I wanted to talk a bit about confession.
Pretty regularly, I talk to students who tell me they want to talk about confessional writing online. The cultural studies folks tend to want to focus on how confession 'breaks down' or 'ruptures' ordinary life in ways that are both transgressive and transformative . At the meta level, their interest is connected in part to the minoritarian argument that the personal is political. It's an argument dear to my heart, which is why I want to be a tough as I can, here.
I'd like to start by suggesting we re-think idea that the breakdown of confession is exceptional. I believe just the opposite; that confession is a speech act that cannot help but to fail in some way. Think about it: the moment of confessing, we raise the possibility that our memory is inaccurate or inadequate to convey the real truth of a past event, that one's confession is off-topic in places, or overly emotional in content (aka 'over-sharing.'), There is also the possibility (probability?) that our confession implicates others beyond ourselves. What is our obligation to those individuals? How could we possibly construct a perfect confession that doesn't run into these traps?
It is common to hear people speak of confession as a form of discipline (and here they often cite Foucault's notion of 'technologies of the self.) But what if Deleuze is right, and discipline works not via stick, but through the carrot? As a practice, volitional confession delivers a range of bodily responses: when we confess there is a pleasure produced as we necessarily traverse (transgress?) conventional boundaries of what can be said and should be said. This transgression delivers to the body a jolt--of anxiety, pleasure, desire--that the mind links up to individual agency, and perhaps even the ability to make a difference in an otherwise indifferent world. But is this the case?
If we think about confession in this way, if we take responsibility for the practice's play in our own bodies as well as our minds, what changes for us ? If we claim (as I still believe) that the personal is political, does that claim shift in some way? If things are transgressed, subverted or challenged, who is doing those actions?
The confessor? The audience? The historian, who examines confession after its performance? The teacher, who re-reads the historian for pedagogical purposes?
One of my desires as a writer is to try to describe my bodily experiences writing about confession, negotiating from each of these positions. It's hard work, and I don't do it well, but I do try.
I do not think it is an accident that a society willing to grant corporations the legal status of individuals is also a society that seeks 'community' with anthropomorphized brands. What the viral success of the Old Spice guy shows us is how deep the desire has been (who knew anything could make Old Spice cool?) and how late advertisers are to the telepresence game (technologically, this could have been pulled off about three years ago, I would have thought.)
Do I think particularly American fantasies about gender, race, sexuality and so forth figure into all this? Oh yeah. The Magical Black Brand Man draws wonder and glee for his responses to Twitter users, while the 11 year old 'white trash' girl draws violent responses for her sexualized use of YouTube. Do I think there is something significant in that difference? Yeah.
Do I have any conclusions yet? Nope. But I am in the middle of writing about this stuff right now, and I do promise to let you know when I've got a draft out.
Here is something I wrote that I thought I would put out for other people's thoughts.
A student recently asked, "Did any of the camgirls you interviewed for your book deal with cyberstalking or other forms of harassment?"
It's a question I get pretty frequently, and I think the reason I get it is because people are naturally concerned with what seems to be a slippery slope between having an online presence and putting oneself at risk for harm.
Here was my response:
I think we want to separate out viewer abuse (the sort that comes from putting oneself out in public view) from 'cyberstalking' (in which someone is surveilled without permission as they go about their daily business online.) Many years ago, I edited an issue of a journal that had an article by Pamela Gilbert in which she described an ex who subscribed to academic mailing lists just so he could post nude pictures of her online and embarrass her in front of her colleagues. That to me is cyberstalking/e-harassment. Getting told to get a life after nuding up on camera for invited viewers could be construed as mean-spirited and abusive, but it is contextually based in a way that crashing an academic list to show privately taken digital photos is not.
With this said, although almost all the camgirls I spoke to (including myself) had to deal with abusive comments and undesired email from folks from time to time, I never heard of any specific incidents of harassment involving undesired viewer surveillance of activities (e.g. someone unearthing a private phone number or publishing a home address online.) That doesn't mean it didn't happen; just that I didn't hear about it. But as the story above illustrates, that sort of thing can happen to anybody at anytime. By now I think we are all in agreement that if someone wants to spend the money/effort, they can track down almost anyone at any informational level.
