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The accountability of social media platforms, in the age of Trump

November 10, 2016

Pundits and commentators are just starting to pick through the rubble of this election and piece together what happens and what it means. In such cases, it is often easier to grab hold of one explanation — Twitter! racism! Brexit! James Comey! — and use it as a clothesline to hang the election on and shake it into some semblance of sense. But as scholars, we do a disservice to allow for simple or single explanations. “Perfect storm” has become a cliche, but I can see a set of elements that had to all be true, that came together, to produce the election we just witnessed: Globalization, economic precarity, and fundamentalist reactionary responses; the rise of the conservative right and its target tactics, especially against the Clintons; backlashes to multiculturalism, diversity, and the election of President Obama; the undoing of the workings and cultural authority of journalism; the alt-right and the undercurrents of social media; the residual fear and anxiety in America after 9/11. It is all of these things, and they were all already connected, before candidate Trump emerged.

Yet at the same time, my expertise does not stretch across all of these areas. I have to admit that I have trained myself right down to a fine point: social media, public discourse, technology, control, law. I have that hammer, and can only hit those nails. If I find myself being particular concerned about social media and harassment, or want to draw links between Trump’s dog whistle politics, Steve Bannon and Breitbart, the tactics of the alt-right, and the failings of Twitter to consider the space of discourse it has made possible, I risk making it seem like I think there’s one explanation, that technology produces social problems. I do not mean this. In the end, I have to have faith that, as I try to step up and say something useful about this one aspect, some other scholar is similarly stepping up an saying something about fundamentalist reactions to globalization, and someone else is stepping up to speak about the divisiveness of the conservative movement.

The book I’m working on now, nearing completion, is about social media platforms and the way they have (and have not) stepped into the role of arbiters of public discourse. The focus is on the platforms, their ambivalent combination of neutrality and intervention, the actual ways in which they go about policing offensive content and behavior, and the implications those tactics and arrangements have for how we think about the private curation of public discourse. But the book is framed in terms of the rise and now, for lack of a better word, adolescence of social media platforms, and how the initial optimism and enthusiasm that fueled the rise of the web, overshadowed the darker aspects already emergent there, and spurred the rise of the first social media platforms, seems to have given way to a set of concerns about how social media platforms work and how they are used — sometimes against people, and towards very different ends than were originally imagined. Those platforms did not at first imagine, and have not thoroughly thought through, how they now support (among many other things) a targeted project of racial animosity and a cold gamesmanship about public engagement. In the context of the election, my new goal is to boost that part of the argument, to highlight the opportunities that social media platforms offer to forms of public discourse that are not only harassing, racist, or criminal, but also that can take advantage of the dynamics of social media to create affirming circles of misinformation, to sip the poison of partisanship, to spur leaderless movements ripe for demagoguery — and how the social media platforms who now host this discourse have embraced a woefully insufficient sense of accountability, and must rethink how they have become mechanisms of social and political discourse, good and ill.

This specific project is too late in the game for a radical shift. But as I think beyond it, I feel an imperative to be sure that my choices of research topics are driven more by cultural and political imperative than merely my own curiosity. Or, ideally, the perfect meeting point of the two. It seems like the logical outcome of my interest in platforms and content moderation is to shift how we think of platforms, not as mere intermediaries between speakers (if they ever were, they are no longer) to understand them as constitutive of public discourse. If we understand them as constituting discourse — both by the choreography they install in their design, the moderation they conduct as a form of policy, and in the algorithmic selection of which raw material becomes “my feed,” then we expand their sense of responsibility. moreover, we might ask what it would mean to hold them accountable for making the political arena we want, we need. These questions will only grow in importance and complexity as these information systems depend more on more on algorithmic, machine learning, and other automated techniques;, more regularly include bots who are difficult to discern from the human participants; and that continue to extend their global reach for new consumers, also extending and entangling with the very shifts of globalization and tribalization we will continue to grapple with.

These comments were part of a longer post at Culture Digitally that I helped organize, in which a dozen scholars of media and information reflected on the election and the future directions of their own work, and our field, in light of the political realities we woke up to Wednesday morning. My specific scholarly community cannot address every issue that’s likely on the horizon, but our work does touch a surprising number of them. The kinds of questions that motivate our scholarship — from fairness and equity, to labor and precarity, to harassment and misogyny, to globalism and fear, to systems and control, to journalism and ignorance — all of these seem so much more pressing today then they even did yesterday.

