CALL FOR PAPERS: Fourth Global Conference on Economic Geography, Oxford, August 19-22, 2015
Working in the virtual world: Exploring the geographies and labouring experiences of bloggers.
Taylor Brydges – Uppsala University
Carol Ekinsmyth – University of Portsmouth
Brian J. Hracs – University of Southampton
At Christmas 2014, the chart-topping paperback in the UK was ‘The Pointless Book’ by Blogger/Vlogger/Youtuber Alfie Deyes, a spin-off from his vlog (a blog in video form) that has over 3.1 million followers. Zoe Sugg, fashion and beauty blogger (known as “Zoella”, Alfie’s girlfriend, 6.8 million subscribers to her main Youtube channel) has followed suit with her book ‘Girl Online’. This book, released in November 2014, has broken the UK record for highest first-week sales since records began. Both in their early twenties, they are thought to be two of the most influential figures in UK social media, tweeting, blogging and vlogging worlds.
Blogging and bloggers have changed the landscape of celebrity, fame, popularity, self-promotion entrepreneurship, creative practice, curation, publishing and beyond. These activities have redefined who can be known and heard, and have opened up new ways of working, doing business and consuming. They are at the forefront of the evolving relationship between physical, temporary and virtual spaces and have forged new intersections between producers, curators, retailers and consumers. In this dynamic ecosystem bloggers can take multiple forms including producers (blogging to promote and sell their products), curators (evaluating and providing advice about products), consumers, (blogging about their preferences, practices, experiences) or individuals using the blog as a leisure pursuit (in the form of public diary or social activity). Blogging as an activity can range from a primary source of employment and income (e.g. a full-time fashion blogger), to a related work activity (e.g. a musician blogging for self-promotion) or a private hobby (e.g. a personal travel blog). Indeed, these roles and activities can blur and, as the Alfie Deyes example shows, can also rapidly create new hybrid forms.
Central to the rise of bloggers is the advent and appeal of social media and other web 2.0 technologies. These technologies are shaping and reshaping the way work is performed (spatially and temporally), experienced and compensated. For entrepreneurs and ‘Creatives’, blogging offers opportunities and challenges. Nascent research in this area suggests that blogging can help to reduce or remove entry barriers, and provide low-cost platforms to independent producers for self-and product promotion (Shultz, 2013). Indeed in some cases, bloggers can now rival traditional industry actors through their position as critical and democratic voices (Crewe, 2013).
It is equally important to consider the darker sides of the labouring practices associated with blogging. Indeed, by enabling the spatial and temporal ubiquity of Web 2.0 platforms, the further flexibilization of labour and greater knowledge-based democracy (Papacharissi 2010), the miniaturization and spread of technology creates potential health and wellbeing hazards, as work is never finished, out-of-reach or absent (for an empirical analysis of independent musicians see Hracs and Leslie 2014).
Geographers have a unique contribution to make to the study of these rapidly developing phenomena as the spatialities of these activities, and ways in which they span and connect real and imaginary places, pose important questions. Indeed, while blogging can be considered a ‘placeless’ activity, in reality these activities are tied to specific locations (for an example of blogging networks and the New York theatre scene, see: Jones et al., 2010). Despite increasing interest and attention, many gaps remain and further discussion and empirical analysis is needed. For example, the practices, experiences and spatial dynamics of bloggers remain understudied and little is known about the fast developing corporate infrastructure that exists to harness, promote and channel the work of bloggers.
This session will bring academics together to consider these new ‘workers’ and this form of ‘work’.
We are interested in exploring the following questions and related issues:
- What types of bloggers (vloggers, for example) are there in the marketplace?
- Where, and in what forms, do their activities take place? How fluid are these types and how do they evolve over time?
- How may factors such as age, gender, class, race, education and/or life stage shape the working practices and experiences of bloggers?
- What are the characteristics of the corporate infrastructure that has developed to harness the outputs/labour of bloggers?
- What factors motivate bloggers to blog? In what ways do economic, cultural and social capital play a role? What value(s) are created through blogging? (money, reputation, community, identity, pleasure etc)
- How do bloggers stand out in, and harness, the crowd?
- What are the tensions associated with blogging?
- How do bloggers establish trust and credibility and negotiate expectations and issues related to accepting and disclosing compensation (pay, gifts, bribes etc)
- How and for what purposes do bloggers use multiple social media platforms? What are the intersections and relationships between the physical, temporary and virtual spaces of blogging-related work and more specifically, how do bloggers perform and experience aesthetic labour in these arenas?
- To what extent does everyday life become bounded by the need to produce blog content and what are the implications of this growing reality?
- How do bloggers relate to each other? Do they seek to network, collaborate, support, mentor, compete, undermine, or sabotage one another?
- To what extent is blogging a sustainable source of work?
Please email abstracts of no more than 300 words to Taylor Brydges (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Friday May 1st, 2015.
Crewe, L. (2013). When virtual and material worlds collide: democratic fashion in the digital age. Environment and Planning A, 45(4), 760 – 780. doi:10.1068/a4546
Hracs, B. J. and D. Leslie. (2014) Aesthetic Labour in Creative Industries: The Case of Independent Musicians in Toronto. Area 46 (1): 66-73.
Jones, B. W., Spigel, B., & Malecki, E. J. (2010). Blog links as pipelines to buzz elsewhere: the case of New York theater blogs. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 37(1), 99 – 111. doi:10.1068/b35026
Shultz, B. (2013). The Work Behind the Scenes: The New Intermediaries of the Indie Crafts Business. Regional Studies, 0(0), 1–10. doi:10.1080/00343404.2013.770597
Papacharissi, Z. (2010). A private sphere: Democracy in a digital age. Polity.