International Journal of Cultural Studies – Antenna Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Value Creation Through Digital Commons: Complicating the Discourse Wed, 21 Oct 2015 13:00:54 +0000
Cosmos Laundromat by Blender Institute, 2015.

Cosmos Laundromat by Blender Institute, 2015.

Post by Julia Velkova, Södertörn University

This post is part of a partnership with theInternational Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna.

By the end of 2015, the number of open content works online licensed under a Creative Commons license is estimated to pass beyond one billion[1]. Approximately one-tenth of them are hosted on major sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Public Library of Science, Scribd and Jamendo, and represent music, photos, animation films, online comics, texts and illustrations that are made explicitly available by their authors with the intent to encourage their circulation, use and the creation of derivative works.

One widely spread assumption about these forms of copyleft-licensed media is that they are a result of unpaid, volunteer labor, often done with the intention to disrupt broader capitalist structures or circuits of production through new forms of organising. Another common view is that while individuals give away their artifacts to the public, the market economy exploits this content by integrating it in the circuits of capitalist production and by extracting value from it without contributing back. These portraits, while true to a certain extent, do not give justice to the much more complex interactions between market and commons that inform the creative practices and intensions of producers engaged in creating digital commons, ranging from free and open source software development and hacking, to producing media of industry quality or within the creative industries themselves. Not least, these views disregard the possibility that the producers of commons are experimenting with models to financially sustain and capitalize on their own work, not necessarily standing in opposition to the markets. At the same time it is admittedly difficult to grasp the way in which economic value is generated through commons if looking just at the final artifacts that are made – software, or media since they are often shared free of charge.

Image: Morevna Project, Anastasia Mayzhegisheva, 2015

Image: Morevna Project, Anastasia Mayzhegisheva, 2015

In the period between 2013 and 2015 I observed ethnographically the processes of creation of two large scale animation film projects anchored in the domain of commons and the techno-artistic communities surrounding them. One of the films was Cosmos Laundromat[2], part of the larger project Gooseberry by the Blender Institute[3] in Amsterdam, Netherlands; the other one was The Beautiful Queen Marya Morevna[4], part of the larger Morevna project[5] by an informal collective located in Gorno-Altaysk, a town of 40,000 inhabitants in Southern Siberia, Russia. The projects were particular in several ways: they gathered artists and programmers to develop and improve free and open source software for computer graphics production, namely the largely popular program Blender for 3D animation; and Synfig for 2D vector animation. These programs represent the non-proprietary equivalents of software such as 3D Studio Max, Adobe After Effects and Maya. At the same time, the production process, and the short animation films were made public and shared as commons, together with all their assets.

If looking at the main software used in the productions, respectively Blender and Synfig, they both have remarkably gone through a process of de-commodification in the course of which they have been converted from proprietary to free software programs, and their development taken over by their user communities. This suggests that not only the industry does appropriate products of the commons, but also reverse processes do occur. De-commodification helped Blender to grow significantly in the course of about fifteen years to an average of 300,000 user downloads a month(ref), and Synfig to about 20,000 a month over slightly over than six years. This growth has in both cases been largely due to the organisation of software development as practice-driven process that emerges from making animation films through a public process anchored in sharing the code, the production process and the components (assets) of the films made. This approach has so far been applied on five[6] open animation films by the Blender Institute, allowing the Blender software user community to grow. As a result Blender has also been incorporated at the core of the professional production practice of many small commercial animation studios across the world. It has also inspired others, such as Morevna project to experiment with making open-films but in a different animation genre. The approach has also led large hardware manufacturers (such as Intel and Dell), actors from the game industry (Valve Corporation) and IT corporations such as Google to provide support to Blender in the form of powerful hardware, monthly monetary donations[7] or contributions targeted at the development of specific features through, for example, the Google Summer of Code program. The direct industry support provided for developing Blender has contributed to the establishment of independent technical infrastructure that has in turn enabled the creation of open animation films. Within the production frameworks of the films themselves more funds are secured with the help of institutions of public cultural funding, philanthropic foundations, private companies, other open source communities, as well as individuals. The financial resources that are generated do not therefore stem from sales of media, but are a result of combining multiple production practices, that of films, software, and training materials that cut across the interests of multiple organisations and as a result attract financial support through the increased range of beneficiaries.

These interactions help the software and film projects ultimately to economically sustain themselves, and develop software, as well as media owned by the public. The latter could at the same time be regarded as a form of critique, from within, of the prevailing systems of cultural production that is more anchored in pragmatic considerations around the possibility to exercise craft autonomy within the cultural industries, rather than being representative of ideologies of the political left.

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[For the full article, see Julia Velkova and Peter Jakobsson, “At the Intersection of Commons and Market: Negotiations of Value in Open-Sourced Cultural Production,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication: More information on related research can be found at Julia Velkova’s blog:]


Crowdfunding: Looking Beyond Kickstarter Tue, 14 Jul 2015 12:00:37 +0000 megatotal1Post by Patryk Galuszka and Blanka Brzozowska, University of Lodz

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna.

Until recently crowdfunding mostly drew the attention of economists, who attempted to measure the efficiency of this new form of financing, and lawyers, who discussed its regulation. Viewing crowdfunding from the perspectives of cultural and media studies not only enhances our understanding of the phenomenon, but also has the potential to make a contribution to research into the relationships between artists and fans. However, crowdfunding poses quite a challenge for researchers. For one thing, there are several models of crowdfunding, each assigning different roles to project initiators and contributors. It is reasonable to assume that not all of an estimated number of over 1,000 platforms worldwide are clones of Kickstarter. In addition, artists’ statuses are different–we should take into account that the process of crowdfunding conducted by a star with a global following will take a very different form than a collection effort initiated by a debutant who in the beginning can count only on him or herself and family and friends.