Beyond bugs and features: A case for indeterminacy

October 19, 2016


Spandrels of San Marco. [CC License from Tango7174]

In 1979, Harvard professors Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin identified what they saw as a shortcoming in American and English evolutionary biology. It was, they argued, dominated by an adaptationist program.[1] By this, they meant that it embraced a misguided atomization of an organism’s traits, which then “are explained as structures optimally designed by natural selection for their function.”[2] For example, an exaggerated version of the adaptationist program might look at a contemporary human face, see a nose, and argue that it was adapted and selected for its ability to hold glasses. Such a theory of the nose not only ignores the plural functions the nose serves, but the complex history of its evolution, its shifting usefulness for different kinds of activities, its mutational detours, the different kinds of noses, and the nose’s evolution as part of the larger systems of faces, bodies, and environments.  So how should we talk about noses? Or, more importantly, how do we talk about any single feature of a complex system? Read more…

SMC at AoIR 2016: Internet Rules!

October 3, 2016

The 17th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers is being held this week (Oct 5-8) in Berlin, Germany. It is a thrill to see so many past and present SMC members presenting their latest work, especially with Kate Crawford as part of the conference’s plenary panel Thursday evening. Below is a cheat sheet of all the SMC presentations, in case you want to follow along. (If we forgot somebody, please email us and we’ll add you!)

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Nancy Baym 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Studying Labor: A Workshop on Theory and Methods
Jean Burgess 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Digital Methods in Internet Research: A Sampling Menu
Kevin Driscoll 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM 404 History Not Found: Challenges in Internet History and Memory Studies
Tarleton Gillespie 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technical Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance
Mary L. Gray 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM Studying Labor: A Workshop on Theory and Methods

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Mike Ananny 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Like, Share, Discuss? How News Factors and Secondary Factors Predict User Engagement with News Stories on Facebook
Nancy Baym 9:00 AM – 10:30 PM Platform Studies: The Rules of Engagement
Jean Burgess 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Platform Studies: The Rules of Engagement
Katrin Tiidenberg 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Session Chair: Fakes
Nancy Baym 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Economies of the Internet
Eszter Hargittai 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Session Chair: (Non)Participation
Tero Karppi 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Algorithmic Identities
Alice Marwick 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Scandal or Sex Crime? Ethical Implications of the Celebrity Nude Photo Leaks
Nancy Baym 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Technically Unequal: Representational Issues in Technology Scholarship and Journalism
Eszter Hargittai 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Unconnected: How Privacy Concerns Impact Internet Adoption
Katrin Tiidenberg 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Representation, Presentation, Embodiment/Emplacement
Siva Vaidhyanatha 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Technically Unequal: Representational Issues in Technology Scholarship and Journalism
Tarleton Gillespie 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Roundtable: Censorship Online, and the Challenges of Studying What’s No Longer there
Kishonna Gray 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Color-Coded: Breaking the Rules of Whiteness Online
Kate Crawford 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM Plenary Panel: Who Rules the Internet? Kate Crawford (Microsoft Research NYC), Fieke Jansen (Tactical Tech), Carolin Gerlitz (University of Siegen)

Friday, October 7th, 2016

Mike Ananny 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Solon Barocas 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Tarleton Gillespie 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM Roundtable: Still Platforms: The Apparent Stability of Digital Intermediaries in the Face of Change and Challenge
Stacy Blasiola 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Rules of Engagement: Managing Boundaries, Managing Identities
Jean Burgess 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM What Would Feminist Big Data, Data Studies and Datavis Look Like?
Kate Crawford 11:00 AM – 12:30 AM What Would Feminist Big Data, Data Studies and Datavis Look Like?
Airi Lampinen 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Rules of Engagement: Managing Boundaries, Managing Identities
Katrin Tiidenberg 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Making and Breaking Rules on the Internet
Kate Miltner 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Playing with the Rules
Kishonna Gray 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM The Cultural Politics of Feminism and Anti-Feminism After Gamergate
Tero Karppi 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM Disconnect. Unfriend. Disengage.
Susanna Paasonen 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM The Cultural Politics of Feminism and Anti-Feminism After Gamergate

