Encounters with Authority: Tactics and negotiations at the periphery of participatory platforms
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Information Studies
Carsten S. Østerlund
Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Crowdsourcing, Human Computer Interaction, Newcomers, Peer production, Science and Technology Studies
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Digital participatory platforms like Wikipedia are often celebrated as projects that allow anyone to contribute. Any user can sign up and start contributing immediately. Similarly, projects that engage volunteers in the production of scientific knowledge create easy points of entry to make contributions. These low barriers to entry are a hallmark feature in digital participatory labor, limiting the number of hoops a new volunteer has to jump through before they can feel like they are making a difference. Such low barriers to participation at the periphery, or edges of participatory platforms, have presented a problem for organizational scholars as they wonder how such projects can achieve consistent results when opportunities to train and socialize newcomers are constrained by a need for low barriers. As a result, scholarship has focused on answering the question of newcomer learning and socialization by examining how newcomers make sense of their new digital workspaces rather than focus on how institutional constraints are imposed. In this research, I draw on a growing body of scholarship that pushes against the perception of openness and low barriers on digital participatory platforms to unpack the constraints on participation that newcomers confront and, in particular, to show how such constraints resemble characteristics of institutionalized newcomer onboarding tactics.
To approach this question, I conducted 18 months of participant observation and conducted 36 interviews with experts, newcomers, and project leaders from the crowdsourced citizen science platform Planet Hunters and the peer produced encyclopedia, Wikipedia. I analyzed my data using a grounded theory research design that is sensitized using the theoretical technology of Estrid Sørensen’s Forms of Presence as a way to pay attention to the sociomaterial configurations of newcomer practice, attending to the actors (both human and nonhuman) that play a part in the constraints and affordances of newcomer participation. By drawing on Sørensen’s Forms of Presence, the analytical focus on the newcomer experience shifts from looking at either top-down institutional tactics of organizations or bottom-up individual tactics of newcomers to thinking about the characteristics of relationships newcomers have with other members and platform features and the effects of these relationships as they relate to different opportunities for learning and participation. Focusing on the different ways that learning and participation are made available affords the exploration of how the authority of existing practices in particular settings are imposed on learners despite the presence of low barriers to participation.
By paying attention to the sociomaterial configuration of newcomer participation, my findings unpack the tactics that newcomers encounter at the periphery, or edges of participatory platforms, as well as how they find their work being included or excluded from the platform. I use the findings to develop a taxonomy of encounters that describes how newcomers can participate in a self-guided experience as the existing literature describes, but also experience moments of guided and targeted encounters. What this taxonomy of encounters suggests is that the periphery of participatory platforms can be at once an open space for exploration and experimentation but also a well-managed space where, despite low barriers to initial participation, a newcomer must negotiate what I describe as the guardrails of participation that define the constraints and affordances that shape their experience.
Mugar, Gabriel, "Encounters with Authority: Tactics and negotiations at the periphery of participatory platforms" (2017). Dissertations - ALL. 700.