Television culture and the myth of participation

PhD project by Balázs Boross

Remaking media rituals

This project is based on the PhD proposal Living in a Mediatized Society: an Ethnography of Media Rituals and Everyday Life, funded by the Dutch Science Foundation (NWO). While the anthropological notion of ‘ritual’ in media studies has been employed in various ways in the past decades – for instance in the analysis of media events, different forms of media consumption, celebrity meetings, media pilgrimages – this project applies the concept within a previously neglected context, namely the field of ethnographic production studies: the research addresses media participation as ritual practice, focusing specifically on instances when ordinary people become part of or active shapers of broadcast media productions.

The past decades have witnessed an increasing visibility of ‘ordinary’ people in the media, partly through the proliferation of – often controversial – formats based on ‘true’ experiences and emotions of non-professional participants. This development, with all its incarnations, has resulted in important theoretical  debates, yet empirical research into the actual experiences of taking part in production processes is relatively scarce: critical evaluations of reality programmes, for instance, are still  predominantly based on the analysis of media representations.

In contrast with this text based tradition, this project follows a decentred, practice-oriented approach (Morley, 2009; Couldry, 2012), asking what people do with media participation and under what conditions, what the regularities are and how agency is constructed and negotiated. Building on the concept of ‘media ritual’ (Couldry, 2013), the research seeks to explore how the perception of media institutions as centres of value production are naturalized and reaffirmed when ordinary people become part of media productions, and how media participation is used as a ritual strategy by the participants for ordering their everyday life. Empirically, the research presents in-depth production ethnographies, based on interviews with producers and participants of controversial television formats, which, while addressing and confronting the audience with existential and socially pressing issues, also suggest a gradual integration of ‘social media logic’ and its premise to provide voice to ordinary people into the existing mass media logic of (public) broadcasting.

The academic contribution of the project is manifold. To begin with, research into the ‘behind the scenes’ processes of media productions is scarce. By ethnographically tracking the experiences of particular groups of participants of television programmes, the research aims to move beyond the dominant discourse of empowerment versus exploitation, and deliver contextualized accounts of how participation as value and as strategy is tied into notions and experiences of selfhood, agency and the sense of being connected to the social world. Furthermore, and more broadly, the project addresses how the symbolic power of central media is being reaffirmed, challenged or refigured under the current era of ‘participatory’ media culture, where the traditional boundaries between media consumption and production, between what is ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the media seem to become increasingly blurred. 

Research team

Balázs Boross MA/MSc

PhD Candidate

Prof. dr. Stijn Reijnders


Prof. dr. Susanne Janssen



  • Boross, B. & Reijnders, S. (2018). Dating the Media: Participation, Voice, and Ritual Logic in the Disability Dating Show The Undateables, Television and New Media, doi: 10.1177%2F1527476418782184
  • Boross, B. & Reijnders, S. (2016). 'These cameras are here for a reason' - media coming out, symbolic power and the value of 'participation': behind the scenes of the Dutch reality programme Uit de Kast. Media, Culture Society, doi: 10.1177/0163443716643152
  • Boross, B. & Reijnders, S. (2015). Coming out with the media: the ritualization of self-disclosure in the Dutch television program Uit de Kast. European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 18(3), 245-264.
  • Reijnders, S – Spijkers, M – Roeland, J – Boross, B (2014). Close Encounters: Ritualizing Proximity in the Age of Celebrity. An Ethnographic Analysis of Meet-and-Greets with Dutch Singer Marco Borsato. European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 17(2), 149-169

This project was funded by NWO


For more information about the funding of this project, please see the NWO website.

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