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Collective Intelligence

wess15th May 2020 at 7:55am

This is the fourth of six aspects of participatory culture I discuss in my Dissertation.

Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence has taken a key place among participatory cultural studies because of his insight into the contemporary information landscape (Lévy 1997). Collective intelligence is concerned with establishing “social relations” and “constructing society” (Lévy 1997: 10), where the new knowledge-culture is progressing toward an “achievable utopia.” In contrast to earlier formulations of fandom as resistance to dominant culture, collective intelligence offers:

A way of thinking about fandom not in terms of resistance but as a prototype or dress rehearsal for the way culture might operate in the future...an achievable utopia—not something that grows inevitably from the new configuration of technologies but rather something we must work toward and fight to achieve. (Henry Jenkins 2006b: 134)

Thus for Jenkins, “fandom is one of those spaces where people are learning how to live and collaborate within a knowledge community” (2006b: 134). Knowledge, within this context, is not simply immaterial but participative, mutual, and relational.

Collective intelligence fosters apprenticing communities, or communities of shared practice (see Bolger 2007) where adherents gain the skills necessary for the thriving of that community, as demonstrated by YouTube. In these communities: work is shared, participation is mutual, and authority is decentralized—no one, or better yet everyone, is an expert. “The basis and goal of collective intelligence is the mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals rather than the culture of fetishized or hypostatized communities” (Lévy 1997: 13). According to Lévy, the future of society is in “the renewal of the social bond through our relation to knowledge and collective intelligence itself” (1997: 11). As participants relate to others in the knowledge community, they are apprenticed, and are mentored into the particular skills necessary for the thriving in that community:

Through our interactions with things, we develop skills. Through our relation to signs and information, we acquire knowledge. Through our relationship to others, mediated by processes of initiation and transmission, we bring knowledge to life. Skill, understanding, and knowledge (which can all refer to the same objects) are three complementary modes of cognitive transaction and continuously interpenetrate one another. Each activity, each act of communication, each human relation implies an apprenticeship. By means of the skills and understanding that it envelops, a life can continuously feed a circuit of exchange, nourish a sociability of knowledge. We can explicitly establish, openly and publicly, mutual apprenticeship as a way of mediating relationships among individuals. Our identities would then become knowledge identities. (Lévy 1997:11-12)

In these communities mutual interactions of learning bring about new knowledge. These interactions entail a sharing of skill, understanding and knowledge. In order to maintain this kind of mutuality of learning and apprenticing, the very practices of the community must nourish this “circuit of exchange, [and] nourish a sociability of knowledge” (1997: 11-12). This approach assumes there are some practices that do not, or no longer, nourish this kind of knowledge identity.

Collective intelligence names a collaboration and pooling of knowledge by all of the members of a community, broadening the horizon through which the entire community is able to operate:

Lévy distinguishes between shared knowledge (which would refer to information known by all members of a community) and collective intelligence (which describes knowledge available to all members of a community). Collective intelligence expands a community’s productive capacity because it frees individual members from limitations of their memory and enables the group to act upon a broader range of expertise. (Jenkins 2006b: 139)

Also Related to Collectives


Open Work
Steps for Allowing Culture Change in Faith Communities