MegaTotal (see Figure 1), the crowdfunding platform that is the subject of our analysis, operates according to a different model from that of Kickstarter.

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

Figure 1. MegaTotal.

The most important difference between MegaTotal and Kickstarter is the application in the former of investment mechanisms resulting in people who support popular projects receiving a return on their investment. In practice, this means that each and every payment (except for the first) is subdivided into two equal parts, where one part goes to the project initiator and the other is distributed among earlier contributors in proportion to their participation in the project (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Flow of capital between contributors and project initiators on MegaTotal. Each contributor’s payments and equity stake is represented by different color. Contributor 1 captures part of the funds paid by all the other contributors. Other contributors correspondingly enjoy proportionally lower capital flows. Source: The rise of fanvestors: A study of a crowdfunding community, by Patryk Galuszka and Victor Bystrov. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 5 - 5 May 2014

Figure 2. Flow of capital between contributors and project initiators on MegaTotal. Each contributor’s payments and equity stake is represented by different color. Contributor 1 captures part of the funds paid by all the other contributors. Other contributors correspondingly enjoy proportionally lower capital flows. Source: The rise of fanvestors: A study of a crowdfunding community, by Patryk Galuszka and Victor Bystrov. First Monday, Volume 19, Number 5 – 5 May 2014

In effect, every contribution increases the account of the project, but also determines the position of the backer on the list of project “shareholders” (see Figure 3).

The flow of resources takes place in real time, which means that “profits” are transferred to the accounts of contributors in the service the moment the given project attracts successive contributors. As a result of this mechanism, contributors have additional motivation that is not present in donation-based and reward-based crowdfunding.

It may be said that crowdfunding incorporates qualities originating on a base of fan activity, such as claims to the rights to artist’s work and the striving to influence its development as derived from that right. Such qualities, however, presently go beyond the framework of fandom and mold a new dimension of consumer culture as such. Regardless of whether contributors can be termed as fans or not, analysis of crowdfunding should take into account the possibility of their active participation in the process of creating a culture product. What is being discussed is a phenomenon that is perhaps not totally transforming the production system (at least not at this time), but is presently decidedly behind a change in relations with consumers and an understanding of the role of the artist as such. The assumption that the currency of crowdfunding is the emotional involvement of consumers–not just their attention attracted thanks to efficient promotion–means that the new model cannot be easily compared to any standard whose foundation is the traditional marketing model.

Artists must find themselves within this new situation and simultaneously see the promotional and distribution potential of crowdfunding. To quote Ted Hope, advocate of America’s independent cinema movement and Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society:

To survive and flourish, today’s artist/entrepreneurs–and those who support them–must all embrace practices that extend beyond the core skills of development, production, and post-production of their art and work–and even reach beyond the attention and practice of marketing and distribution.

Our interviews with musicians who use MegaTotal support that argument. Crowdfunding requires that the project initiators themselves have specific aptitude and change their approach to the process of creating, promoting and distributing culture products. This corresponds very well with the argument that today artists (and those who do not engage in crowdfunding) are required to embrace entrepreneurial skills. Those artists who find this approach problematic should probably stay away from crowdfunding.

It should be noted that the character of the change taking place is more one of awareness than technology. This creates a new division among creators, negating the traditional one onto mainstream (a model in which the artist is passive and the label/publisher/studio divests him or her of freedom, but in exchange concerns itself with distribution and promotion) and “indie” (a model in which the artist is more active and fights for his or her independence, but often at the cost of a lack of publicity and counting on the loyalty of fans). The new division, though dictated by digital technology, primarily necessitates assimilation by artists and acceptance of a new attitude. The statement may be risked that the greatest potential in the development of independent creativity is actually hidden in this new model for promotion and distribution based on close contact with the consumer. It is thanks to the consumer that texts from the realm of “indie” can reach a significantly larger audience without losing anything of their “independent” character.

[For the full article, see Patryk Galuszka and Blanka Brzozowska, “Crowdfunding: Towards a redefinition of the artist’s role – the case of MegaTotal,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]


Out the Back: Race and Reinvention in Johannesburg’s Garden Cottages Wed, 08 Jul 2015 13:00:53 +0000 johannesburg-nightPost by Nicky Falkof, University of the Witwatersrand

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

In 2013, after 17 years of living elsewhere in South Africa and the world, I moved back to Johannesburg, the city of my childhood and adolescence, to take up a research fellowship. The place I returned to was almost unrecognisable. The oppressive late apartheid city I left has mushroomed into a pulsing metropolis, sprouting malls, migrants, security apparatus, gated communities, galleries, transport hubs and informal settlements, swelling northwards to embrace nearby towns, mutating faster that I can keep track of.

But while Johannesburg has changed in important ways, it remains in some respects oddly familiar beneath its glossy, globalised marketing. The economic and social differential between suburbs–formerly legislated as white only areas–and townships–dense, poor extra-urban zones with minimal infrastructure where black people were shifted by the apartheid government–remains extreme, despite the growing racial integration of the wealthy middle class.

Dwellers in the Johannesburg suburbs continue to be powerfully invested in the literal and imaginary boundaries of their neighbourhoods. These often charming, tree-lined streets contain little or no public space. Bodies that do not belong–in particular black male working-class bodies that are not performing physical labour–can find themselves tailed and moved on by private security companies, or characterised as criminals and plastered on community Facebook groups.

