using and contributing bits of our creative output to Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Second Life and other such websites, we may be making "the most important contribution to global development and international welfare -- to the human commons of culture, information, and knowledge -- which [we] are ever likely to make" (405).

Verena Laschinger:
Verena Laschinger is Assistant Professor of American Literature and Culture at Fatih University Istanbul. On www.changeX.de, she writes on the intellectual, social, and cultural principles of the creative economy and its knowledge culture. Committed to the crossdisciplinary spirit of the creative community, she introduces academic research to a wider audience of entrepreneurs in public lectures and seminars on knowledge creation, information management, and education.  <vlaschinger@mac.com>

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