I don't mean to make light of the stalking concern. I've been on the other end of it, and I take it very seriously. But the more time I spend thinking about these issues, the more I am convinced that the best defense against this sort of behavior isn't hiding and subterfuge, but rather a strong public online presence, with vocal witnesses all around, all the time.
I know what I'm suggesting may sound counter-intuitive, and you really deserve a longer rationale from me. Maybe after another iced coffee I'll produce it. :)
As ever, your thoughts are welcome.
A student asked me how I wound up doing what I do intellectually, and why I do it where I do it. It occurred to me that some of you might welcome hearing me tell this story. I dedicate this to folks who feel their story is too weird or unorthodox or whatever, and that they'll never find a place for themselves and their politics. My advice for those folks is to keep writing, keep thinking, keep pushing, keep caring. I'm at an in-between place in my own life right now, but somehow, a way has always opened up for me. I wish the same for you...
THow I Got Here (One Version)
Many years ago I trained as an actress and a stage director. I went to graduate school in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University
intending to mix my expertise in live performance with my growing interest in feminism. Two things happened while at NYU. First, I met faculty members Peggy Phelan, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Kimblett, Mick Taussig, Richard Schechner and Jose Munoz. They taught me how to think through ‘liveness’ and ‘realness’ in relation to theories of gender, sexuality, race, and nation.
The second thing that happened was I fell in love. At first, I thought falling in love wouldn’t make much difference to my studies. When pressed, my partner articulated his identity through terminology like ‘mid-op F2M transgender,’ but really, he preferred not to speak about it at all.
Although my department was quite progressive when it came to queer politics, it offered me little help in thinking through what it meant for me to be in a relationship with someone passing as a heterosexual male in everyday life. He at least fit into useable terminology, I used to grouse to myself. But what about me? Was I straight? Was I queer? Did it matter?
That year, the film "Boys Don’t Cry" hit theatres, morphing what was my personal political quest into the stuff of dinner conversations. I remember the moment someone suggested such a film could be watched apolitically, ‘just for the story.’ Perhaps that's when I unconsciously decided to devote my time to the politics of fun, particularly fun consumed through a screen.
For my Master’s thesis, I tried to think through these issues by comparing three different sorts of stories about transgender: an HBO special called "What Sex am I?", a sex ed/porn film called "Linda/Les and Annie" and a narrative I generated about my own performances as ‘the girlfriend.’
I would have been to happy to spend the remainder of my time at grad school finding other ways to think about queer identity, but again, two things happened in rapid succession. First, my partner left me. Next, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I left university to stay with her in Buffalo New York.
The days during that time were scary, and the nights lonely. I wrote like a madwoman, mostly for myself, with the sort of abandon that seems to only come when you are watching death and could give a shit who agrees with your words. Two essays I wrote during that time (“Spare Parts”
and “Four Rooms”
) map out the way my mind and my heart moved from gender theory to the erotics of technology.Another way to say this is while grieving, I discovered phone sex. Technology and Desire
It's impossible to overestimate the impact this stage of my life had on me, I think. At the time, I was watching death, I was mourning a body that could not yet die, I felt dead myself, or at least dying with the shame of surviving. And then, with a phone call, I was shocked back into sexuality in ways both liberating and disturbing.
People are sometimes surprised when I tell them I found out about the internet through phone sex lines. The truth is, many ‘non-geeks’ in the 1990’s found the Net in just this way: looking for sex, staying for something else. For me, that ‘something else’ was a New York City-based dial-up service called ECHO
(it was the east coast equivalent of the WELL back then.) On ECHO, we discussed topics more commonly associated with the public than the sexual sphere: books, films, politics. Yet I always saw sexuality as a ghost of sorts, haunting the machinations of civil discourse online.
After my mother’s death, I co-edited a special volume of Women & Performance
devoted to sexuality and cyberspace. The volume was a first of its kind, mixing essays on cybersex, online stalking, fetal imaging, and digital ‘redlining’ of neighborhoods in the New York. It was released on the Web in its entirety for public readership, and remains at www.terrisenft.net/ wp17/index.html. I continue in my commitment to this sort of openness online, providing academic papers, lectures, tips for students and even PDF copies of my most recent book to anyone who asks. When the Whitney Museum of Art asked us to curate performances around sexuality and cyberspace, we teamed authors with feminist digital artists for the event. This was our attempt to combat the valorization of singular female art stars over less ‘sexy’ collective work by women. For more on this, see "Shockingly Tech-splicit: Orlan and the Politics of Shock in a Digital Age."