One of the clearest sites for locating the changes-that-aren’t-really-changes in suburban Johannesburg is the garden cottage, a relatively new invention. Most freestanding homes, particularly in the older northern suburbs, have one or more small outbuildings in their back yards. Many of these were shoddily constructed, with tiny windows, minimal light, raw brickwork, a steel sink and hot plate for cooking, furnished with cast-offs from the main house, perhaps with an outdoor toilet in a separate structure. This was the “maid’s room”: the place where the family’s live-in domestic worker ate, slept, cooked, washed and sometimes hid lovers, children and friends, in defiance of the so-called influx control that made it illegal for “surplus” black people to be in the cities without pass books signed by white employers.




An unreconstructed maid’s room, now used for storage, in the suburb of Melville. Photos: Aguil Lual Blunt

An unreconstructed maid’s room, now used for storage, in the suburb of Melville. Photos: Aguil Lual Blunt

In the years since the end of apartheid the shape of domestic labour in Johannesburg has changed. Middle- and even working-class people of all races employ domestic workers, many of whom are immigrants from elsewhere in southern Africa, although few of these women (and occasionally men–the Malawian “houseboy” is one of Joburg’s more discomforting contemporary status symbols) live on site. This shift in the spatial and economic politics of domestic employment has freed up the space out the back and many homeowners have turned these former sites of labour exploitation into income-generating assets. Rebuilt, extended, cleaned up, furnished and often quite literally whitewashed, Johannesburg’s garden cottages are now rented out via agents and other networks.

A survey of advertisements on the popular Gumtree website reveals that these spaces are described as private, clean, safe, charming and quiet. None of these attributes would have been associated with the maid’s room which, no matter how much care its inhabitant took with it, was structurally unsuited to pleasant living. Cottage tenants are often invited to use the garden or swimming pool, once arenas of privileged whites-only leisure. The extension of access to these areas of suburban pride suggests that the person renting a cottage is discursively imagined as having equal, or close to equal, status to the homeowner, unlike the domestic worker in the cottage’s previous life, whose entry into the swimming pool would have broken a powerful social taboo. Black workers were permitted to clean the most intimate areas of white lives but were concurrently considered too dirty to use the same plates, crockery or social space.

In the middle class imaginary of 21st century Joburg, then, the garden cottage is a democratised space where people who do not own property in the suburbs can enjoy an enviable lifestyle in these quiet, leafy and (comparatively) secure environs. But this romantic idea is not borne out by the realities.



A garden cottage in Brixton, renovated and rented out on Air BnB. Photos: Zen Marie

A garden cottage in Brixton, renovated and rented out on Air BnB. Photos: Zen Marie

A closer look at cottage advertising reveals a slight but unmistakable suggestion that only certain types of people are welcome in these spaces. Requests for South African passports and other documentation show an endemic mistrust of people from elsewhere in Africa that manifests violently in poorer areas of the country. Owners ask for people of “sober habits” and mention proximity to schools, religious and leisure spaces, implying that the tenants they seek are people like them, from the same communities, with the same interests, ethnic and/or economic backgrounds. Those who are allowed to live in the suburbs are expected to know the relevant codes of behaviour. Excess sound and excess people are not permitted here. Modes of township life, characterised by permeability rather than borders, communality rather than privacy, noise rather than silence, are not permissible in the suburbs, where high walls and individual property are the order of the day.

Interviews with cottage tenants compound this impression. Black people tell stories of suspicious owners who inspect their guests, set awkward rules and make them feel unwelcome in shared spaces, or of advertisers who refuse to allow them to view properties. White people talk of being interpellated into unwanted modes of kinship and the assumption that they must be the same as their homeowning landlords simply on the basis of race and class. In all these cases the apparently democratised space of the garden cottage remains subject to the classificatory urges that characterised the biopolitics of apartheid society. The boundaries of the suburb are socially policed and rules about belonging and alien-ness are retained in the 21st century city.

The dichotomy and similarity between maid’s room and garden cottage show some of the ways in which post-apartheid Johannesburg has changed, and some in which it hasn’t. Consistently contested and negotiated, these often uncomfortable spaces are a metonym of the city’s racist past and the ways in which its present, despite entry into global and continental flows of capital, culture and people, is layered on top of that painfully persistent history of separation and inequity.

[For the full article, see Nicky Falkof, “‘Out the back: Race and reinvention in Johannesburg’s garden cottages,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]


Bracketing Home: The Asian Century Fri, 03 Jul 2015 13:00:12 +0000 asiaPost by Yiu Fai Chow (Hong Kong Baptist University), Sonja van Wichelen (University of Sydney), and Jeroen de Kloet (University of Amsterdam)

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna.

The 21st century is often heralded as the Asian, if not the Chinese, Century.

We understand the seduction of such nomenclature. At the same time, we think it is important to be critical and cautious about such narratives that are often accompanied with strong doses of nationalism; after all, who needs another hegemonic power in the wake and form of the United States? But we understand the seduction of calling this century the Asian one, as much as we see the urgency to acknowledge changing dynamics between here and there. It seems undeniable that the Rise of Asia in the global context of our century has been engendering important shifts in geopolitical power relations. They necessitate more nuanced empirical inquiries and intellectual thinking on all sorts of issues, rather than one grand narrative. Mobility is one such issue. In a world that is increasingly globalized, in flux, groups of people are constantly on the move, either voluntarily as businessmen, academics or tourists, or by necessity as migrants or refugees. And yet, we must not forget those who stay put. The majority of Americans, for example, do not have a passport, while their films, music and television shows are likely to constitute the heaviest cultural (and economic) traffic in the world. In the meantime, in nations like China, many citizens have no choice but remain in their hometown, paradoxically involved in paid labour enabled by global capital.

We are, however, not only interested in mobility in a general sense. More specifically, we want to inquire into the “Asianization” side of this. Such more specific configuration of our intellectual curiosity is interwoven in our biographies. All of us traverse between “the West” and “the East,” making do with what we have, occasionally wondering where on Earth we are. And then we become sharply aware that home is not merely a manifestation of personal choice and affect, but also an issue of politics and power, when we are asked by those who insist on asking: Where do you really come from? Where is your real home?


