This essay examines the aesthetic and political implications of the “participatory turn” in contemporary art, analyzing the emergence of two modes of “participation” within the institutional art world during the ‘90s. The first variant, associated with Nicholas Bourriaud, is concerned with the creation of forms of convivial, non-hierarchical interaction in artworld spaces. The second paradigm, championed by critic Claire Bishop, is associated with practices which evoke a therapeutic “dissensus” in artworld viewers through various forms of provocation. In each case these projects bear a temporally displaced relationship to political transformation, either prefigurative in the first case or synecdochal in the second case (the cognitive assault on the viewer mimicking the physical violence of revolution). Both approaches are rooted in a set of a priori assumptions within the modernist avant-garde, in which substantive political change is impossible due to the hegemonic control exercised by the capitalist system. As a result, the institutional artworld offers the only space in which a meaningful form of political criticality can be preserved.