ECHO afforded me access to many pioneers of the Internet’s earliest days, and in 1999 I co-authored A History of the Internet: 1843-Present.
I was then approached to contribute twenty articles to Sage’s Encyclopedia of New Media.
At the same time, I worked as a community leader for Prodigy’s Web division, where I performed under the unfortunate moniker of “Baud Girl.” I detailed my experiences in an essay entitled, “Baud Girls and Cargo Cults.”
The essay was delivered at a conference where the Internet Researchers Association
was born—an organization I have been with since its earliest days.
By 2004, I was busy defending my Ph.D. dissertation: a feminist ethnography of camgirls: young women who have garnered a modicum of fame for broadcasting their lives over the Internet via webcams. The dissertation's over-arching question was, "What does it mean for feminists to speak about the personal as political in a networked society that simultaneously encourages women to 'represent' through confession, celebrity and sexual display, and punishes too much visibility with conservative censure and backlash?" As part of my research methodology, I lived with a webcam in my home, making community with other camgirls and viewers via the blogging cum-social networking service, LiveJournal. Peter Lang published Camgirls: Celebrity & Community in the Age of Social Networks in 2008. Technology, Activism, Teaching
In 2001, I was approached by some friends I knew from ECHO with an offer I couldn’t refuse: would I be willing to come to Ghana to volunteer for a little bit working with women’s groups at the Busy Internet Café?
My experiences there made concrete everything I had ever read about gender, ICT and the postcolonial condition. For instance, I routinely encountered women’s organizations who had been ‘gifted’ sophisticated web sites by well-meaning partners worldwide, yet whose on-the-ground workers had little actual computer training. Rather than teach sophisticated computer techniques, I was most often asked to transfer photo images taken by mobile phones into word processing documents, which were then used as evidence for authorities in cases of domestic abuse, etc. My time in Ghana had profound knock-on effects for me later in my life, particularly influencing my decisions about where and whom to teach at the university level.
Although I taught for many years around New York (at New York University and Pratt Institute of Art and Design), my first full-time teaching job was in the University of the Virgin Islands
(U.S.) St. Thomas. UVI is an historically Black university that serves the local community, where many people are living in state-subsidized housing. Most of my students were first-generation university attendees; many were working mothers. Because the university had a strong vocational focus, I spent a fair amount of time teaching ‘practical’ classes in areas like public speaking, journalism, and events management.
If I didn't know it before, at UVI I came to see clearly the connections between communications technologies, tourist economies and local identities. When I asked our IT department to enable technologies like videoconferencing, I was told that students were intrinsically “lazy” and would “waste time” if they were “granted” these privileges. Routinely, students opted to make their media not from the university but from hotels where they were employed as greeters, maids, and desk personnel (everyone seemed to know somebody who knew when there were free machines to use at night at these places.) Using a standard exercise teachers use for classes on representation, I asked my students to fill in the blank, “I am a …” the first answer I received was, “I am a Ritz Carlton employee.” Should I have been surprised, given the students' perceptions of who valued them?
At the University of East London in the U.K.
, where I currently teach, I face no less fascinating challenges related to globalization, media and identity. UEL is known for its long British Cultural Studies tradition—Stuart Hall and Kobena Mercer make regular appearances on our syllabi. Most of these writers engage with notions of diasora, which is convenient for me as a teacher, since almost all our students articulate some sort of diasporic narrative about their own identies (generally a story about ‘the way things are’ in a South Asian, Caribbean or West African context.) Yet there are plenty of places where this sort of identity-formation comes into conflict with others. I recall a class called, “Media, Culture and Identity” in which I included representations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affection. Many of my students objected that these depictions ran counter to their state-granted right to practice Islamic or Christian traditions as part of their identity as students. My remedy for this was to argue that the Student Charter (which has anti-discrimination clauses), superseded their demands for consideration, but even I can see the weakness of such a defense.
