YouTube Research Gazette

Many thanks to all the people who responded via email to my request for information about current YouTube research projects relevant to content and genre analysis. I still have a few more leads to chase up, but vaguely in the spirit of FLOSS (where the second “S” is for scholarship, not software), I thought I’d share a summary of the results so far. I hope none of the respondents minds – please let me know if you do and I’ll do a swift edit.

Just bear in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list – you’ll have to do your own strenuous legwork at Google and/or Google Scholar for that…

At the Infoscape Research Lab there is some serious data crunching going on behind the scenes, including some work on categorising content. There are already some preliminary reports on how the federal political parties in Canada and their supporters have been using YouTube for campaigning up on the website.

USC Annenberg Center Postdoctoral Fellow Patricia Lange has done a hefty amount of ethnographic work on YouTube, looking at issues such as “YouTube community, participation, and different responses to haters, especially in specific genres such as video blogging and youth production videos”. She has a conference paper on users’ understandings and responses to YouTube haters here (pdf).

There are quite a few theses in the works as well: Trine Bjorkmann Berry (University of Sussex) is some way through a doctoral thesis on vlogging, using an ethnographic approach informed by cultural and critical theory; Janice Leung (York University, Canada) is completing an MA thesis on YouTube and music fandom, specifically fan-produced concert videos and the performance of cultural capital; Jeff Scheible (UCSB) is beginning a project on Hurricane Katrina footage at YouTube; Dominic Yeo (social psychology, Cambridge) is doing a PhD on the psychological dimensions involved in user-generated videos in Web 2.0 environments.

At just about the same time as my request went out, Flow published a couple of articles about YouTube – one by Chuck Tyron on YouTube and Anti-War Street Theater and one by Alex Munt on the implications for Hollywood of YouTube’s “clip culture” and associated narrative model. Also published at Flow recently: Hector Amaya’s provocative piece on the ‘docublogging’ via YouTube of detention centres – Hutto’s Children: Maddening Structures of Absence.

And finally, a little bird tells me it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the Pew Internet & American Life Project for a report on online video over the next few weeks.

I know there must be more, or will be very soon, so feel free to let me know what I’m missing.

Speaking of YouTube, I have added a new entry about older people’s use of ‘playful technologies’ and informal learning over at Propagating Media.

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New blog: Propagating Media

Propagating Media is a brand new collaborative blog that I’m a member of, along with my boss John Hartley and fellow postdoc John Banks. It’s going to be the outboard brain of the research program I’m employed on here at QUT, focusing mostly on the work we’re doing together around the idea of the ‘evolution of knowledge’. Jh has launched the blog with an introduction (and his very first blog post!) here.

Within the scope he’s described, I’m particularly interested in the relationship between complexity theory and cultural studies, especially as they might apply to understanding the dynamics of change in cultural and media systems.

I’m not sure how the new blog will interact with this one – maybe more of my thinking-out-loud posts will end up over there, and this one will shift more towards the personal end, I’m really not sure yet.

In the meantime, consider this post a shameless plug: please add us to your blogrolls and RSS feed readers!

Update: My first post (on creative destruction and music subcultures, and bebop of all things) here.

i’ve always said that old people rock

I know I’ve come to it a bit late, but I’ve just spent several minutes watching the Zimmers’ video over and over again, and smiling all the way.

At one level, I like it because it is a much-needed demonstration of one way in which we might think about how to connect “expertise” with “amateur” participation so that it is ethical, non-exploitative and (if you look at the comments) genuinely popular.
Plus, as many of you know, I’m not all that keen on the young folk today–so watching this was even more fun than seeing Paris Hilton get jailtime.

complexity, pragmatism, cultural studies

The title of this post is a bit too ponderous for its content, which is going to be nothing more than some quick-and-dirty thinking out loud. It was prompted by a few things: Anne’s brief post mentioning mess and method, my participation next month in a CRN Masterclass with John Urry on ‘complexities and mobilities, and the YouTube project I’m designing for my postdoc that tries to link complex systems theory up with the history of ‘literacy’ (as a complex system itself). Most of all, I’ve been trying to work through the idea of a critical pragmatism as ‘engaged’ cultural studies practice, in thinking about my paper for Cultural Studies Now in July (part of a panel called ‘Labours of love: The work of creative intellectual practice’, with Mel Gregg, Kiley Gaffney and Nadia Mizner). And also reading Richard E. Lee’s The Life and Times of Cultural Studies with great interest.