Questions of place, belonging and citizenship have been high on the intellectual agenda since the early 1990s, yet most of these studies take “the West” as their focal point. The Asian turn urges us to rethink these notions. Can we still feel at home in a world that is so much in flux? Is home such a nice and cozy place as we are often expected to believe? The demand to feel at home is ridden with power; it is often imposed upon migrants to enforce assimilation; it may render us less mobile than we would like to be; and it may hinder rather than support the multiculturalist dynamics of a city. A migrant worker who left his hometown in Anhui in search for a better life in Shanghai is less likely to feel at home, given that local urbanite Shanghainese may look down upon him as having less “quality” (suzhi). On the other hand, can he ever feel truly at home in the big city, while his hometown is still struck and stuck by poverty and a lack of opportunities? Home is consequently fraught with longings and belongings that may produce a deadlock, rather than a sense of intimacy, capable of pushing us into a perpetual state of schizophrenia.

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An appeal to reconceptualize “home” seems necessary, not only to find a way out of such schizophrenic states of mind, but also to investigate how the Asian Century contributes to changing the notions of place, belonging, and citizenship so deeply anchored in the colloquial definition of home. Increasingly, we witness disjunctures and fractures between these three different modalities of home. People are forced to move and then even if they do develop a strong sense of belonging to that new place, they have to fight for their citizenship’s rights. Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong, for instance, have left behind their own families to take care of the families of their employers. This displacement of homes plunges them deeply into the workings of global capitalism, without earning them any citizen rights from the authorities. In other fast-changing cities in Asia, such as Beijing, people often feel alienated, negotiating a deep sense of non-belonging with the massive mutation of the cityscape. It is our contention that these disjunctures, as demonstrated in such “Asianization,” will increase in the future; the tensions between home and the actual place we find ourselves living in, between home and our sense of belonging, and between home and the rights attached to it, are increasingly disjointed.


Where home is matters not just geographically, but also historically, politically and culturally. Given the complex realities of home and the persistent simplicity or simplification in its imagination, we want to make a modest plea: to bracket home, not unlike the way we hyphenate identity. We find it necessary to bracket home as (making) place, (not) belonging and (flexible) citizenship-–to foreground the never-ending process of homemaking, the multiplicity of feelings and experiences, and the possibility of transcending old loyalties. To bracket home is to remind us that home is always already implicated in such complexities, thus always already in the processes of making. It is a profoundly sensory enterprise that involves a structure of feeling, an affective mode of belonging, that requires constant maintenance, and that remains perpetually fragile. Perceiving home in this manner paves the way for probing into the role that imagination plays–including old and new media–in the negotiation of home. Campaigns, pictures, and other visual materials (for example in the local branding of Hong Kong) attest to this important role of the imagination, as significantly as the limitations of such. Put differently, they are concerned with moments when memories flow in frustration with imagination, when longings duly evoked run havoc with the construction and maintenance of a sense of belonging.


In the editor’s note to this post, you will find the reference to a special issue of articles on “home,” which, in turn, found its roots in a conference we organized. The conference took place in Hong Kong in early 2013. Let us end with what took place in the city more than a year later, as an extended postscript to underline the urgency to revisit notions of home, belonging and citizenship in the Asian context. The protests loosely grouped as the Umbrella Movement were in many ways implicated with contestations precisely over home. Protesters claimed the streets, eventually calling the occupied areas “villages” with postal addresses, donning flyovers and highways with works of art, equipping public toilets with personal but communal toiletries, in short, making a place yet to be defined. At the same time, other populations fought to “reclaim” their city back to the older manners of running their shops, going to their work, and generally to the place already made. More immediately, the protests, and the counter-protests, were part and parcel of the larger contest over political power, democracy and freedom: who has the right to decide the city’s future? Beijing? Hong Kong? Who in Hong Kong exactly? The protests took place also in the midst of heightening Sino-Hong Kong tension not only in the political arena but also in everyday life. Many “local” people complain that “local” resources are being abused by increasing numbers of newcomers from mainland China, sometimes culminating in instances of intra-ethnic discrimination or downright xenophobic attacks. While mainland Chinese tourists are accused of being “unpatriotic” for spending money in Hong Kong, Hong Kong people are blamed for their lack of nationalistic feelings for their mother land. The latest controversy flared up when the largely local audience booed the national anthem of China when Hong Kong was hosting a football match against Bhutan for the World Cup preliminary match.

Such are the complex realities of home being played out in Hong Kong, China, Asia and, we believe, everywhere else. If this were the Asian Century, it’s time we learned more about place, about home–about the emerging processes of place-making, of belonging and of regulating citizenship statuses.

[For the full introduction to this special issue, see “At Home in Asia?: Place-making, Belonging, and Citizenship in the Asian Century,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]

All photos taken by Jeroen de Kloet.


The Discursive Asianization of Hungary Tue, 30 Jun 2015 14:00:07 +0000 kurultaj_fokep600

Post by Chris Moreh, Northumbria University

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

As a landlocked country in Central Europe, and member of the European Union since 2004, Hungary is unlikely to be considered by many as Asian. Nevertheless, it has thrown itself into the global race to compete for advantageous positions in the postulated new international order dominated by Asia with everything its imagined cultural history and genetic composition of its population had to offer. Since the 2010 electoral success of the conservative center-right, there has been a strengthening public discourse promoting the necessity to open towards Asia, not only for economic reasons but also because of a supposed cultural and racial affinity. I see this ‘Asian discourse’ as made up of heavily mediatized themes which activate and reinforce a specific understanding of what it means to be Hungarian.

