Archive | September 2015

The Sociality of Sharing, University of Warwick, 23 Sept 2015

This was originally posted on the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research blog.sociality of sharing conference

It’s been a while since I’ve had chance to attend a conference and the Sociality of Sharing symposium at the University of Warwick was as thought provoking as I thought it would be. Hosted jointly by Celia Lury and Adam Arvidsson the conference aimed to stimulate thinking and discussion around the ‘sharing economy’, and its implications for sociality.

Celia Lury started off by asking us to think about the idea of ‘borrowing, stealing, sharing’ and the distinctions between the three. Is there any difference between them in the ‘sharing economy’? Nate Tkacz, also part of the organising team, said that the sharing economy turns Marx’s traditional capitalism on its head. In my literature review I’ve talked about Marx’s labour theory of value and how it is being used by Christian Fuchs, among others, to conceptualise digital labour. That view was not shared by many here, especially by Adam Arvidsson who spoke about the value generated by Facebook and using the logic of derivative financial instruments. Adam argues that because derivative instruments are used to value intangible assets,  which are difficult to reduce, this approach is more suitable for calculating the value of Facebook rather than labour time calculations, which the likes of Fuchs and others draw upon when talking about digital labour. For my own research, these arguments are worth acknowledging but at this stage I’m not dwelling on them too much. What is important about Adam’s argument is that value in the case of Facebook especially derives from ‘immeasurable social relations’. Will it ever be possible to measure these types of social relations?

This event was called the ‘sociality’ of sharing yet the papers that were given highlighted the dearth of work about ‘the social’, particularly empirical work done with social media users. Carolina Bandinelli and Alessandro Gandini offered some useful insights into the sociality of knowledge workers in co-working spaces. A combination of ethnography and interviews with workers revealed some of the practices of sociality, such as people using co-working spaces to avoid isolation, network, and help to build reputation. More of this type of work needs to be done in relation to social media use, which is where my research will contribute.

Other papers given talked about crowdfunding and co-creative working in SMEs, before Trebor Scholz ended by talking about ‘platform co-operativism’ in the sharing economy. He talked about an intensification of digital labour and talked Amazon’s Mechanical Turk as an example of the precarity of online freelancing. Trebor argued that this type of working doesn’t protect people, despite the rhetoric of co-operative working “collectively changing the world”. He finished by saying that an “inability to imagine a different working life would be capital’s ultimate triumph”. Giving musicians, filmmakers, etc rewards for uploading their material to Vimeo is an example of what Trebor sees as a fairer co-operative ‘platform economy’ but how can this work?

There was much talk throughout the day about co-creativity, co-production, Uber, Airbnb and crowdfunding, but as Celia rightly pointed out at the end, there wasn’t much talk about sharing, not explicitly anyway. Is crowdfunding sharing? Especially when something is crowdfunded and it’s never delivered? Isn’t that stealing? Or is it borrowing?

This conference provided many more questions than answers. I haven’t thought about sharing as much in my own thesis yet there is so much emphasis on sharing in our everyday lives nowadays, especially on social media. And in a recent chat with a potential participant in my research, ‘sharing’ was mentioned many, many times. Are we moving into a ‘sharing economy’? And what implications does this have (if any) for cultural production?

Overall it was a useful day and I made some great contacts. It’s certainly got me thinking more about sharing, something that, in the social media age, is almost second nature.

PhD Research outline September-October 2015

At the beginning of year two of my PhD, my research questions and focus have been refined since the outline I provided a year ago, so here is an up to date description of my research.

PhD title: The social media use of creative and cultural workers

Primary research questions:

  • What is the role of social media in the everyday lives of creative and cultural workers?
  • How is expertise performed on social media?
  • What insights can both of these questions provide about the nature of contemporary creative and cultural work?

The conditions of creative and cultural work have long been a subject of critique and debate in creative industries scholarship, with concerns such as the precarious working patterns (Gill and Pratt, 2008), blurring between personal and professional life (McRobbie, 2002), and self-exploitation and labour (Hesmondhalgh and Baker, 2009) dominating these discussions. Similar concerns are being voiced around digital media use, including blurring between personal and professional life (Gregg, 2014) and digital labour and self-exploitation (Arvidsson, 2008). For creative workers using social media, are these extra concerns for them in addition to the pressures of creative and cultural work? How does social media use fit in with their everyday lives, and creative practice? How do they negotiate the potential tensions of social media use and their creative practice?

In the creative industries, being known as an expert is the goal in order to gain regular work; in the context of a growing ‘expert system’ in the UK creative industries (Prince, 2010) and with social media offering increased opportunities to promote yourself and your work, how does this manifest for creative industries workers? How is social media used by them to communicate and display their expertise?

My research will also contribute to knowledge and innovate in social media methodology. I am looking to use a multi-method approach, using interviews, social media analysis and a collaborative platform to capture social media and its role in everyday creative practice.

Methodology

I’ve completed a full first draft of the literature review, and now my attention is on methodology and the actual fieldwork for this thesis. I do talk about method in my literature review – I have a chapter dedicated to social media methods and in this post I’ll talk a little bit about that, and think out loud about which methods to use to answer my research questions.

To recap, my research questions are:

  • What is the role of social media in the everyday lives of creative and cultural workers?
  • How is expertise performed on social media?
  • What insights can both of these questions provide about the nature of contemporary creative and cultural work?

In my literature review I identified that practice theory and the philosophy of expertise are useful for conceptualising those first two questions respectively, and this is covered in my previous blog posts. My main argument from the literature review is that there is little work about the nature of contemporary creative work which explicitly considers social media use. In addition, social media offers opportunities for people to perform their expertise publicly, and in creative and cultural work where being known as an expert is more important than ever in a saturated and incredibly competitive job market, how do creative and cultural workers negotiate this on social media? What are the implications for their work/life balance and boundaries between personal and professional life?

A multi-method approach is required in order to answer these questions. For looking at the performance of expertise on social media, I have talked before about using the signalling expertise framework of Candace Jones for analysing social media posts and I think this can be helpful, as my pilot study has shown. Capturing the role of social media in the everyday lives of creative workers however is more complex. In taking a practices oriented approach I need to consider the various procedures and practices of these creative workers, not only in their social media practice but also their creative practice, and how it all interleaves together. Observation is the obvious route to take when looking at environments and institutions, but individuals? Won’t they be very aware of the researcher’s presence, and won’t they be a little self-conscious with the entire focus being on them?

This is where more creative methods are needed, in fact any research which looks at contemporary social worlds should be more experimental and reflexive, as argued by Law, Ruppert and Savage (2011) when talking about the social life of methods. They argue that our research methods are not only constituted by our social world, but also constitute it. This, as I mentioned in my previous post, could also be said of social media. People use social media to create things, perform expertise, express their views and opinions, etc. It takes work, time and effort. Yet people also use social media to catch up with friends, read news, watch videos, etc. They are experiencing aspects of the world through social media. So shouldn’t social media, somehow, also be used in the methods for exploring social media?

This doesn’t mean data mining or even analysing social media using frameworks such as signalling expertise. To truly consider the role of social media in the everyday, social media should be used, and I’m currently thinking through possible ways of doing this. How can this be done effectively, without being a waste of time for the researcher or extra work for the participants?

Comments and suggestions welcome, send me an email or a tweet.