What if there were no artists, writers, filmmakers or musicians to jolt us out of our everyday thoughts, to amuse us, make us cry or laugh, sing or dance, to make us look at our environment with new eyes? What if important but not commercially strong research couldn’t be carried out due to lack of funding, or your neighborhood park was in decay but the local authorities were struggling with budget cuts and couldn’t afford maintenance? In today’s society small-scale actors, researchers and creative practitioners are having a harder time finding resources for their work, with a constant down scaling of state funding (see for instance Mervis 2011; Rogers 2011; Smith 2011) and a more commercialized and competitive market focused on capital accumulation. But what if cooperating with others online could prevent these scenarios, and also empower you politically and give a sense of meaning as well as joy to your life?
In 2012, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter claimed to provide more funding to creative works in the USA than the National Endowment of the Arts (Franzen 2013). In February 2013, the site Spacehive was used to raise funds for starting a community food hub in Tottenham where locals learn to grow and prepare produce reflecting the community diversity, all distributed to locals by bicycle (Kelly 2013). These are two of many different examples of how crowdfunding is growing in popularity and use in society, in great thanks to the Internet and new digital platforms. Crowdfunding is a model of primary monetary support, used by grass root organisations as well as free market advocators, and sites such as Microryza, Sellaband or Neighbor.ly, are used to pay for research as well as entrepreneurial -, artistic – and civic projects. The model entails individuals coming together through online networks to gather their resources for a project they all wish to support. In April 2012 industry research showed that there are 461 crowdfunding platforms (CFP) in the world (Massolution 2012).
This text considers the democratic potential of crowdfunding for civic participation and empowerment, and also its potential for gaining personal joy and a sense of meaning for the citizen.
Crowdfunding as a practice has taken off especially in the United States and United Kingdom, the two nations with most amount of CFP in the world, 141 respectively 44 (Canada Media Fund 2012), and the phenomenon is now also starting to be highlighted in Sweden with two newly founded CFP (Myndigheten för kulturanalys 2013). This can be considered a sign of the political and economic trends, where we find a shift to a neo-liberalism and a focus on economy and entrepreneurship as a remedy to the scaling down of the state, working as a powerful force in today’s society. Boyle and Kelly (2012, p.1) for instance, discusses how the “profile of business and entrepreneurship has never been higher on British television screens”. They see how these profiles have moved from existing in a factual media sphere to being included in an entertainment media sphere, playing a role in shaping and circulating ideas about business and entrepreneurship more generally in wider public discourse. In a more competitive and interconnected media landscape we can see how the global media trade between the U.S., UK and Sweden could play a role (Boyle & Kelly 2012). Not only discourse but also organization in society has seen a shift, the citizen’s political participation has changed from being a member in a certain organization to more individual engagement in specific issues close to personal interests (Sörbom 2005; Dahlgren 2009). In what is often called an individualistic time, there is a tendency of the volunteer and giver gaining status in society and a shift in paradigm from peoples movements to philanthropy and volunteering (Wikjström 2012).
Crowdfunding challenges traditional ways of thinking regarding funding. Looking at socialist cultures such as Sweden, but also the majority of Western countries, the normative have been to structure society around tax paying citizens and let the state to the larger extent organize and decide what, where and whom should get funding. But crowdfunding is of course not a new practice in itself: one of the more famous historical examples of a resemblance is the Statue of Liberty, funded in part with the help of small fees from the French and American public (National Park Service 2013). However looking at the U.S., crowdfunding became illegal due to the stock exchange crash in 1929 when a need for accreditation to obtain investments was enforced (Gelfond & Foti 2012). With the neo-liberalistic paradigm and technological internalization in society, it became somewhat rediscovered, simplified due to the gift culture which formed the net’s infrastructure, technique and user culture (Castells 2001; Kollock 1999). Although this economization of society and culture (Köping, Lantz & Stenström 2009) entails many risks for democracy and artistry, the trend of crowdfunding can also mean a potential for democracy and artistry, as argued in this text.
Ancient human motivation and the modern tools
Shirky (2010) argues that the world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to use for shared projects. But the way media worked in the 20th century, considering television as a main factor, citizens became very good at being consumers. But on the contrary, with today’s media tools such as the Internet and mobile phones, one can do much more than just consume:
We were couch potatoes because that was the only opportunity given to us. We still like to consume, of course. But it turns out we also like to create, and we like to share.
Although Shirky might seem a bit harsh on television, his thoughts are in line with what many scholars are seeing in digital media where the boundaries between users and producers are blurred, hence the term “produsers” (Bruns 2008; Olsson & Svensson 2012). Using the digital platforms and its interaction features, what used to be fixed artefacts can now be seen as arguments, open for renegotiation, highlighted in the idea of crowdsourcing. Even if the creative act shared online could be considered mediocre, of which Shirky suggests LOLcats as a good example, the fact that the individual has chosen to create something, put something forward and out into the public space, they have taken the first step to learning by doing (Gauntlett 2011; Shirky 2010). This step from doing nothing to something is crucial; they now have the possibility of learning to do something skilfully with the help of the digital platforms, growing an understanding of the craft itself as well as how to share and communicate it in an efficient way.
The digital platforms also give an easy possibility of organizing and cooperating with others:
Cooperation is seen as the very essence of society (an argument that can be found in the writings of young Marx, Marcuse and Macpherson), it is an immanent feature of society and the human being as such, but this potential is estranged in modern society.
(Fuchs 2008, p.7)
There are great possibilities in the information technology structures when it comes to cooperation, however Fuchs sees an antagonism between cooperation and competition inherent in capitalism, an antagonism between natural forces and the mode of production with capital accumulation, thus also in the capitalist information society which is threatening the potential cooperation. To create an alternative, self-organizing with alternative practices and goals is needed, and it is made possible with the use of existing structures to transcends these very same structures, creating a new global space Fuchs calls a participatory democracy (Fuchs 2008). The Internet does entail the opportunity to connect a large amount of people for a joint cause and if each of these makes a small donation it can be defined as crowdfunding (the many small donations being the “crowd”). With Fuchs ideas we can see that there is a potential in crowdfunding to create this alternative space and participatory democracy.
So how do these funding platforms work? If we take the American site Kickstarter as an example, being one of the leading crowdfunding sites since its launch in 2009, it claims to have funded more than 35 000 projects. It focuses solely on creative projects such as more artistic practices like film and design but also technique and journalism, and it just launched a British version in December 2012. Project creators submit a project to the site with a defined goal and deadline of funds needed to be raised in order to go ahead with the project. The creator has the ownership and responsibility over the project however Kickstarter is free to archive and publish the material to the public. If the project’s monetary goal is reached by deadline the funds are collected. Kickstarter is a private for-profit company which charges 5% of the funds raised and collector Amazon Payments charges an additional 3-5% (Kickstarter 2013). To grasp its reach, one can reflect on the fact that in 2012 around one hundred independent films screened at Sundance -, SXSW – and Tribeca Film Festival, as well as an installation at the Whitney Biennial, had all been backed through the site (Strickler, Dvorkin & Holm 2013; Wortham 2012).
Crowdfunding has hardly been seen as an investment in traditional capitalistic sense considering most websites’ projects won’t, and in the U.S. and to some extent UK haven’t been legally allowed to, give equity and so the individuals making donations are more known as “backers” whom support with a small amount of money in return for personal involvement with a project, and perhaps a symbolic gift. However there are signs of other developments. When the U.S. president Obama signed what is known as the Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups Act (JOBS act) in 2012, it among other issues wishes to legalise crowdfunding as a source of start-up financing allowing investors to get equity in return for their backing of a project (Gelfond & Foti 2012). It might seem ironic that when the 1929’s stock crash led to crowdfunding’s U.S. ban, the latest market crash paved the way for its governmental recognition, a sign one might argue of neo-liberalism as the dominant perspective. In the UK we see a similar development where the government in 2011 initiated a Business Funding Taskforce that would investigate crowdfunding as a funding tool (Canada Media Foundation 2012). In Sweden public actors are testing co-financing with the help of CFP and the authorities of culture analysis in 2013 released a report on how crowdfunding could be used in the culture sector (Myndigheten för kulturanalys 2013).
