I find it very interesting that Bruns attempts to conceptualise some of the practices of participation made more accessible by networked technologies, in particular the fact that participants can self-nominate, and choose at what level to participate. This seems to me the core challenge this field launches to methods of legitimizing culture and production through established forms of authority.
Nevertheless, there are two aspects of his work that I would like to criticise:
1. A narrow way of making theory?
I find it quite frustrating that Bruns limits the range of his conceptualization to such a narrow field. In the introduction to Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation, Bruns mentions economic and legal frameworks, and democratic society itself, but also expresses his intention to theorize and establish an analytical framework. Although I appreciate that a researcher is entitled to establish the boundaries of her or his own field of enquiry, this feels like a missed opportunity to link this academic conceptualization with a wider set of concerns.
I have recently come across a project for a book that, I think, complements Bruns work with a deeper analysis of the economical and political ramifications of what he describes as produsage. It is by Adam Arvidsson and Nicolai Peitersen and it is called Ethical Economy. The book itself is being edited through a wiki, which means we can all self-elect to contribute. Moreover, Bruns makes hardly any mention of the self-organised structures and political principles that have emerged in collaborative networked practices, particularly the free and open source software movement – e.g. rough consensus.
Bruns attempts to build a generalised discourse applicable to all forms of collaborations and participations. In my limited experience, particularly as a member of Critical Practice, the possible permutations of merged production and usage – to use Bruns’ terms – are varied and complex. Bruns uses expressions like Necessary Preconditions to define dynamics that, in my experience, are not as ubiquitous as it sounds in these texts. Many of Bruns’ descriptions apply only temporarily to only a handful of collaborative ‘communities’. Power struggles are as common as probabilistic or meritocratic dynamics, and hierarchical systems are woven with collaborative structures.
A large number of people – including the members of Critical Practice – have been contributing for several years to defining the best practices for Open Organizations. I feel that this is an important aspect of produsage that also needs to be mentioned.
One last note: collaborative practices also have gate-keepers, and some artists have delighted in highlighting these invisible processes. Here is an example: http://www.in-vacua.com/un_wiki.html