Crystal Abidin (Jönköping University / Curtin University): Attention whores and internet mores: The lifecycle and labour of Influencer affects and moralities

Many young people are now vocationally pursuing microcelebrity on the internet as commercial, cross-platform, and highly relatable Influencers. However, unlike content creators in specific genres such as fashion, food, or parenting, Influencers in the highly feminized “lifestyle” genre rely on developments in their personal lives to cultivate relatability with followers and establish their self-branding. In the absence of a commercial object as buffer, the criticism that such feminine Influencers receive often pertain to their bodies, internet personae, and imagined private lives. Yet, considering their body positivity, intentional publicness, and flair for baiting attention, popular wisdom often dictates that such Influencers “deserve” the hate they get for being “attention whores”. More pressingly, certain types of racialized, aged, and sexualized feminine bodies are policed more so than others, in a tension among beauty hegemony, othered self-containment, and sanitized exoticism. As such, some lifestyle Influencers encounter dilemmas and difficulty in redeeming themselves. Building on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, this talk discusses the types of content young feminine Influencers produce on their digital estates, the types of reactions they encounter, and how they respond to these experiences. At the confluence of affect, hate, morality, and controversy, what emerges is a vernacular of internet mores and who gets to claim fame, as lifestyle Influencers labour over the terrain of online affects and moralities.

Dr Crystal Abidin is an anthropologist of vernacular internet cultures, particularly young people’s relationships with internet celebrity, self-curation, and vulnerability. She is known for her work on Influencers, a multimedia form of vocational microcelebrity on social media, also commonly known as commercial or professional bloggers, Tweeters, Instagrammers, YouTubers, and the like. Recently, she has written about the virality of young children on social media, young people’s expression of grief on the internet, and practices of young coupling in East Asia. Crystal is Postdoctoral Fellow with the Media Management and Transformation Centre (MMTC) at Jönköping University, supported by the Swedish Retail and Wholesale Development Council, and Adjunct Researcher with the Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT) at Curtin University. Reach her at: wishcrys.com or @wishcrys.

Kath Albury (Swinburne University of Technology): Affective pedagogies of counterpublic health in hook-up app cultures

This paper outlines the theoretical underpinnings of an Australian Research Council-funded research partnership with sexual health organisations in New South Wales, Australia. The project draws on qualitative and quantitative methods to explore a range of factors impacting hook-up app use for 15-30 year olds, including motivations for use, user notions of ‘successful’ or ‘failed’ usage, health and wellbeing implications, and user perceptions of the relationship between online and offline interactions (i.e. online chat versus actual meetings).

The project also seeks to develop recommendations for sexual health promotion practice in digital spaces, building on the findings of Sharif Mowlobocus’ research partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust in the UK. In doing so, it engages with critical frameworks emerging from the Australian response to HIV, in which affected communities and activists collaborated with bureaucrats, epidemiologists, clinicians and social and cultural researchers to produce a range of novel theoretical and practical approaches that Kane Race (2009) has dubbed ‘counterpublic health’. Consequently, in this paper I re-examine and reflect my previous research with Paul Byron and the AIDS Council of NSW (2014, 2016) via the lens offered by McInnes and colleague’s exploration of affective pedagogies of sexual health in cultures of ‘sexual adventurism’ (2002).

Kath Albury is a professor of media and communication at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Her current research focuses on practices of digital self-representation, and the role of user-generated media (including social networking platforms) in young people’s formal and informal cultures of sexual health and sexual learning.

Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research New England): What Musicians Can Teach Us About The Intimate Work of Connection

The internet has profoundly disrupted music industries, making the paths for musicians to build lasting careers seem murkier (if no more probable) than before. Against this backdrop, “connecting” with fans, especially through social media, has become a key strategy. This talk argues that this push to “connect” stems from an historical set of confluences far broader than the context of music and has consequences for many other careers. Far from being an easy or clear path to success, connection is a complicated, dialectical balancing act that simultaneously offers to fulfill music’s promise while increasing sales and threatens to destroy music’s wonder and upset the artists. The relational labor musicians must do to maintain this balance reveals a kind of work that is expected in more and more careers, yet rarely seen as real work, and rarely with serious inquiry into who benefits most from this labor.