Of course, UEL is not unique in this regard, and many thinkers throughout Europe have argued that policies on multiculturalism must better contend individual rights in conflict with one another. Still, the issue of how to teach principles of justice and tolerance when also dealing with religious, linguistic, and sexual difference is something with which I struggle daily. Newer Thinking
In the process of writing Camgirls
there were l moments when I became so inspired by a topic that my research and writing took on a life of its own. This impulse, and my willingness to give it rein, led me to conceptualize three projects that are currently consuming my attention.
The first book I am working on is devoted to the concept of micro-celebrity, a term I coined to refer to the way people employ webcams, video, audio, blogs and social networking programs to 'amp up' their popularity among those to whom they are linked online. In Camgirls
, I argued that micro-celebrity mimics conventional celebrity, but draws its power from connections among, rather than separation between viewer and viewed. Although I originally envisioned micro-celebrity as an ‘easy’ thing to write about, I now find myself utterly challenged by the way it confounds assumptions about gender identity and media in a networked age.
The second book is devoted to the concept of tele-ethicality, another term I coined as a way to apply feminist ethics to events that transpire online. The impulse to write this book came from an episode I detail in Camgirls, in which one of my subjects attempted suicide via overdose while on her webcam. I found it heartbreaking that in spite of all the personal information this camgirl had shared with us, and all the personal connections we believed ourselves to have with her, nobody seemed to have this woman’s home address, and nobody knew where to send the ambulance. A few hours later, I remembered that I actually had her physical address, as I had sent her a research release form earlier that year. I went to her home, and then to the hospital to see her. Thankfully, she survived her overdose. By that time, however, people had begun speculating over whether the entire event had been a hoax designed to drive up viewership at the camgirl’s site. Many, many people were ready to speculate on the possible fraudulence of the day’s events, but what they had witnessed was all too real.
The third—and perhaps most ambitious—project attempts articulate a cultural history of the concept of exhibitionism. As I discuss at length in my book Camgirls
, I believe the psychic allure of ‘sexuality of the surface’—at play in the mind of every young girl who videos herself ‘booty dancing’ on YouTube-- is something contemporary feminism ignores at its peril.In Camgirls
, I argued that spectatorship on the web is better theorized through the mechanics of commodity fetishism than voyeurism. In this new project, I want to consider how we might rescue the concept of exhibitionism from tabloid media, in order to discuss psychic pleasures of production on the Web.
I’m interested in framing this as a genealogical project, beginning with the eighteenth century invention of the art exhibition, moving to Victorian sexologists’ articulation of exhibitionism as paraphilia (sexual perversion), taking into consideration how an ‘aesthetics of flashing’ mixed into twentieth century avant-garde mystique, and ending with an examination of exhibitionist practices using new media techniques in our current era. Where the former projects I’ve proposed will almost certainly take the form of a monograph, I am considering constructing this one as a series of ten minute interwoven short films to be launched on YouTube.
In addition to single-authored projects, I have a deep interest in collaboration. I am currently in co-editing a handbook on social media with Dr. Jeremy Hunsinger that Routledge will publish in 2011. Dr. Melissa Ditmar (editor of the Encyclopedia of Prostitution) and I are discussing a research project that considers the impact of mobile technologies on the global sex trade.
Finally, I've always been a sucker for the public sphere. I've written for places that look good on a resume, like Harvard's Berkman Center, and the New York Times
. I've also written for places that look odd there (like Nerve
, the 'literate smut' magazine most people seem to know for its personnel ads.) I've taken a bit of a break from the daily blogging I used to do years ago, but my plan is to return to that practice by summer's end. There's something about daily interaction with readers that still gives me the same charge I got years ago. I miss it, and plan on coming back as soon as I finish this academic piece about the video of Iranian Neda Agha Soltan's murder.
This week, students in a cyberculture class are asking me questions about doing ethnography. One of the students asked me to discuss the issue of ambivalence. Here is part of my reply:
I am glad you raised the issue of ambivalence in ethnography; it's good to have the opportunity to think through that feeling at leisure, and I'm going to answer it the long way round, with a story:
I've been listening to this teacher Ken McLoud, who does podcasts where he answers student questions about mindfulness. One student asked, "How do I get past my feelings of anger?" Ken's answer was, "The question you want to ask yourself is not 'how do I stop feeling anger,' but 'How can I feel this, and still be at peace?"