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Jean Burgess 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Stefanie Duguay 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Mary L. Gray 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM The Sharing Economy and Its Discontents
Dan Greene 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Germaine Halegoua 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Intersections of Technology & Place
Jessa Lingel 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Session Chair: Tech/Place
Nick Seaver 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Lana Swartz 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Internet Industry Research Rules! A Roundtable on Methods
Kevin Driscoll 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Session Chair: Histories
Annette Markham 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM AoIR Institutional Memory Panel
Dylan Mulvin 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Embedded Dangers: The History of the Year 2000 Problem and the Politics of Technological Repair

New Article in New Media + Society

October 2, 2016

Germaine Halegoua (University of Kansas), Alex Leavitt (Facebook), and Mary L. Gray recently published an article based on research conducted while Germaine was a Ph.D. Intern and Alex was a Research Assistant at MSR.

The article, “Jumping For Fun?: Negotiating Mobility and the Geopolitics of Foursquare” was published in Social Media + Society and is available here:

Abstract: Rather than assume that there is some universal “right way” to engage social media platforms, we interrogate how the location-based social media practice known as “jumping” played out on the popular service Foursquare. We use this case to investigate how a “global” or universal system is constructed with an imagined user in mind, one who enjoys a particular type of mobility and experience of place. We argue that the practices of “Indonesian” Foursquare jumpers and the discourses surrounding their use of Foursquare illustrate that practices understood as transgressive or resistive might best be read as strategies for engaging with a platform as groups contend with marginalizing social, economic, and/or political conditions.

Citation: Halegoua, Germaine R., Alex Leavitt, and Mary L. Gray. “Jumping for Fun? Negotiating Mobility and the Geopolitics of Foursquare.” Social Media + Society 2, no. 3 (July 1, 2016): 2056305116665859. doi:10.1177/2056305116665859.

Call for applications! MSR Social Media Collective PhD interns, for summer 2017

September 30, 2016


Microsoft Research New England (MSRNE) is looking for advanced PhD students to join the Social Media Collective (SMC) for its 12-week Internship program. The Social Media Collective (in New England, we are Nancy Baym, Tarleton Gillespie, and Mary Gray, with current postdocs Dan Greene and Dylan Mulvin) bring together empirical and critical perspectives to understand the political and cultural dynamics that underpin social media technologies. Learn more about us here.

MSRNE internships are 12-week paid stays in our lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During their stay, SMC interns are expected to devise and execute their own research project, distinct from the focus of their dissertation (see the project requirements below). The expected outcome is a draft of a publishable scholarly paper for an academic journal or conference of the intern’s choosing. Our goal is to help the intern advance their own career; interns are strongly encouraged to work towards a creative outcome that will help them on the academic job market.

The ideal candidate may be trained in any number of disciplines (including anthropology, communication, information studies, media studies, sociology, science and technology studies, or a related field), but should have a strong social scientific or humanistic methodological, analytical, and theoretical foundation, be interested in questions related to media or communication technologies and society or culture, and be interested in working in a highly interdisciplinary environment that includes computer scientists, mathematicians, and economists.

Primary mentors for this year will be Nancy Baym and Tarleton Gillespie, with additional guidance offered by other members of SMC. We are looking for applicants working in one or more of the following areas:

  • Personal relationships and digital media
  • Audiences and the shifting landscapes of producer/consumer relations
  • Affective, immaterial, and other frameworks for understanding digital labor
  • How platforms, through their design and policies, shape public discourse
  • The politics of algorithms, metrics, and big data for a computational culture
  • The interactional dynamics, cultural understanding, or public impact of AI chatbots or intelligent agents

Interns are also expected to give short presentations on their project, contribute to the SMC blog, attend the weekly lab colloquia, and contribute to the life of the community through weekly lunches with fellow PhD interns and the broader lab community. There are also natural opportunities for collaboration with SMC researchers and visitors, and with others currently working at MSRNE, including computer scientists, economists, and mathematicians. PhD interns are expected to be on-site for the duration of their internship.

Applicants must have advanced to candidacy in their PhD program by the time they start their internship. (Unfortunately, there are no opportunities for Master’s students or early PhD students at this time). Applicants from historically marginalized communities, underrepresented in higher education, and students from universities outside of the United States are encouraged to apply.