The trend of crowdfunding platforms is a fact, but how could then CFP be used in a positive way from the citizen’s point of view? Creating a project with the help of crowdfunding can provide a personal value in being active instead of passive, but it also entails a social dimension that can heighten the motivation and create value for all of the participants. However there is also a potential value for those not participating at all but still gaining from the project. Shirky (2010) talks about civic value, meaning the value of a project created by participants but enjoyed by society as a whole. We can now begin to see the impact a crowdfunded project could have. Take as an example the platform Microryza, set up in 2012 and dedicated to scientific research. One of the projects on the site in March 2013 was “Viral causes of lung cancer” where backers could donate to research around infections causing lung cancer (Colombara 2013). If the project reaches its goal by deadline, the researcher Colombara at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, will get the funding he needs to continue with his work, alongside updating the backers whom will get the acknowledgment of contributing to a project that at this point wouldn’t have been possible without them. But the value of the project being realized doesn’t stop there. A norm and function of the site is for the research to be open and shared with other researchers (Microryza 2013), and should the work lead to a medical breakthrough, certainly more than the participants will be able to enjoy the fruit of the project. Reflecting on the notion of lung cancer being on the World Health Organization’s list of top ten causes of death (WHO 2011), the possibility for personal, communal but also civic value is evident in this example, and in the idea and function of crowdfunding.
The power and meaning of a social contract
A critique on crowdfunding nonetheless could be that it is just another way of commercialising society, focusing on economy instead of people. However, the core of crowdfunding working as a practice is not the funding but rather the human motivation. Raymond (2001) describes this as the plausible promise, meaning the digital platforms would be worth nothing if there weren’t a well communicated message, a substance phrased to attract interest but reachable in order to inspire confidence. The technology’s importance on the other hand, is in the fact that forming a network is easy considering time, effort and finances, and the citizens are now often used to joining networks and operating in and with the help of them. The monetary factor of crowdfunding does not entail it being purely the labour of economization or people financially being more and more squeezed in general. Zelizer (2005) argues that intimacy and economic activity complement each other, claiming we all use the latter to create, maintain and renegotiate important ties to others. Shirky (2010) reasons that social constraints between individuals, rather than monetary ones, have proven to be more generous. Both Zelizer and Shirky could help us understand the emerging popularity of crowdfunding: while the economic factor of the donations is essential for the projects to come to life, it is the social part that helps to make them fruitful. Knowing that one has supported something beyond their individual sphere is key to the attraction in participating. The appealingness comes from being a part of something bigger, a community, participating in something that matters. Like Zelizer (2005), we must reject the idea that a monetary factor in itself means it is naturally only a tool for an agenda of a powerful elite, in order to see crowdfunding’s democratic and artistic potential.
There is no getting around the idea of “identity”, constantly intertwined in the sociality of digital platforms. On CFP, the person behind the project is in most cases available, explaining the project, its necessity, and its goals. The sites are connected to other social media where users comment and function as ambassadors for the projects by lobbying for them or showing that they have made a contribution. Spacehive for instance is connected to Facebook, and under the project “After the riots –happiness in Tottenham” regarding two architects and students from Birmingham City University who wanted to create an exhibition, one can read comments like “Make it happen, great project!”, and on the right hand side of the page the top funders are shown with image, name and amount of contribution (Mind with heart 2013). Drawing on Gauntlett’s (2011) thoughts on creativity and sharing, we can understand that there is not only a sense of meaningfulness in being the maker behind, but also in backing up the maker and helping them by sharing with others. The backers want to be associated with the project and they urge others to do the same (Miceli, Ordanini, Parasuraman & Pizzetti 2011). The CFP can be a mean of forming your own civic identity but also feeling closer to other citizens, understanding and engaging with what they do, opening up a community and inviting people in. It can be a way of bridging social gaps, connecting people with similar interest, more important than, say, their similarity in gender, age or profession. This could create a skill of being more perceptive to others in society, and also sharing this with others could help to inspire them to engage as well. The sharing itself to a larger audience can not only be an incentive to others to participate, but also by showing them an alternative order of civic culture it can awaken an idea of an alternative or different environment, thus showing that an alternative life is possible as well. Namely, these are all important parts of civic agency and – culture, generating the normative and cultural resources needed for a functioning democracy (Dahlgren 2009).
Two heads are better than one
In times where civic participation is questioned and often discussed as being at risk (see for instance Dahlgren 2009), crowdfunding via online platforms could be a method for direct democracy. Neighbor.ly is an American website operating in Kansas City, where municipalities and civic organisations can submit projects and citizens can petition for new ones. The front page reads:
Invest in places and civic projects you care about.
Enhance cities and earn peaks. Create jobs and save taxes.
Everyone wins. You’re the solution you’ve been waiting for.
There are then three ways of democratic participation available for the citizen. First, there is the possibility of donating to a project one thinks is important for oneself and/or the community but which the municipality doesn’t have the budget for. Secondly there is the chance to address a neglected issue by motioning a petition in hopes that the municipality will pick up on it. Thirdly there is the function of sharing the projects with others in one’s personal social media networks, lobbying for the projects. There are several of Dahlgren’s (2009) civic culture dimensions to be found here, testing for a highlighted possibility of civic participation. The existence of the space in itself could be seen as the municipality being more open for the idea of civic agency, a proof of shared values where the political leaders want to realize important projects for the citizens, even though their budget won’t allow it, by being creative and reaching out to the public in order to do so. The transparency of being able to follow a project via the site, going through its planning and budget, and following up on its progress and making sure it is followed through, can amount a trust between the citizens and municipality. The transparency can also mean knowledge and skills of what the project demands can, to some extent, be passed on, and certainly dimensions of practices such as petitioning or lobbying for a project is on-going features of the platform. As follows, funded and followed through projects must be visibly declared, as well as petitions can’t too often be refused, or the citizens trust will vanish and the participation fade. Adding another dimension, we should consider the fact that in the year of 2011, the state of Kansas eliminated all public financing for the arts due to budget cut backs (Koranda 2012; Cohen 2012), which could mean a heightened awareness from the citizens of the local authorities deficit in public range.
An appeal to the Neighbor.ly-model of support is that within a community there are different agendas. One citizen commutes every workday and so finds a windy train station in dire need of a windshield utterly important, while another works from home and so the windshield doesn’t matter, however is more interested in organizing a picnic area in the local park. These things might not be important at all if you drive your own car, or own your own garden and have access to a country club, but for citizens without such possibilities the public services are of high importance for a reasonable standard of living. The civic crowdfunding platforms allow for different causes to be addressed at a lower threshold, without compulsory involvement on issues the citizen is unmotivated to engage in, thus entailing a form of democratic freedom. Citizens can have their say on a local level fulfilling their specific needs more effectively than through normal municipal bureaucracy, having a direct say on where the taxes goes, thus changing the relationship between citizen and government. The citizen can also be empowered in the explicit backing of a community when arguing for a project needed to be approved by the local authorities.