The question of ‘what is Hungarian?’ has been a centuries-old concern for intellectuals, artists, and politicians – and a particular answer has been resurfacing in recent years. According to it, even after more than a millennium since they arrived to the Carpathian Basin, Hungarians are still to be considered a ‘Turanic’ people. The term ‘Turan’ or ‘Turanian’ was introduced as a linguistic concept in the 1860s, but it originally had a geographic meaning, referring to the Central-Asian territories north of Iran, inhabited by nomadic tribes hostile to the Persians. While it most commonly describes Altaic-Uralian peoples like the Finns, Estonians, Turks, Mongols, Japanese or Koreans, more inclusive definitions also incorporated the Chinese, the Tibetans and the Indians. By the end of the 19th century the concept had entered into widespread use, gaining additional racial overtones. During the first half of the past century Turanism became part of the extreme right’s official rhetoric, falling into disrepute after World War II, and being evicted from popular knowledge during communism. It was only after the regime change of 1989 that elements of Turanic thought were revived in certain extreme-right circles. Today it is most openly promoted by the radical-nationalist Jobbik party, whose long-held aim is to change the official position of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on the question of the Hungarian ‘ancestral homeland,’ together with its representation in textbooks.

The most public display of Turanism takes place every two years with the occasion of an international ‘tribal meeting’ (Kurultáj, in Turkic languages) which has been organized in Hungary since 2008. The main organizer of the event is the anthropologist and human biologist András Zsolt Bíró, who maintains close ties with Jobbik, having received the party’s ‘Pongrátz Gergely Cross of Merit’ for his scientific research. His main research centered on genetic tests carried out on members of a Kazakhstani tribe called Madjars, and his findings published in 2009 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology disclosed a genetic affinity between the Madjars and the Hungarians (Magyars).

Photo by Mudra László ( Taken at the exhibition “What Is Hungarian? Contemporary Answers.”

Photo by Mudra László ( Taken at the exhibition “What Is Hungarian? Contemporary Answers.”

It was against this background that the ‘Asian discourse’ of the Hungarian government began to emerge through themes relating to different – economic, cultural and racial – sub-discourses. The broadest discourse officially assumed by the government at the highest level is that of ‘eastward opening,’ proposing closer economic cooperation with countries in Asia. We can track the emergence of this discourse in several speeches given by the Prime Minister in 2009 and 2010. It first surfaced through the metaphor of Hungary as a ship sailing under a western flag, but having to turn its sail according to an ‘eastern wind’ blowing in the world economy. This economic discourse, however, soon acquired a political and cultural dimension. The event which brought this discourse to the surface was a speech given by the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2012, where he talked about the necessity of ‘power’ (or force) to unite and lead a ‘half-Asian’ nation like Hungary. The speech was especially controversial due to its ambiguity regarding the future of western liberal democracy. What gave more media resonance to the Prime Minister’s words was another event which occurred soon after: the official visit to the Parliament of the representatives of several Asian ‘tribes’ taking part in the Kurultáj. The fact that the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly officially received the organizers and participants at the Parliament was presented in the opposition media as a formal acceptance of Turanism, an origin theory which remains repudiated by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Later that year, another event caused controversy, this time a statement made by the then National Economy Minister György Matolcsy at a small gathering. Reacting to a question from the audience, the minister defended the Prime Minister’s views regarding the ‘half-Asian’ provenience of the Hungarians by explaining how both Hungarian and Japanese babies share the so-called ‘Mongolian spot,’ a bruise-like birthmark visible on the lower back or buttocks of children in their early infancy. The statement was ridiculed in the left-wing opposition media, but as an unscripted reaction to an attendee’s question, it shows just how deeply the sense of racial affinity with Inner Asian and Far Eastern nations has penetrated into popular cognition.

Such cultural and racial discourses are closely linked to Turanic visions, and have served to support the government’s economic and political discourse of ‘eastern opening.’ Nevertheless, the spread and legitimation of Turanism may in the long run serve the political ambitions of the extreme right, currently in opposition. Showing clear similarities with the Eurasianist discourse promoted in Russia by ideologues close to president Putin, the spread of Turanism in Hungary can also have geo-political repercussions.

[For the full article see Chris Moreh, “The Asianization of national fantasies in Hungary: A critical analysis of political discourse,” published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies.]


“A Torn and Wrinkled Page On a Dirt Road”: Memories of Pornography as Somatic Archives Fri, 26 Jun 2015 14:00:38 +0000 Image: Lisa Anne Auerbach.

Image: Lisa Anne Auerbach.

Post by Katariina Kyrölä, University of Turku, Finland

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

My first memory of porn is a torn and wrinkled page I saw on a dirt road close to my grandma’s place sometime in the late 70s or early 80s (I’m born in 1973). … It was really hard to figure out what the picture was about. It was a close-up of a very hairy bush and manly equipment. I remember realizing what it must be about, and I was very confused, not turned on at all. (female, born 1973)

When I was younger, little things were enough to get me excited. A single torn page of a porn magazine, wet from the rain, could be a treasure I’d keep for a long while. … I haven’t thought that pornography significantly defined my sexuality as a child, but now I’m of course picky about what pleases me and what I aim for, perhaps because of my own activities as a creator and collector of porn. (male, n.d.)

These two excerpts, reminiscing first encounters with pornography and their influence in later life, are a part of a small but varied and colorful archive of 45 essays on how people have used porn in Finland. The essays, written as responses to a call for contributions in 2012, offer fascinating glimpses into the roles and meanings of pornography in every lives, sexual self-definitions, and media use practices from the 1930s to recent years. While yielding no possibility for generalizations, this archive is nevertheless rich in detail about the largely uncharted territory of the experiential power of porn for its users (see also McKee et al., 2008; Smith et al., 2011).