The Social Media Collective is comprised of full-time researchers, postdocs, visiting faculty, Ph.D. interns, and research assistants. Current projects in New England include:

  • How does the use of social media affect relationships between artists and audiences in creative industries, and what does that tell us about the future of work? (Nancy Baym)
  • How are social media platforms, through their algorithmic design and user policies, taking up the role of intermediaries for public discourse? (Tarleton Gillespie)
  • What are the cultural, political, and economic implications of crowdsourcing as a new form of semi-automated, globally-distributed digital labor? (Mary L. Gray)
  • How do public institutions like schools and libraries prepare workers for the information economy, and how are they changed in the process? (Dan Greene)
  • How are media standards made, and what do their histories tell us about the kinds of things we can represent? (Dylan Mulvin)

SMC PhD interns may also have the opportunity to connect with our sister Social Media Collective members in New York City. Related projects in New York City include:

  • What are the politics, ethics, and policy implications of artificial intelligence and data science? (Kate Crawford, MSR-NYC)
  • What are the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development? (danah boyd, Data & Society Research Institute)

For more information about the Social Media Collective, and a list of past interns, visit the About page of our blog. For a complete list of all permanent researchers and current postdocs based at the New England lab, see:



To apply for a PhD internship with the Social Media Collective, fill out the online application form:

On the application website, please indicate that your research area of interest is “Anthropology, Communication, Media Studies, and Sociology” and that your location preference is “New England, MA, U.S.” in the pull down menus. Also enter the name of a mentor (Nancy Baym or Tarleton Gillespie) whose work most directly relates to your own in the “Microsoft Research Contact” field. IF YOU DO NOT MARK THESE PREFERENCES WE WILL NOT RECEIVE YOUR APPLICATION. So, please, make sure to follow these detailed instructions.

Your application needs to include:

  1. A short description (no more than 2 pages, single spaced) of 1 or 2 projects that you propose to do while interning at MSRNE, independently and/or in collaboration with current SMC researchers. The project proposals can be related to, but must be distinct from your dissertation research. Be specific and tell us:
    • What is the research question animating your proposed project?
    • What methods would you use to address your question?
    • How does your research question speak to the interests of the SMC?
    • Who do you hope to reach (who are you engaging) with this proposed research?
  2. A brief description of your dissertation project.
  3. An academic article-length manuscript (~7,000 or more) that you have authored or co-authored (published or unpublished) that demonstrates your writing skills.
  4. A copy of your CV.
  5. The names and contact information for 3 references (one must be your dissertation advisor).
  6. A pointer to your website or other online presence (if available; this is not required).

A request for letters will be sent directly to your list of referees, on your behalf. IMPORTANT: THE APPLICATION SYSTEM WILL NOT REQUEST THOSE REFERENCE LETTERS UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE SUBMITTED YOUR APPLICATION! Please warn your letter writers in advance so that they will be ready to submit them when they receive the prompt. The email they receive will automatically tell them they have two weeks to respond. Please ensure that they expect this email (tell them to check their spam folders, too!) and are prepared to submit your letter by our application deadline.  You can check the progress on individual reference requests at any time by clicking the status tab within your application page. Note that a complete application must include three submitted letters of reference.

If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Tarleton Gillespie at and include “SMC PhD Internship” in the subject line.



Due to the volume of applications, late submissions (including submissions with late letters of reference) will not be considered. We will not be able to provide specific feedback on individual applications. Finalists will be contacted in January to arrange a Skype interview. Applicants chosen for the internship will be informed in February and announced on the blog.




“The internship at Microsoft Research was all of the things I wanted it to be – personally productive, intellectually rich, quiet enough to focus, noisy enough to avoid complete hermit-like cave dwelling behavior, and full of opportunities to begin ongoing professional relationships with other scholars who I might not have run into elsewhere.”
— Laura Noren, Sociology, New York University

“If I could design my own graduate school experience, it would feel a lot like my summer at Microsoft Research. I had the chance to undertake a project that I’d wanted to do for a long time, surrounded by really supportive and engaging thinkers who could provide guidance on things to read and concepts to consider, but who could also provoke interesting questions on the ethics of ethnographic work or the complexities of building an identity as a social sciences researcher. Overall, it was a terrific experience for me as a researcher as well as a thinker.”
— Jessica Lingel, Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

