Agency and Controversy in the YouTube Community

Burgess, Jean E. & Green, Joshua B. (2008) Agency and Controversy in the YouTube Community. In IR 9.0: Rethinking Communities, Rethinking Place - Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) conference, 15-18 October 2008, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark. (Unpublished)


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This paper draws on a content analysis of 4,000 of the most popular YouTube videos to analyse the dynamics of participation in the YouTube community in relation to theories of agency and situated creativity. A thematic analysis of the user-created videos within the sample was used to identify, firstly, the subset of videos that explicitly reflected on or critiqued the dynamics of YouTube; and, secondly, a number of controversies that have erupted within this self-constituted community - for example, around the introduction of Oprah's YouTube channel in late 2007.

As Bruno Latour (2007) argues, such controversies are highly significant and analytically useful events: in the case of YouTube, a detailed examination of the discourses mobilised in these controversies reveals the uncertain and contested quality of the power relations between the community and the company, the level of investment these users have in protecting YouTube's attention economy from the intrusions of 'Big Media', as well as the construction of symbolic boundaries between the YouTubers as a core group of 'lead users' (Von Hippel, 2005) and an imagined mass of ordinary users.

The paper further argues that despite its internal antagonisms, it is this community of practice that provides the environment in which new literacies, new cultural forms, and new social practices - situated in and appropriate to the culture of user-created online video - are originated, adopted and retained. In order to operate effectively as a participant in the YouTube community, it is not possible to simply import learned conventions for creative practice, and the cultural competencies required to enact them, from elsewhere (e.g. from professional television production). Effective participation is achieved by exploiting these site-specific forms of 'vernacular expertise'. Collectively, these particularly invested and knowledgeable users mobilise their insider knowledge in attempts (whether effective or not) to shape and influence the culture of YouTube

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ID Code: 15383
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Keywords: internet research, youtube, online video, participatory culture, new media, digital literacy, videoblogging, vlogs, vloggers
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000) > FILM TELEVISION AND DIGITAL MEDIA (190200) > Film and Television (190204)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100) > Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified (200199)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > CULTURAL STUDIES (200200)
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2008 Jean E. Burgess and Joshua B. Green
Copyright Statement: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License -
Deposited On: 31 Oct 2008 00:00
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 13:06

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