For me, dealing with ambivalence while doing ethnography (or cultural studies) feels a bit like dealing with anger coming into meditation. When I'm ambivalent, I feel anxious, inadequate, inarticulate, not quite up to the task I've set for myself. At least for me, these feelings leads almost naturally to questions of rights. If I can't say for sure exactly what went down in the story I'm trying to tell, or where I stand, or what something might mean, what right do I have to tell this story at all?
I spend a fair amount of time fantasizing about doing perfect ethnography (and perfect theory, for that matter.) Part of that fantasy involves asking myself routinely: could someone else tell this story with more accuracy, clarity, perceptiveness, grace, humility? If so, what gives me the right to write it? If the answer is that I seem to be the best person in an institution to do it, that makes me even more anxious. If I've been designated as the expert who writes, and I'm ambivalent about what I am writing (that is I cannot write to be right), shouldn't I stop? What about my an obligation to *not* write?
My process generally involves showing my 'subject' what I have written about them, and explaining why I made the choices I did in the telling. More significant than that, it involves, listening to their take on my take, hearing them tell me I didn't relay the story as I should have, deciding what to take on board, and when to stay with my perceptions. Of course it also involves things like working together to protect the identity of the person in question as best possible if that is their desire (and other things one would find in a standard IRB agreement.) But really it's about two things: working to perpetuate least harm, and taking the emotional hits that come anytime a writer has the audacity to tell someone else's story.
The right to write is pretty much where feelings of ambivalence lead for me, and at the end of the day, I can only write my story. That's why I think all ethnography is actually auto ethnography. If or when someone else writes her understanding of the events, then there will be two stories. As an auto-ethnographer, issue for me isn't getting the right version of the story, but writing through the ambivalence. It involves dialoguing with my 'subjects' and taking full on the necessary hits that come from creating narrative out of the realities of others.
So the question for me isn't, "How can I overcome ambivalence? or even "How can I overcome conflict in this interview/story/community observation, but rather how can I feel these things, and still write in a way that is about peace?" I'm not talking about a generic peace. I'm talking about a peaceful response to myself and others when someone else dismisses my observations as wrong, stupid, wishy washy, not 'rigorous', etc. It's hard, and I don't do it very well. But feeling this vulnerability is important for me. After all, isn't this the same vulnerability my 'subjects' must feel seeing my observations of their actions in print?
By embracing ambivalence, by saying, "I don't know if this choice is right, but here is why I made it and I'm willing to stay with your censure if that is what's coming," I make myself a little bit more like the folks I purport to be explaining to the world, and really, if that's not the point of auto-ethnography, I'm not sure what is.
Hope this makes some sense.
My colleague Stephen Maddison and I are working to put together the symposia below. We just won a 'pump prime' grant from our university today ('pump prime' is another way of saying, "Here is some internal money to get people to help you write bigger external grants so we don't have to give you any more money.") The best part about this is that I was cheeky and asked for 3x more than I was supposed to...and we got it!
So now we fly/train in a bunch of people to help us put together the symposia and brainstorm funding opportunities.
For those interested, more beyond the cut...
1.Description of the Proposed Research Project: Future Sex: Sexual Materialism and the Pornographic Imaginary
This is a proposal for a series of symposia designed to draw together radical thinking on pornography, technology, new media, gender politics and sexuality. Sessions will aim to embrace complex social challenges, whilst eliding old political deadlocks. Papers will be circulated well in advance, and participants will all be scheduled to act as discussants for one anothers’ papers. Each symposium will be organized to facilitate collaboration and debate. ( Read more...Collapse )
After the cut, you can find the assessment questions for my third-year undergrad Digital Media Cultures class.