Nancy Baym is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft and Research Affiliate in Comparative Media Studies/Writing at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She is the author of Personal Connections in the Digital Age (Polity Press), now in its second edition, Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom and Online Community (Sage Press), and co-editor of Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method (Sage Press) with Annette Markham. Her book Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences, and the Intimate Work of Connection will be released by NYU Press in Spring 2018.  More information, most of her articles, and some of her talks are available at: http://nancybaym.com 

Ben Light (University of Salford):  (Not So) Sticky Fingers: Automation, Hookup Apps and the Qualification of the Intimate

In this talk I draw attention to the increasing role of automation in dating and hooking up. In particular, I focus on the extent to which this is disintermediating our fingers, devices and interfaces – a key assemblage in these arrangements. I suggest that dating and hooking up can be conceptualised as an economy of qualities (Callon et al. 2002). Here, a good (or service) is defined by the qualities attributed to it during qualification trials. The result of these trials depends not only on the good or service in question, but also the evaluations and judgements made which vary from one agent to the next. A controversial process of qualification is evoked whereby the good’s or service’s reflection within markets involves processes of singularisation, attachment and detachment. Singularisation involves the alignment of consumer expectations with what is on offer, in terms of how differences affecting choice are both articulated and understood. Attachment and detachment involve the capturing of consumers, attaching them by detaching them from rivals, by engaging them in processes of requalification. Consumers are therefore positioned as calculating, and it is suggested that:

“Service provision is a machine… designed to reveal what customers want and progressively to construct the irreducible singularization of their demands along with their satisfaction. It is with the use of new information and communication technologies that this logic of singularization reaches its peak.” (Callon et al. 2002: 209)

Callon et al. go on to state that what is important in the service business is the system of relationships which, on a material and collective basis, organize the qualification of products. Therefore, it is preferable for the service provider to cooperate with a calculating consumer on a regular basis. This, they suggest, is possible only by limiting the periods of routine attachment and by constantly challenging the singularisation of products so that new negotiations and qualifications can be enacted. The diversification of automation in dating and hookup apps is becoming key and is moving us beyond the database logics established in the 1990s, and the locational logics of the past decade or so. Automation is a critical component of the economy of qualities where dating and hookup apps are concerned. Through examples of automation, such as the bots of Ashley Madison and the Insights dashboard of Scruff, I point to the role of this ongoing development and its link with what Lee Humphreys (Forthcoming) terms the qualified self. The qualified self refers to the process of the creation of media traces of ourselves; which in turn creates representations of ourselves to be consumed. These media, Humphreys argues, can be read back to ourselves or others and it is through their consumption that we come to understand ourselves and others. This data may also include quantified self data which seeks to generate an environment of systemic monitoring where an individual’s personal information climate provides real-time performance optimisation suggestions and where the individual becomes a more calculable and administrable object (Swan 2013). Ultimately I argue that the intersection of automation with qualified and quantified self data seeks to generate affect which operationalises the economy of qualities where dating and hookup apps are concerned. So, we are left to wonder, is the use our fingers to create detailed profiles to communicate our preferences, or understand those of others (both involving the generation of affect) becoming less necessary? And will such a shift to the automation of affect generate customer loyalty, and make more money, for app owners?