Taking the notion further, one could even see a seed of anarchistic theory on organization and participation; the rejection of government and representation, a gift economy replacing capitalist struggle, as well as an anti-authoritarism, with “a strong emphasis on maximalist participation and decentralization as principles of decision-making” (Carpentier 2011, p.31) which “resists the establishment of societal hierarchies and systems of domination and privilege” (Bookchin 1996 in Carpentier 2011, p.31). As Fuchs (2008) suggested, there is a possibility of creating an alternative using the existing structures to transcend these very same structures. Many of the actors of CFP would normally not appear in the mainstream media channels and wouldn’t have the possibility to influence or use them to organize a network. Within the digital platforms they can at best escape the normative social and political hierarchies. With an idea of self-sufficiency and solidarity they are able to address, initiate and realize their own projects while cooperating with likeminded.
There is already a development from the civic crowdfunding platforms happening. Looking at the Finnish and still in development site Brickstarter, created by the public innovation fund Sitra, its goal is to connect individual initiatives to local authorities, involving social media and having citizens join in already on a planning stage. The funding here is not only monetary but can also be skill-based (Hill 2012; McGuirk 2012), opening up for another capacity of participation. Naturally the prototype has a difficult path to walk in order to become well used and functioning, but it surely has a democratic potential.
But what about the pitfalls of handing over public service to those engaging in digital platforms? In February 2012, New York City Council announced a partnership with Kickstarter, where the city council would have its own page on the site to promote community projects in neighbourhoods struggling with high unemployment (Durkin 2012). This takes civic crowdfunding one step further by partnering with a for-profit organization. On the one hand one could argue that this is similar to public procurement and that governments are implied to use corporates in order to organize society. On the other hand one could see this as making democracy just another commercialized product formed by private companies which consumers can buy in order to narrative a fashionable activist identity. By turning to private corporates and consumers to solve civic issues instead of finding public solution, is government really performing as it should? Naturally we have to ask; what happens if one project is very popular and well supported, something perhaps more in the roam of amusing and extra than much needed, and another project isn’t popular or supported at all, but still utterly important? As an example, one could easily see a project creating a “gym” for dogs in the local park as being highly supported by dog owners and animal lovers, and being in general a fun thing to share on social media. On the other hand, a living arrangement for asylum seeking men from Afghanistan could easily be controversial in the local community and thus unsupported. In comparison to the market logic of supply and demand, the public realm must cater to all. With every new possibility come risks. But a key here is using crowdfunding as a co-financing tool. Civic crowdfunding wouldn’t be able to cover all aspects of a democratic society and must therefor stay complementary to other forms of civic support. It should not be about shifting responsibility from government to online donors and it will not solve political issues of where to spend taxes in best ways or take over the job of the civil service, however it can broaden these issues, invigorate them with perspectives, insights, passion and funding to get them started. It can engage a broader audience and form a culture of higher levels of civic participatory. Citizens could use CFP to pressure and bring attention to what they want governments to provide and to build a civic capital. Certainly, it is not a miracle pill for all societal disorders, however it could be one part of a healthier regime for the patient.
The potential of creativity
The culture sector has been an early adaptor of the crowdfunding idea. It can be due to its natural creative dimension, but certainly also to do with the political and economical trends in general. Köping, Lantz & Stenström (2009) argues that the culture sector has been economized on a societal, organizational and individual level. They refer to marketing logics and rhetorics being internalised within cultural policies where the culture sector should lead to financial growth, cultural organisations letting economical goals be prioritized before artistic ones, and entrepreneurship being looked upon as a part of artistry and inserted in its educations (Köping, Lantz & Stenström 2009). With continuing lowered state funding for the arts, demand for more self-reliance and an overall market thinking in the culture sector, creative practitioners have themselves taken on the definition of entrepreneur instead of creator or artist (Myndigheten för kulturanalys 2013; Boyle & Kelly 2012). No matter what one’s personal stance might be, the creator today is in fact often forced to look elsewhere for resources in order to realize his or her work, but moreover the state itself is also looking into other sources. In Sweden, public actors are now testing the CFP model for cultural practices, with eight public actors such as municipalities joined as co-funders in crowdfunding projects on crowdculture.se or fundedbyme.com. On the latter, the cultural practitioner as well as project owner first needs to attract private funding before the public actors will co-finance the project (Myndigheten för kulturanalys 2012).
