Social Networks and Participation: A Critical Literature Review

  • Lorenzo Coretti The American University of Rome
  • Daniele Pica John Cabot University


This paper explores the controversial concept of participation in the ecology of contemporary commercial social networking media. It begins by investigating a number of contemporary theories related to social networking media in order to bring forth the assumptions that underline current research. The concept of participation, regardless of the epistemological and the ontological assumptions of the research surveyed, is generally accepted as the necessary pre-condition for the sustainability of social networking media. Specifically, studies from economic, social, cultural, and political perspectives make use of the concept of participation to make sense of the current usage of social networks. However, there is no agreed upon definition of participation across such studies, and in some among the most notable cases, the definitions are either unsubstantiated, reductionist, and/or deterministic. This presents an impediment in furthering the understanding of the role of social networking media in contemporary societies and further fragments the understanding and analysis of the phenomenon. This paper argues that participation is a concept that cannot be understood without a multi-disciplinary approach that takes into consideration and embraces the inherent controversies of participation. By critically analysing a multitude of perspectives on participation, and drawing upon secondary empirical evidence regarding political cases, grassroots campaigns, and business-related issues, this critical survey attempts to develop a balanced definition of participation that can be used as a sensitizing device across different disciplines.

How to Cite
CORETTI, Lorenzo; PICA, Daniele. Social Networks and Participation: A Critical Literature Review. DigitCult - Scientific Journal on Digital Cultures, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 3, p. 21-36, dec. 2016. ISSN 2531-5994. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 16 jan. 2018. doi: