Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

From Counter-Power to Counter-Pepe: The Vagaries of Participatory Epistemology in a Digital Age

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Abstract:  This article reconstructs the evolution of societal and journalistic meta-discourse about the participation of ordinary citizens in the news production process. We do so through a genealogy of what we call “participatory epistemology”, defined here as a form of journalistic knowledge in which professional expertise is modified through public interaction. It is our argument that the notion of “citizen participation in news process” has not simply functioned as a normative concept but has rather carried with it a particular understanding of what journalists could reasonably know, and how their knowledge could be enhanced by engaging with the public in order to produce journalistic work. By examining four key moments in the evolution of participatory epistemology, as well as the discursive webs that have surrounded these moments, we aim to demonstrate some of the factors which led a cherished and utopian concept to become a dark and dystopian one. In this, we supplement the work of Quandt (2018) and add some historical flesh to the conceptual arguments of his article on “dark participation”.

Keywords:  Andy Carvin; Buzzfeed; citizen journalism; Indymedia; meta-discourse; memes; participatory epistemology; Pepe the Frog; populism; trolls



© C. W. Anderson, Matthias Revers. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.