One of the early adaptors of crowdfunding has been the documentary film (Canada Media Foundation 2012). Ever heard of The Pirate Bay (TPB)? In the early 2013, the filmmaker Simon Klose released a documentary on the founders of this torrent-sharing site, in simplified words much beloved by users and much hated by the media industry for helping Internet users access cultural content for free online (Andersson & Snickars 2010). Since most media corporates ripe large incomes from selling and distributing creative material, they do not want this material to be available for free, hence a scrubby legal case and trial but also a general smearing of the piracy, and vice versa. Wanting to document and discuss such a controversial issue with heavy resilience from a powerful industry, giving the prosecuted a voice, can prove a difficult task. But with the help of crowdfunding, Klose was able to attract over 50 000 American dollars to help cut the film (the double of the project goal and amount asked for), while the rest was then made available from institutions, possibly allured by the large amount of attraction Klose was able to get in only a month on the CFP (Klose 2010; SVT 2012; Thörnkvist 2010). Without the support for cutting the film, it is likely that it would not have been made, meaning a significant contribution would have been lost to a highly controversial debate and issues regarding Internet regulations, privacy, copyright, open source and commercialization to name a few. The media industry accesses and controls major outlets for debate, while Klose and TPB-founders are actors within them, and so giving them a voice in this matter is a way of giving them power and democratising the debate, but also democratising the available culture for the public.
Klose was a newcomer to the making of film, not having created a major film before (Thörnkvist 2010). If we look at Sweden, recent regulation changes have been applied to documentary filmmaking, and one film commissioner alone now decides who gets public funding (Eriksson 2013). Surely this can be a knowledgeable person in the area of film, but can one person really reflect the multifaceted public of different generations, ethnicity, gender and geography, or be open to opposing or new-thinking ideas and values? Another new regulation for feature film entails that only established producers or production companies are eligible production aid meaning they need to have produced two films before getting support (Svenska Filminstitutet 2013), resembling a classic case of catch-22. There is certainly in itself a point of being open to experimenting in order to challenge deep-seated forms of working and evaluating, but without a complimentary support model the art form of filmmaking should be facing a shortfall, and if there ever were a model where citizens had a chance to directly speak their opinion, crowdfunding could be it. It is an easily accessible resource and potential stepping stone for the artistic agent lacking in experience and professional network, and still a way to have access to and a natural position in a public space, usually controlled by authorities or corporations.
There is an inherent capacity of diversity in crowdfunding. Klose’s film was backed by 1737 individuals, with an average donation of twenty nine American dollars each (Thörnkvist 2010). Thus from one person’s perspective, with this donation they were able to make a difference, to create art, to create opinion, to participate in public debate. Naturally, this must be considered a low threshold compared to the alternative of influencing a film institute. It is a form of democratisation of the culture, visible in the indications that crowdfunding is including people whom previously haven’t considered giving to the arts (Cohen 2012). A monetary sum normatively regarded small and insignificant in this area can within a CFP become meaningful, hence enticing and giving the opportunity to a larger and broader group of people to participate and engage with artists and art.
One could also argue the process itself of using CFP as improving the creator’s communicative skill. Viewing the sharing part of creativity as a human need and of importance for a message to come across, this could be a positive feature. Being personally more in control of explaining the work and the thoughts behind instead of relying on others, such as journalistic writers or commercial promoters, can be an artistic freedom, removing usual gatekeepers from communicating with an audience. The creator then doesn’t need the help of the media industry where commercial – and owner interests set the agenda and design, and he or she can form their own message not worrying about designing it for advertisers. Depending on the CFP the creator uses, some platforms have reviewers before a project is submitted to the site and there is naturally an inherent technical form the creator must adapt when sharing a project. But considering one is relatively free to use one’s own words in text or presentation film, the freedom must be considered fairly high in comparison. There is also the factor of a user power in that the platform environment needs to be attractive for the users. If a CFP would put up too many limitations for the creators, it is likely they would leave it for another more suited or free for their work, meaning the platform looses its significance.