“My internship experience at MSRNE was eye-opening, mind-expanding and happy-making. If you are looking to level up as a scholar – reach new depth in your focus area, while broadening your scope in directions you would never dream up on your own; and you’d like to do that with the brightest, most inspiring and supportive group of scholars and humans – then you definitely want to apply.”
— Kat Tiidenberg, Sociology, Tallinn University, Estonia

“The Microsoft Internship is a life-changing experience. The program offers structure and space for emerging scholars to find their own voice while also engaging in interdisciplinary conversations. For social scientists especially the exposure to various forms of thinking, measuring, and problem-solving is unparalleled. I continue to call on the relationships I made at MSRE and always make space to talk to a former or current intern. Those kinds of relationships have a long tail.”
— Tressie McMillan Cottom, Sociology, Emory University

“My summer at MSR New England has been an important part of my development as a researcher. Coming right after the exhausting, enriching ordeal of general/qualifying exams, it was exactly what I needed to step back, plunge my hands into a research project, and set the stage for my dissertation… PhD interns are given substantial intellectual freedom to pursue the questions they care about. As a consequence, the onus is mostly on the intern to develop their research project, justify it to their mentors, and do the work. While my mentors asked me good, supportive, and often helpfully hard, critical questions, but my relationship with them was not the relationship of an RA to a PI– instead it was the relationship of a junior colleague to senior ones.”
— J. Nathan Matias, Media Lab, MIT (read more here)

“This internship provided me with the opportunity to challenge myself beyond what I thought was possible within three months. With the SMC’s guidance, support, and encouragement, I was able to reflect deeply about my work while also exploring broader research possibilities by learning about the SMC’s diverse projects and exchanging ideas with visiting scholars. This experience will shape my research career and, indeed, my life for years to come.”
— Stefanie Duguay, Communication, Queensland University of Technology

“There are four main reasons why I consider the summer I spent as an intern with the Social Media Collective to be a formative experience in my career. 1. was the opportunity to work one-on-one with the senior scholars on my own project, and the chance to see “behind the scenes” on how they approach their own work. 2. The environment created by the SMC is one of openness and kindness, where scholars encourage and help each other do their best work. 3. hearing from the interdisciplinary members of the larger MSR community, and presenting work to them, required learning how to engage people in other fields. And finally, 4. the lasting effect: Between senior scholars and fellow interns, you become a part of a community of researchers and create friendships that extend well beyond the period of your internship.”
— Stacy Blasiola, Communication, University of Illinois Chicago

“My internship with Microsoft Research was a crash course in what a thriving academic career looks like. The weekly meetings with the research group provided structure and accountability, the stream of interdisciplinary lectures sparked intellectual stimulation, and the social activities built community. I forged relationships with peers and mentors that I would never have met in my graduate training.”
— Kate Zyskowski, Anthropology, University of Washington

“It has been an extraordinary experience for me to be an intern at Social Media Collective. Coming from a computer science background, communicating and collaborating with so many renowned social science and media scholars teaches me, as a researcher and designer of socio-technical systems, to always think of these systems in their cultural, political and economic context and consider the ethical and policy challenges they raise. Being surrounded by these smart, open and insightful people who are always willing to discuss with me when I met problems in the project, provide unique perspectives to think through the problems and share the excitements when I got promising results is simply fascinating. And being able to conduct a mixed-method research that combines qualitative insights with quantitative methodology makes the internship just the kind of research experience that I have dreamed for.”
— Ming Yin, Computer Science, Harvard University

“Spending the summer as an intern at MSR was an extremely rewarding learning experience. Having the opportunity to develop and work on your own projects as well as collaborate and workshop ideas with prestigious and extremely talented researchers was invaluable. It was amazing how all of the members of the Social Media Collective came together to create this motivating environment that was open, supportive, and collaborative. Being able to observe how renowned researchers streamline ideas, develop projects, conduct research, and manage the writing process was a uniquely helpful experience – and not only being able to observe and ask questions, but to contribute to some of these stages was amazing and unexpected.”
— Germaine Halegoua, Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Not only was I able to work with so many smart people, but the thoughtfulness and care they took when they engaged with my research can’t be stressed enough. The ability to truly listen to someone is so important. You have these researchers doing multiple, fascinating projects, but they still make time to help out interns in whatever way they can. I always felt I had everyone’s attention when I spoke about my project or other issues I had, and everyone was always willing to discuss any questions I had, or even if I just wanted clarification on a comment someone had made at an earlier point. Another favorite aspect of mine was learning about other interns’ projects and connecting with people outside my discipline.”
–Jolie Matthews, Education, Stanford University



