New Perspectives on Audience Activity: ‘Prosumption’ and Media Activism as Audience Practices
For much of its history, the study of media audiences has focussed, primarily, on what people do with media, how they read, interpret and respond to media texts-and on the impact or effects that media may have on audiences as a result of such interactions. A secondary interest has been with the actual social relationships which result from being part of an audience. Here, audience agency is key and, as social actors, audiences “using media to suit themselves” (Webster 1998, 194), develop social relationships in, and through, media reception and communication. How such social relationships and forms of agency change and / or evolve through the usage of both traditional and ‘new’ media in everyday life is the subject of this chapter. When, as now, traditional and new media worlds collide, the potential of audience practices to rework not only media-audience relationships, but also wider social relationships becomes an important research theme. Arguably, all social relationships are now mediated in some form or other, leading some researchers to ask new questions, such as “what are people doing that is related to media?” (Couldry 2012). Our focus in this chapter is on the ‘productive’ work of audience agency. We discuss two speciﬁ c examples of how transformations in media culture have created opportunities for rethinking mediated relationships between social actors. We look at the evolution of audience “prosumption” or “produsage” (Bruns 2007), and at audience “activism” (de Jong, Shaw and Stammers 2005), as illustrating new dynamics of social interaction and self-representation, both with the potential to contribute to larger, integrative social networks that transcend the existing boundaries of the traditional conception of the audience. In each case, we look at the respective roles of the technologies, the social actors and the emergent social relationships involved. We begin, however, by examining the background, summarising how social relationships have historically been dealt with in audience studies.