At the same time, skipping a step of the normative gatekeepers, the creator can develop his or her skills in being responsive to the environment, stepping out of their own world and facing a direct audience, which can give instant feedback. To be able to attract backers and interest the artist will gain from forming an understanding of what is important not only to the self but also to others. Additionally it can be a way of having to reflect about the purpose of the practice, why it is significant and being able to communicate this to others. The reflection is essential in order to reach a deeper level of understanding our individuality and culture, while learning to form arguments about what is in fact important to fight for. Having a culture where the citizens learn and want to understand one another better as well as being able to reflect and communicate is very much intertwined with the principles of democracy.
Another capacity lies in the borderless tool: the global spread of the Internet. The niched creative work can via the platform find its supporters however widespread they may be, an audience and fan base not available in the physical environment. For the narrow or non-commercial art this is a significant potential of the Internet in itself, being able to find subcultures despite of their geographic positions, and with the help of CFP the threshold of creative practice and sharing is further lowered. In the open platform one can get an insight into what creators are working on, a possibility of influencing emerging work as well as forming a sense of a closer artistic community. These are all factors that should stimulate art in general, opening up for an enriched culture and society for all citizens.
Bridging the gap
In the end, what would be the motivation of existence if we did not strive to feel purpose and joy? Is it then possible to use the trend of crowdfunding to come closer to a sense of meaning in our life? Let’s consider Sennett (2008) whom talks about the skill of making things well, craftsmanship, and the issue of technique as a cultural issue in the sense of conducting a particular way of life. In line with Gauntlett (2011), he sees creativity as an enduring basic human impulse, but focuses on the idea of doing it well for its own sake and not, say, commercialization. Not only can we see a democratic potential in this being an alternative way to the dominant culture as discussed above, but there is also inherent a problem finding and – solving in the craftsmanship. Being a craftsman entails learning the skill of being curious about how to find what could be improved and how to improve it, learning to be attentive to the materials and environment. Sennett argues that the difficulties and possibilities for making things well apply to making human relationships, teaching us to be more flexible to different norms and values. Craftsmanship is a way of learning to be patient, allowing things to take the time they need in order to be properly made. In a day of age when time is considered to be money and the Western culture evolves around speeding up: speed dial, speed read, speed walking and speed dating, even trying to speed up things that are in their nature slow (ever heard of speed yoga or the one minute bedtime story?) (Honore 2005), the idea of taking the time to create something well can give another sense of pride and accomplishment to the maker. Creating something yourself from beginning to end can give a sense of joy and meaning which can perhaps not be bought in a capitalistic culture (Sennett 2008). Take as an example the slow food movement, which is about attaining more pleasure and health from our food when we produce, prepare and enjoy it at a reasonable pace. Not only can the awareness of the food entail a personal mental joy and physical health but it can also improve the conditions for others considering environmental issues. In creating, searching, influencing and organizing these types of projects, crowdfunding platforms should be an easy and accessible tool (remember the initial crowdfunded example in this essay?).
Looking again at the platform Kickstarter, three out of four projects funded via the platform were finished passed their deadline. The first reaction might be to see this as a failure, but if we consider it a second time within the reflection on how society considers time, does this fact really need to be a bad thing? Enjoying a finished artistic project can perhaps prove to be more meaningful than the dimension of time, showing that there is an alternative way of looking at time other than it being money ticking away. Putting the fulfilment of the artistic practice ahead of both time and money can be on the one hand a joyful experience and on the other an insightful perspective for the citizen and individual of today.