How much is the salary/stipend? How is it disbursed?
The exact amount changes year to year and depends on a student’s degree status and any past internships with MSR, but it’s somewhere above $2,000/month (after taxes). Interns are paid every 2 weeks. Be aware that the first paycheck doesn’t arrive until about week 3 or 4 (takes awhile for the paperwork to process) so you’d need to make sure you have resources to cover you transition to Cambridge, MA.
Is housing included? Is there assistance finding housing?
The internship comes with funds for travel to/from the area, a small relocation budget, and either a housing stipend or assigned housing.
Are other living expenses included, such as healthcare?
Commuting is covered through either a voucher to get a bike, parking at the building, or a commuter pass. Healthcare is *not* provided, though there is a (pricey) policy that students can purchase while here. The assumption is that interns are covered by their home institution’s healthcare policies, as you would be if you are on summer break.
Are there any provisions for dependents traveling with the intern?
There are, but they can change, so feel free to ask about the specifics that pertain to you. Dependents can be covered with housing (i.e. interns with families receive housing assignments that accommodate their children and partners). Interns with families have definitely been able to make the visit work.
Please note: This internship is *intense* – even for the pretty good pay and the sweet view, it’s not worth applying for this unless you’re ready to work as hard (or harder) than you have in any grad seminar before.

Negotiating Identity in Social Media: Ph.D. course in Aarhus after AoIR

September 13, 2016

Registration open for: “Negotiating Identity in Social Media: Relational, emotional, and visual labor” with Nancy Baym, Annette Markham and Katrin Tiidenberg.


Time: Oct 11-14, 2016 (Just after the AoIR conference in Berlin)
Place: Aarhus University and DOKK 1,  Aarhus, Denmark
Online: We’ll post an online participation option soon. Check back!

Nancy Baym (Microsoft Research New England and MIT);
Annette Markham (Aarhus University);
Katrin Tiidenberg (Aarhus University and Tallinn University).

Description: This course introduces participants to contemporary concepts for studying how self, identity, and contexts are negotiated through interactive processes involving visuality, relationality, and emotionality. The metaphor of labor is used to highlight how these practices are constrained and enabled by economic rationalities, affordances of digital technologies, and contemporary norms around building identity through social media.

1. Emotional Labor was developed as a sociological concept to understand certain workplace practices. This theory usefully addresses how, within an economic framework of producing the self as a ‘brand’ via social media, a labor model of controlled emotionality is invoked. This critical stance toward identity performance is a useful lens for studying how people perform and negotiate identity in social media contexts.

2. Relational labor, a term developed by Nancy Baym to illustrate how performers build ongoing connections with disparate audiences, is an extension of emotional labor. This concept helps us consider the neoliberal frames within which our identity practices are caught, when using social media platforms geared toward audience building, and how the issues raised by emotional labor play out when moved from particular interactions to the unending connectivity social media demand.

3. Visual labor is a concept that, like the previous two, can help researchers consider issues and practices around the digitally saturated self as a product of a visual economy.

Who can attend? Course is appropriate for PhD students, postdocs, and early career researchers in media studies, information studies, anthropology, sociology, political science, and other fields addressing social media practices or negotiation of identity. No prerequisite knowledge is necessary.


Emotional labor:

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Tracy, J. S. (2000). Becoming a character for commerce: emotion labor, self-subordination, and discursive construction of identity in a total institution. Management Communication Quarterly, 14(1), 90–128.
Kang, M. (2003). The managed hand: the commercialization of bodies and emotions in Korean immigrant-owned nail salons. Gender and Society, 17(6), 820–839.

Relational labor:

Baym, N. K. (2012). Fans or friends?: seeing social media audiences as musicians do. Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, 9(2), 286–316.
Baym, N. K. (2014). Connect with your audience! the relational labor of connection. The Communication Review, 18(1), 14-22.