OPTION 1: MAKE AND ANALYZE YOUR OWN REMIX
OPTION 2: Discuss the legal and ethical implications of TurnitIn
OPTION 3: PROVIDE A SCHOLARLY ANALYSIS OF YOUR FRIENDS LISTS
OPTION 4: COMPARE TWO FORMS OF ‘SUPER PUBLIC’ LIVING
OPTION 5: EVALUATE A PUBLIC OR COUNTER-PUBLIC SPHERE ONLINE
OPTION 6: COMPARE AND CONTRAST TWO EXAMPLES
OF SURVEILLANCE CULTURE
OPTION 7: WRITE A SCHOLARLY REVIEW OF THE V & A ‘DECODE’ EXHIBIT
OPTION 8: ANALYZE SOCIAL CAPITAL FORMATION IN A YOUTUBE EXPERIMENT
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--PLEASE PASS ON TO INTERESTED PARTIES--
Hello, friends in London!
I wanted to invite folks to join me next Tuesday at the University of East London Public Lecture Series, where I am giving a talk about--among other thing-- half-naked young girls on the internet.
Because it's the sort of conversation that's best had in the presence of people under the age of 45, I hope students especially come for the lecture and join in the dialogue afterwards. (I could probably also visit a class or two briefly to talk, if that’s of interest to anyone; this is a topic I never seem to lose interest in...)
Here are some details about the lecture:
PUBLIC LECTURE SERIES TITLE:
“From Personal Property to Speaking Subjects: Youth, Gender, and the Right to Credit in an Attention Economy.”
SPEAKER: Dr. Theresa Senft, Senior Lecturer, Media Studies, UEL
Date: Tuesday 9 March 2010 Time: 17:30
Venue: West Building G.02
(next to Oscars) University of East London, Docklands Campus
Transport: Cyprus DLR Here is a quick summary: “From Personal Property to Speaking Subjects: Youth, Gender, and the Right to Credit in an Attention Economy.”
This talk engages with the politics of female sexual self-display over the Internet, especially focusing on teens in America and the U.K. I begin by discussing a recent U.S. law suit filed by two Indiana teens against their high school principal after he punished them for posting risqué photos in a private section of their MySpace accounts. Echoing current wisdom that there is never a guarantee of privacy on the Internet, the American Civil Liberties Union (representing the girls) has chosen to frame their activities as free-speech acts, arguing that these teens were expressing themselves to themselves in two sorts of bedrooms: their real-life one, and their online one. In this talk, I frame the case in terms of my recent work on a phenomenon I call “micro-celebrity”: a new way to perform the self that combines the visual techniques of corporate branding with the distribution technologies of the Internet. I am particularly interested in how sexism and ageism converge within micro-celebrity’s overwhelming investment in the so-called ‘attention economies of the Web.’ This speech returns to a question I raised in my book Camgirls: “Why are women continually encouraged to express themselves in media through confession, celebrity and sexual display, yet punished with conservative censure and backlash when their representation becomes ‘too much’ to handle?”
Dr. Theresa Senft is interested in how the Internet has been changing our notions of the public, the private and the pornographic in contemporary society. For her most recent book, Camgirls: Celebrity & Community in the Age of Social Networks, Terri ran a webcam out of her own home for a year and charted her experiences. Other books by Terri include History of the Internet, 1843-Present (co-author) and a special issue of Women & Performance devoted to sexuality & cyberspace (co-editor.) Terri's work has been published in The New York Times, she has appeared on National Public Radio (U.S.), and in the documentary Webcam Girls.
Note: this lecture will be an updated and revised-for-the-UK version of something I did earlier at Harvard last year. It will also tangentially addresses teen “sexting,” a practice that is providing the foundation for a moral panic in the U.S. right now.
The URL for that talk (if you want to read, or assign to students, or whatever), is: http://tsenft.livejournal.com/405387.htm
Feel free to contact me with any questions about the lecture, thoughts on the topic, or (especially) links to other work being done in this area, by you or anyone else you know. I'm at email@example.com
Here's my newest paper proposal for the Association of Internet Researchers Conference (this October in Sweden!)
This paper is part of a larger (and awesome) panel I’ve proposed with the title, “Brand Me Online: Sustaining Personal Identity through Strategies of the Corporate.”