In Dahlgren’s (2009) civic circuit, he talks about the citizen’s need for knowledge and skill. But while Habermas (Dahlgren 2009) focused on education and Dahlgren around communicative capacity, what if we follow in Sennett’s trace and stretch Dahlgren’s and Habermas’s notion further, and consider a need for a more practical knowledge and skill? While Gauntlett (2011) wants to highlight the amateurish creativity, let us consider the professional one. In today’s Western society much industry have been outsourced to the Far East and South America. Being far away from the production of the items we need to live our everyday life might help corporations and governments capitalize and accumulate power, but could be seen as to moving the citizen further away from the items he or she needs to live, making it harder to understand the processes we all need to function in living our lives. Grasping these processes is becoming more crucial when corporates and economic thinking more and more are setting the agenda. There is much to gain for the citizen in reevaluating the practical skill. Knowing for instance how to bake yourself instead of buying it from a big supplier should involve some form of thought on where the raw material comes from and how it is treated. This can be a first reflection on alternative ways to the price-focus but quality missing and exploitation in the food industry, possible when citizens are moved further away from the raw material and the creation process. With crowdfunding however, the threshold to knowing what it entails to create something and have it realized is remarkably lowered. This can empower the citizen, releasing a confidence in knowing what the process means, not relying on experts or an elite. This can open a culture of being more hands on and engaging with the process of making from beginning to end. With the knowledge comes the ability to see when processes are unethical, harmful to the environment or in some way going against one’s values. In turn seeing can lead to reacting, from discussing the conditions and fusing a debate within one’s personal networks, organizing protests, to hands on starting a counter-movement. Take the meat industry as an example; in times where it is highly discussed (see for instance Safran Foer 2012; Hermele 2013; Sallerfors 2013), an alternative perspective to the one the industry is arguing could lead to private and public debate, change of diet, citizens privately or cooperatively seeking produce from local ecological farmers or even participating in the production themselves. Not only can the alternative perspective on the process come from projects on crowdfunding platforms, but also the possibility to realize the project in terms of monetary support and community motivation. The organizational and inspirational potential is a core in crowdfunding.
In society today it is hard to find a medium with more participatory potential than the Internet. Still, as we have seen in this essay, it is never the tool in itself but how it is in reality used that makes all the difference. What crowdfunding’s rapid growth could be signalling, is that citizens, if being able to within reasonable terms, want to participate more socially, want to take more control of society’s processes, want to be more creatively and practically skilled and “hands on”. Naturally this means gaining power, which could easily stir up a variety of discussions and even frighten an elite. Crowdfunding platforms have the potential to enabling those reasonable terms.
With any opportunity comes risk, so also with crowdfunding, and it is of essence to tread lightly when it comes to civic crowdfunding. In order not to disempower any citizen, governments should not apply too much hope to a practice that can merely be a compliment, at least with today’s political structures. We have yet to see the sustainability in CFP. The projects normatively evolves around limited projects instead of on-going work and how this will be developed by the produsers we can not be sure of at this early stage of the phenomenon. There is also a question mark in terms of which citizens will be using CFP; will the use become widespread or stay within specific Western cultures, generations or areas of practice?
What I am suggesting here is that the CFP should not be judged on their monetary factor, nor should they be judged on their risks. Civic participation depends of people being able to easily initiate, engage and realize projects that are important to them and their community, feeling like they are a part of a larger context, seeing that they too can create and share with others, influencing and having an impact on the cultural practices and processes of society. Personal joy and a sense of meaning depends on freedom of expression and forming social bonds, showing and giving tongue to one’s individual feelings, thoughts and ideas as well as hearing and being represent to others’. Crowdfunding has the ability to be a mean and tool for the citizen in her way of achieving these outcomes, giving the individual a voice as well as creating a communal and civic value. Rather than focusing on the risks of crowdfunding, the citizens can use this source to gain power, a sense of meaning as well as personal joy.