Bounded rationality/bounded emotionality:

Mumby, D. K., & Putnam, L. L. (1992). The politics of emotion: a feminist reading of bounded rationality. The Academy of Management Review, 17(3), 465–486.

Interpersonal relations:

Baxter, L. A., & Montgomery, B. M. (1996). Chapter 1 “Thinking dialectically about communication in personal relationships.” In Relating: dialogues and dialectics. New York: The Guilford Press.


Gergen, K. (2000). Chapter “Truth in trouble” and chapter “From self to relationship.“  In The saturated self: dilemmas of identity in contemporary life (pp. 81 –110). New York: Basic Books.
Goffman, E. (1966) Chapter “Interpretations”. In Behavior in public places (pp. 193–242). New York: The Free Press.
Goffman, E. (1981). Footing. In Forms of talk (pp. 124–159). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. (we assume that participants have read Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life).
Markham, A. (2013). The dramaturgy of digital experience. In C. Edgley (Ed.), The drama of social life: a dramaturgical handbook (pp. 279–293). Farnham: Ashgate.


Tiidenberg, K, & Gomez Cruz, E. (2015). Selfies, image and the re-making of the body. Body & Society, 1–26.
Abidin, C. (2016). “Aren’t these just young, rich women doing vain things online?”: influencer selfies as subversive frivolity. Social Media + Society, 2(2), 1–17.

Preliminary schedule:

Tuesday, October 11, 2016:
09:30-12:00: Introduction to the course and discussion
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:30: Public Lecture by Annette Markham on Emotional Labor

Casual (self funded) dinner with the seminar participants, location TBA

Wednesday, October 12, 2016:
09:30 – 12:00: Discuss emotional labor (previous day’s lecture plus texts)
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:30 Public Lecture by Nancy Baym on Relational Labor
15:00-16:30: QTC Wednesdays at the DLRC (Digital Living Research Commons). Informal conversation with Nancy Baym

Dinner with Media Studies and Information Studies faculty: Location TBA

Thursday, October 13, 2016:
9:30- 12:00: Discuss relational labor (previous day’s lecture plus texts)
12:00 – 13:00 Lunch
13:00 – 14:30 Public Lecture by Katrin Tiidenberg on Embodiment and Visual Labor
15:00-16:00 Discussion of issues, ethics, and concerns
16:00-17:00 wrap-up and evaluation

Organized dinner with participants, location TBA

Architecture or Minecraft?

August 31, 2016

(or, “Hopefully 4chan Won’t Hear About This Contest”)

The social-media-ification of everything continues. If you’ve got time for some late-summer procrastination, thanks to the Internet you can choose the design of my house.

As you may have read here two weeks ago, I’m crowdsourcing it. The first competition is over and I received 16 entries — above average for That means anyone on the Internet can now help pick a winner. I’d say there are some great designs and many awful ones.

My needs attracted designers from Nigeria, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Vietnam, Mexico, and Indonesia. But also London, Texas, and my very own town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Submissions are anonymous, but Arcbazar maps their self-reported locations:
arcbazar map.png

Anyone can submit–no credentials required. So far I don’t think it’s “the worst thing to happen to architecture since the Internet started” but there’s still plenty of time for this to go sideways on me. The next step is voting.

In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the young architect Howard Roark says, “I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.” Like Rand’s protagonist, I think some of my designers refused to compromise their unique vision. To give you the flavor, here are some comments my friends made about the low points:

“This house looks like the head of a Minecraft pig”:



For reference:



We asked for a barn-like building with a gambrel roof. That was a requirement. To write this requirement, “gambrel” is a word I had to look up. Google says:

gambrel roof

I think some of the designers really struggled with it! A friend said: “It looks like this building fell down and broke its spine.”

broken roof


“This appears to be a car dealership.”:

arcbazar concept


You can help choose the winner here: (You need to sign up for a free login.)

There are two separate things to do at this link — voting and commenting. Anyone with an arcbazar login can vote: it’s a numerical rating in five categories.

To vote click “Vote now!” when you are looking at a particular entry. This affects the rankings.

arcbazar vote now link


To comment and to read other people’s comments, click the word “Evaluations” when you are looking at a particular entry. You need a Facebook login to add a comment.

arcbazar evaluations link


Stay tuned. More updates here as the process unfolds.