The two excerpts describe how one single page or image, seemingly bordering on trash but found and even treasured as a child, has stuck to the author’s memory for decades. The authors do not describe these early encounters as traumatic but as curiosity-provoking, looking at their younger selves with tenderness and amusement.

The influence of such encounters – or porn use in general – is impossible to specify or quantify. Instead, they can be understood to contribute to somatic archives (Paasonen 2011) concerning sexuality. Somatic archives are accumulations of memory, sensation and knowledge which layer in the body through encounters with sexual scenarios, be they lived, represented or imagined. Both personally specific and culturally shared, somatic archives direct our encounters with bodies, media technologies, and sexual acts in the present and the future, whether we are conscious of it or not. Somatic archives take shape just as much through chance encounters, carried in the body as a vivid memory of a wrinkled image of a bush, as through repeated actions of searching for porn online amongst the billions of available images.

Image: Lisa Anne Auerbach.

Image: Lisa Anne Auerbach.

The point of somatic archives is not to consider porn as an external influence on people’s sexuality, but to investigate the complex layering of cultural memory, personal inclination and media technologies. Body ideals, or sexual and porn use preferences more broadly, came up in the essays as questions of self-definition and self-styling as much as desires and orientations towards other bodies, acts, scenarios, and images. Especially memories from before the age of online porn, emphasized colors, textures and the work of gaining access to porn with much pleasure and nostalgic intensity.

It was the 80s, and one centerfold … has stuck to my mind. On the first page, it had a woman in heavy make-up and big blond curls putting her fingertip in her mouth, and between her labia in the second picture. She had bright red nail polish and equally bright lipstick, and she looked right into the camera defiantly. A teenage girl concluded pretty fast that big, curly, blond hair and red nails were sexy like nothing else! I grew out my nails and got blond highlights. It took until I was 16 before I was allowed to use even a hint of red lipstick, but oh what a victory of femininity it was when strange young men, and older ones too, commented on my red lips. (female, born 1970)

We invited a local horse breeder guy, decades older than the rest of us and of Irish decent, to one of our pornographic film viewings. He had never seen a porn film before and eyes wide he wondered about the large colorful image and the positions and skills of the man appearing in the film, and he stood up in ecstasy clicking his mouth and even went up to stroke the woman on the screen and said that his wife and him had definitely never had sex like that. (male, born 1948)

Both authors, the first describing mid-1980s, the second mid-1970s, recount the private and socially shared porn encounters as titillating highlights in their sexual history, but also as chances to expand ideas about what sex and sexuality meant for them or other people. Indeed, one of the most consistently recurring themes in the material was how pornography, whether accidentally encountered or consciously searched for and acquired, broadened and opened up authors’ somatic archives in terms of what they could imagine enjoying, desiring and being capable of sexually.

Often you hear the claim that porn gives the wrong impression of women, because they say it features only thin, beautiful, big-breasted and feminine women. But immediately when you look at what porn websites actually offer, you notice that this is not the case. You find fat, small-breasted, boyish and bald women there just as well. … I like to look at normal-sized, maybe a bit heavier women. … Men I don’t really want to see, although I’m not sure if I’m bisexual or lesbian. (female, born 1994)

For this author, like for many others in our material, porn preferences and personal sexual and romantic preferences were not always clearly compatible. The practically limitless contemporary online porn resources were seen as particularly useful and easy routes to experiment with one’s preferences and find new points of resonance for one’s sexual self-definition. Overall, our respondents’ narratives fit poorly in the current discourses of concern over the supposedly homogenizing or traumatizing effects of online porn for people’s body images or perceptions of sex.

For further reading on somatic archives, memories of porn use in Finland, and the notion of the archive in the context of queer theory, porn studies, and media studies, please read the recent article “Glimmers of the forbidden fruit: Reminiscing pornography, conceptualizing the archive” in International Journal of Cultural Studies, authored by myself and Susanna Paasonen.

McKee A, Albury K and Lumby C (2008) The Porn Report. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Paasonen S (2011) Carnal Resonance: Affect and Online Pornography. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Smith C, Attwood F and Barker M (2011) preliminary results. Available at:


Ongoing 3.11 Disaster and Recovery and Japan’s Mediascape Mon, 22 Jun 2015 16:40:44 +0000 3-11

Post by Rayna Denison (University of East Anglia) and Hiroko Furukawa (Tohoku Gakuin University)

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

On the morning of March 12th 2011, we awoke in the UK to news of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that had swept across the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu the previous day. From there, the news worsened with an unfolding nuclear disaster, as the Fukushima nuclear power plant was revealed to be in meltdown, requiring the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the surrounding area. Whole towns simply disappeared. Nearly 20,000 people are now known to be dead with thousands more missing, and hundreds of thousands of people have been left without homes. Amidst this devastation, our article asks how Japan’s fiction media producers responded to the mood and needs of audiences across the Japanese archipelago.

The 3.11 disaster, as it would come to be called, has been the fastest and perhaps most highly mediated disaster in Japan’s history, and the extensive news coverage has be paralleled by the attempts of media producers to just as rapidly tell stories about, and help with the healing process around, the earthquake and its aftermath. We therefore investigated the importance of Japan’s story media to audiences struggling to deal with the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 3.11.

himizu 1We have found an ongoing discourse about trauma, healing, and recovery in media ranging from manga to anime and film. Although this in itself may not surprise, the speed with which Japan’s media producers and creators have moved from issues of disaster to those debates around healing and recovery is remarkable. The disaster physically changed Japan’s media, causing everything from paper shortages to necessitating new, ad hoc cinema construction. It also shifted attention towards new media production, with popular manga including Weekly Shōnen Jump being made available online in new experimental ways. Beyond problems in production and distribution, the 3.11 disaster also highlighted the growing importance of social media in Japan, with popular Tohoku-region manga artists and filmmakers announcing their survival via Twitter and personal websites.