Micro-celebrity, charity, democracy? Decoding the Logic of Udorse
Theresa M. Senft, Senior Lecturer Media Studies,
University of East London, UK
In early October of 2009, I received a piece of email from Geoffrey Lewis, the co-founder and CEO of a new startup company in New York City called Udorse (www.udorse.com). Lewis, a former brand manager at Proctor & Gamble, thought I would be interested in his company’s philosophy and corporate mission. “We are building a social game around democratizing endorsement deals for the mid-long tail of people living a micro-celebrity lifestyle,” he wrote.
Curious as to what that might mean, I logged on to Udorse, and watched as all my Facebook pictures (as well as those shared by friends) were extracted to the site. I was then encouraged to tag my uploaded images with brands I wanted to endorse: clicking anywhere on a photo, I could note the jacket bought at Armani; the hair fluffed with Loreal; the book purchased from Amazon. After filling in a short form (to see if the brands I specified were partnered with Udorse), there was nothing more for me to do but wait for my friends to click on my images, hopefully interacting with the brands in a way that made Udorse’s partners happy. At this point I would receive a micropayment from the participating brand as thanks. All monies—which I could keep for myself, but were also encouraged to donate to affiliated charities like Amnesty International—were routed through my PayPal account.
This paper represents an attempt to consider what users lose and gain (personally, financially, politically) by participating in Udorse, a Web company not alone in their earnest belief that one might simultaneously use social media for playing games, furthering democracy, and redistributing wealth along the ‘long tail’ of Web 2.0 consumption. I am particularly interested in the ways in which Udorse seamlessly moves from discourses of monetization to those of advocacy and/or charity, as in the statement (taken from a company press release), “Udorse encourages people to use its services to support a cause, an indie artist or the friend that wants to be the next Diane von Furstenberg.”
Methodologically, my approach to this project is four-fold. First, I examine the impact on heavy social media users recent business titles like Brand Me; Me 2.0; and World Famous. Next, I look to ethnographic work on micro-celebrity (Senft: 2008, boyd: 2009) to understand why a heavy social media user might consider his/her online presence as an endorsement mechanism. I then employ theories of ‘immaterial labor’ (Sholz: 2008; Terranova 2000) to ask questions regarding base, superstructure, work and compensation within Udorse’s economic model. Combining recent work on talk show television and the ‘emotional public sphere’ (Lunt and Spenner: 2005) with recent political analyses of celebrity charity affiliations (Littler: 2008; Magubane: 2008), I deconstruct Udorse’s logic of democracy via micro-celebrity charity endorsement. Throughout, I detail my personal experiences in three realms: as a user of the system, as someone engaged in conversations with the company’s management, and as a social critic leery of (but not entirely opposed to) Udorse’s neo-liberalist logic of democracy through endorsement.Works Cited in this Proposal
boyd, d., 2009. Taken out of context: American teen sociality in networked publics. Ph.D. dissertation, available online at http://www.danah.org/papers/TakenOutOfCo
ntext.pdf (viewed 25 February 2010)
Hardt, M. & Negri, A., 2005. Multitude, Penguin Books.
Lunt, P. & Stenner, P., 2005. The Jerry Springer Show as an emotional public sphere. Media Culture Society, 27(1), 59-81.
Magubane, Z., 2008. The (Product) Red Man’s Burden: Charity, Celebrity, and the Contradictions of Coevalness. The Journal of Pan African Studies, 2(6), 102–1.
Scholz, T., 2008. Market ideology and the myths of Web 2.0. First Monday, 13(3).
Senft, T.M., 2008. Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. Peter Lang.
Terranova, T., 2000. Producing culture for the digital economy. Social Text, 63(18), 33–58.
Writing an Abstract:
From Terri Senft: firstname.lastname@example.org
Many students working on abstracts find themselves panicked with "blank page syndrome." To help, I have developed a tool for you. This has been designed for students in Media/Cultural Studies, but could probably be adopted for a range of programs.
Elements of a strong abstract
1. Your Topic, Broadly Defined
2. Resonance for Media/Cultural Studies
3. History of your Interest /Experience in this Topic
4. Your Topic, narrowed down
5. Your observations of Experts in the Field
6. Your thoughts about experts’ suitability for your topic
7. Your hypothesis for this project
8. Testing your hypothesis (i.e. exactly what you will DO in your dissertation)
9. Explain your methodology
10. . What questions will you be asking as you examine your materials?
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