I think part of what I want to argue is that pragmatic engagement actually opens up complexity, both because of the researcher-as-change-agent dynamic and because of getting a view from inside the machine. The way I’m thinking about it is kind of an inversion of the way cultural studies traditionally thinks about the role of critical theory (enlightening/transformative) as opposed to dirty ‘instrumentalist’ engagement with social or commercial enterprises (which must necessarily involve simplification or disavowal of the issues a critical researcher is supposed to be dealing with). I just don’t reckon that’s actually true, especially when I add another layer by thinking about the institutional formations (i.e. the different kinds of universities) which support each of those dominant modes of research practice. Don’t ask me too many questions just yet about what I mean by any of that – as I said, I’m thinking out loud.

So anyway, this is my abstract for Cultural Studies Now. It was written before I’d finished my PhD thesis so it uses that project as the departure point if not the destination:

Terms of Engagement: Doing Cultural Studies in the Enterprise University
Simon During (2005) recently argued that the structure of research funding in Australia and the rise of the ‘enterprise university’ have deprived ‘more abstract and theorised cultural studies’ of their ‘critical force’; conversely, Ien Ang has argued for the transition from ‘cultural studies’ to ‘cultural work’, carried out through strategic and pragmatic industry alliances (in Gibson & Rodan, 2005). This paper contributes to these debates by reflecting on a recently completed doctoral study entitled Vernacular Creativity and New Media. The project was grounded in the history and politics of cultural studies’ engagement with ‘ordinary’ culture and ‘everyday’ creativity, and in addition to theory-building and historical work included participation as a facilitator in community-based creative practice, as part of other university research projects funded by government and industry sources. The paper examines the multiple opportunities for and constraints on ‘critical engagement’ that emerged throughout the course of this research.

I suggest that a critically engaged cultural studies that is practically articulated with ‘real world’ contexts affords productive alternatives to the extreme positions – both of them positions of ‘critique’ – that Jim McGuigan (2005) calls ‘uncritical populism’ and ‘radical subversion’ respectively. Instead, an engagement grounded in critical pragmatism actually works to reveal and open up, rather than close down or disavow complexity.

Anyway, I’ll keep thinking. In the meantime I’m off to MIT on Thursday for a bunch of presentations and stuff, which I’ll blog about as I go.

What I’m up to

I’m about 6 weeks into my postdoc, so what I’ve been up to lately is a lot of background research and planning. The immediate goal has been to develop a coherent 2-3 year program of research that builds on my previous work, advances the field and helps to fulfil the ambitions of the Federation Fellowship program within which my postdoctoral fellowship sits. By the way, the FF program involves a team of four researchers, including the Federation Fellow and two other postdocs, so there’s some collaborative stuff we’re doing as well. I’m very happy to report that things are taking shape nicely now.

I’ll explain more as it gets down to brass tacks, but basically my individual research is designed to build on the kind of work I did in my PhD, while extending its reach quite significantly. I’m planning a central case study around YouTube, situating it within the broader historical context of the emergence, popularisation and social uses of new media technologies of all kinds, going right back to the emergence of an ‘elaborated system’ of print literacy. More as things move forward.

Other stuff that’s happening now and in the immediate future:

  1. Co-teaching a coursework masters unit on Applied Research in the Creative Industries this semester. The unit has been redeveloped around the contexts & uses of Digital Storytelling and incorporates a reflective practice element with the inclusion of a Train-theTrainers workshop as a core activity
  2. Very excitedly planning a 2 week trip to Boston with fellow postdoc John Banks in mid-late April, including our panel (with Axel Bruns) on “user-led content creation” at MIT5, and a number of other invited seminars and speaking engagements. We’re hoping to develop and strengthen some research collaborations while we’re there as well.
  3. A multi-authored book proposal – fingers crossed, and more info soon
  4. An article on Flickr (sort of drawn from my PhD, but sort of moving on from there) for a Big Journal (again, fingers crossed)
  5. A few other fun journal articles that I banned myself from thinking about while concentrating very hard on Writing Up, but which I promised myself I’d write this year