The story worlds of Japan’s media were also reshaped by the disaster. Broadcasters re-edited popular anime television shows to remove potentially upsetting content, while filmmakers like Sion Sono scrambled to re-design the content of their films to reflect the impact of the disaster on Japan’s mediascape. Sono was one of the first to include real footage of the tsunami-struck northern areas, making them part of the psychologically-scarred landscape of his film Himizu (2012). Likewise, media producers attempted to raise awareness and help with relief by synergistically combining popular releases with exhibition and performances in the affected region. For example, Japan’s biggest animation company, Studio Ghibli, did advance screenings of their film From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) within the disaster-stricken areas, and many pop stars put on free concerts to raise awareness and provide relief for those affected.

storiesSince those early moments, though, there have been increasing numbers of film documentaries attempting to reflect on the disaster, and there have been numerous manga that have also acted to document personal accounts of disaster and recovery. Some media producers, like those behind the multiple volumes of Stories from 311 are actively helping to raise funds for the relief effort, whereas other manga authors are providing “iyashi-kei” or healing-style accounts of the events. In these ways, Japan’s fiction-oriented media producers have inherited the work of the Japan’s news media, and are continuing to produce media with the aim of keeping the 3.11 disaster, and relief efforts associated with it, in consumers’ minds. A good example would be Ryoichi Kimizuka’s film Reunion (Itai: Asu e no Tōkakan, 2013), a populist film about the treatment of the dead in the wake of the tsunami, which was produced by powerful television executive Chihiro Kameyama. Based on news stories from the time, the film both recounts the disaster as memory, while emphasising the disaster’s ongoing significance within Japan’s national culture.

[For the full article, see Hiroko Furukawa and Rayna Denison, “‘Disaster and Relief: The 3.11 Tohoku and Fukushima Disasters and Japan’s Media Industries,” published in International Journal of Cultural Studies, March 2015, vol. 18 no. 2:]


Thoughts on English Literacy and Popular Culture in South Korea Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:00:27 +0000 dmc-300x212Post by D. Elizabeth Cohen, Gyeongju University

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

In the five years that I have been living in South Korea, I have noticed an amazing amount of variety in attitudes and practices regarding the inclusion of the “foreigners” – of which I am one – increasingly sharing the country. One thing is for sure: Korea’s is not a monolithic society. In my article that appeared in the September 2014 issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies, I wrote about the gap that occurred between the originally envisioned Digital Media City (DMC) and what actually resulted. DMC is a creative industries ICT (information and communication technology) cluster, originally planned as a creative cluster to foster the creative economy in Korea through an open environment and free exchange between locals and internationals. In my article I noted that while DMC is successful by many standards, this free exchange has not occurred and pointed to the lack of English signage at DMC as an indicator.

As a second generation American growing up in a home with two languages – one used by the adults to keep secrets from “the kids” – I am sensitive to the power of language both to exclude and to include. What I noticed at DMC – among other proper and prestigious Korean institutions – most with international aspirations and world-class pretensions – is a lack of bilingualism and the inclusion that would result. I simultaneously observed in down-to-earth organizational settings more representative of Korea’s usual homey kind heartedness, an attempt to accommodate “the other” through the use of English. Two examples: a yoga class I attended that was my life line while in Seoul, and a cultural symposium dedicated to the topic of Korea’s “comfort women.” Some forward-thinking sectors of Korean society “get” the importance of bilingualism for inclusion, and other more traditional thinkers really don’t – even, surprisingly, in the reverse (that is, the need to provide translation to make English environments more inclusive of Koreans).


I concluded in my article that because DMC’s planning occurred at an unusual time in Korea’s history – influenced by IMF mandates in the late 1990s – this accounts at least partially for the implementation disconnect. Something else I might have pointed out is that creating internationalization through an engineered creative cluster is far from a paint-by-the-numbers affair. The plan might have been half-baked from the outset, less the fault of the South Korean planners than the MIT consultants on whom they relied.

But while DMC has only fulfilled its envisioned internationalization role in a limited way, I like to think that internationalization in South Korea is slowly evolving in smaller, more humble settings – like my classroom – using popular culture artifacts! What never could have been predicted at the time of DMC’s planning would be the emergence of YouTube and its tremendous power for globalization and internationalization*. I now make extensive use of YouTube’s resources in my Literacy and Internationalization university classes in the heritage city, at which I now teach after leaving the Communication department at my former well regarded Seoul university.

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Digital media from YouTube is a form of globalization that young Koreans wholeheartedly embrace. There is a huge gap in Korea between young and old – a subject for another blog piece – and young Koreans are in general more welcoming of internationals. But overall, young people reject the English learning imposed upon them by their elders, perhaps reflecting a mistrust of the instrumental motives of improving the Korean economy through the ability to provide a cadre of faceless but impeccable English speakers.

In contrast, watching quality 20th century Western media on YouTube adds value to the individual lives of Korean young people – not just for their artistry and entertainment value but also for the communication of ethics and democratic values. This media offer students a personal reason to want to learn English. A true fan, I get a big kick out of watching my students’ reactions as I share gems such as Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz, Earth Wind and Fire tunes and performances, and archive-grade A-Train music videos. It is a privilege to equip aspiring design, musical and dramatic artists with stellar resources from which they can draw inspiration and improve their craft. It’s a do-it-yourself museum, and I’m the curator! Students get excited by these materials, and it motivates them to communicate. Where once they were shy, they now want to share their opinions – and they’ll do it in English if necessary.