Ben Light is a Professor of Digital Society at the University of Salford, UK. His research is concerned with understanding people’s everyday experiences of digital media. He engages science and technology studies bringing it into dialogue with questions of (non)consumption practices, digital methods, gender and sexuality. He is currently working in the areas of digitally mediated public sexual cultures, dating and hookup apps and is currently finishing up writing a book about #NSFW for MIT Press with Dr Kylie Jarrett (Maynooth) and Professor Susanna Paasonen (Turku).  Find him at: www.benlight.me

Theresa Senft (Macquarie University): Ways of Seeing Social Media

My talk will introduce ten pieces of conceptual vocabulary I’ve used to theorize social media seeing, urging the audience to consider more. My title is a nod to art critic John Berger, who understood seeing less a matter of vision than ideology experienced in the body, as in the phrase “I see what you mean.” Social media becomes ideologically embodied in ways that are often complex, sometimes contradictory, and always overlaid. Each day, we use our hands, eyes, ears and mouths to deliver gestures, sounds and images that are uploaded to platforms that urge us to click, swipe, filter and edit. To engage in commerce, create community, and forge identity, we interact with text images, sounds, locations and movements of ourselves and others. These interactions are grasped and saved, both to the devices we keep close to our bodies and to machines elsewhere, until it is time to be alerted by the next beep, ring, vibration of the presence of someone or something, elsewhere.
In How to See the World, Nicholas Mirzoeff reminds us that in era of satellite photography, drone warfare and social media activism, it’s criminal to ignore the fact that everything we sense as true, or right, or ethical is always already framed through what we don’t, won’t, or can’t sense. I study social media practices that tend to be dismissed as apolitical, exhibitionist, narcissistic, or plain stupid, which means I’m especially interested when something loaded with meaning for some individuals and groups is not, cannot, or will not be sensed as meaningful by others. My hope is that by expanding our lexicon of socially mediated seeing for the future, we might one day learn to see meaning in those connections between humans, machines and institutions that strike us as confusing, irrational, impenetrable, or worse: too insignificant to ponder at all.

Dr. Theresa M. Senft is a Senior Lecturer in the Dept. of Music, Media, Communication & Culture studies at Macquarie University. She recently co-edited a special issue on global selfie culture for the International Journal of Communications. Other books include Camgirls: Celebrity & Community in the Age of Social Networks; The Routledge Handbook of Social Media (co-editor); History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843-Present (co-author) and an issue of Women & Performance devoted to the theme “sexuality & cyberspace.”   Terri founded the founded the 3000 member international Selfies Research Network (selfieresearchers.com) in 2014. In 2016, she founded Hey Girl Global Network (heygirlglobal.com), which studies the intersection of girl culture, urban culture and media culture around the world.  Her website is at www.terrisenft.net

Jenny Sundén (Södertörn University): Affective politics of hags and shamelessness

This talk develops an affective analysis of how linguistic reclaiming on social media platforms and elsewhere creates networked feminist resistance in times of raging online hate and shaming of women and other others. It uses as its primary example a recent appropriation in Swedish contexts of the term “hagga” (hag), which has come to embody shameless femininity and feminist solidarity, as well as the Facebook event “Skamlös utsläckning” (shameless extinction), which extends the solidarity of the hag to people identifying as non-men. In her discussion of the affective liveliness of language, Mel Chen (2012) considers how linguistic insults contain hierarchies of matter in that they refer to some humans as less than human. Due to the vibrant affectivity of language, acts of reclaiming certain labels aim at seizing their affective power as a move toward political agency. The shameless hags can be understood as such linguistic and affective turning points, as instances in which the object-making of slurs are redirected into practices of subject-making. Inspired by the vibrant circulation of the boozy, aging, shameless hag, “Shameless Extinction” provides a networked model of resistance to which the use of social media is vital. It is political mode which uses collective imagination and the affective power of playing with shame and shaming to refuel feminist movements. But who gets to be shameless within this feminist community? And who may still be bound by shame?

Jenny Sundén is Professor of Gender Studies at Södertörn University, Sweden. Her research focuses on digital media and technology studies, feminist and queer theory, affect theory, ethnography, and games. Her articles appear in Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media & Technology; European Journal of Cultural Studies; Feminist Media Studies; First Monday; Games and Culture; and Somatechnics. She is an editor of special issues for European Journal of Women’s Studies and Somatechnics, and the author of Gender and Sexuality in Online Game Cultures: Passionate Play (Routledge 2012, with Malin Sveningsson).