YouTubeSharing these videos provides me with personal gratifications as well. As a child of the 1960s who once dismissed Dusty Springfield in favor of bigger ticket performers like The Beatles and Rolling Stones, my students’ admiration for her rendition of “Look of Love” caused me to give her and her body of work a second look that was enriching. And in watching and discussing gems from YouTube with my students, I get to be a Mom for the second time having the pleasure of witnessing the world once again through the eyes of my one-semester-only offspring.

While viewing YouTube videos in a classroom is mostly a one-way cultural exchange, and doesn’t fulfill the two-way free exchange aspirations of the architects of DMC, it is a step in the right direction of the evolving process of internationalization that does not seem to happen easily anywhere in the world. Why should it be different in South Korea?

The popular culture resources now available on YouTube are Western ambassadors that can bring great value to others around the world. Such media can be used for many educational and cultural purposes – not only to promote English literacy abroad – but within American shores as well. They are an inestimable treasure that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

* There is a connection between DMC and YouTube; some commercial content creators for YouTube are in residence at DMC where they develop and distribute digital content

[For the full article, see D. Elizabeth Cohen, “Seoul’s Digital Media City: A History and 2012 Status Report on a South Korean Digital Arts and Entertainment ICT Cluster,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]



“Faces of Hong Kong”: My City? My Home? Wed, 03 Jun 2015 14:15:42 +0000 brandhk-02Post by Yiu-wai Chu, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

Hong Kong, now a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, had been a British colony for 156 years before sovereignty over the territory was handed to China in 1997. Shortly after reversion to its “motherland,” it was expected that Hong Kong people would have a stronger sense of belonging to their home city. The surprisingly stellar rise of China in the new millennium, however, has resulted in many impacts on Hong Kong. Hong Kong people have worried about forced integrations, in particular during the post-free-tour period, when countless Mainlanders crossed the border to purchase different commodities, ranging from luxury goods to baby formula.

The Hong Kong SAR government launched BrandHK, a global communications platform, in 2001 to focus international attention on Hong Kong’s drive to become “Asia’s World City.” In March 2010, a “Faces of Hong Kong” campaign was inaugurated via the BrandHK platform as a new marketing and communications strategy to promote the city and enhance the sense of belonging of Hong Kong people. The strategy of the overhauled campaign endeavored to highlight the “human” side of Hong Kong, thus its main thrust was focused on a series of promotional videos that featured different Hong Kong citizens. While the series of promotional videos feature both celebrities and common folk, familiar faces, such as international film star Chow Yun-Fat, have stolen the limelight. Although Chow Yun-Fat has achieved global success in his film career, he is well-known for being local as well. Praised by local media as “The Son of Hong Kong,” Chow Yun-Fat is famous for living an ordinary local life, despite his enormous success. As such, Chow Yun-Fat was the choice to promote Hong Kong to the world, as this campaign focuses on locals.“Faces of Hong Kong” tactfully used Kowloon City, Chow Yun-Fat’s favourite neighbourhood, as the main setting. In the video there were lots of signatures local stores where Chow has been hanging out for several decades. “Over the years, other parts of Hong Kong have changed a lot, but Kowloon City is a place that still feels the same. Much of what I remember from my childhood is still here. The way of life, the atmosphere, the friendliness of the neighbourhood. It’s the same for me now as it was back in the sixties.” Chow’s voice-over in the video might sound sweet to many years, but my “re-search” of Kowloon City told a different story. If the feeling of being at home is based on “security, familiarity, community and a sense of possibility,” which are actually the underlying themes of the “Faces of Hong Kong” promotional videos, the case of Kowloon City exposes a harsh reality that insists on showing a different picture: these key feelings have no place in the redeveloped district.

Photo 1: Kowloon City wet market; across the street once stood the famous local restaurant Dragon Palace.

Photo 1: Kowloon City wet market; across the street once stood the famous local restaurant Dragon Palace.

Photo 2: New Citygate Chinese Herbal Medicine Store on the left; across the street once stood the district’s largest department store, International, boasting a history of more than 50 years.

Photo 2: New Citygate Chinese Herbal Medicine Store on the left; across the street once stood the district’s largest department store, International, boasting a history of more than 50 years.

My pedestrian inquiry started with Kowloon City’s public wet market, Chow Yun-Fat’s favourite. Just across the road from the market stood a well-known local restaurant called Dragon Palace, but it was closed in 2012 and was subsequently torn down to make way for new luxury apartments (Photo 1). Unfortunately, this was not an isolated event. On the other side of the public market, the same developer demolished another old residential building to make way for its real estate project entitled “Billionaire Avant.” One block away from the public market stands three famous local stores: New Citygate Chinese Herbal Medicine Store (Photo 2), Hoover Cake Shop (Photo 3) and Kung Wo Soya Bean Factory (Photo 4). In the “Faces of Hong Kong” video, Chow Yun-Fat tastes delicious egg tarts at Hoover and consumes thirst-quenching soya bean milk at Kung Wo. These are undoubtedly landmark stores with a long history. However, on the same street many old buildings have already been swallowed up by developers. In the promotional video, Chow Yun-Fat works excitedly with the staff of New Citygate Chinese Herbal Medicine Store. The store is still there but the building just across the road, once housing the district’s largest “international” department store and boasting a history of more than fifty years, was pulled down not long after the video was released. Urban redevelopment is not uncommon in metropolis regions such as Hong Kong; however, what is most troubling is that the retailers of the new buildings are often completely different from their predecessors. As profit is the raison d’être of property developers, it is not surprising that the street stores in the luxurious redeveloped buildings target chain-store renters who can afford higher rates (Photo 5). It is a shame that the recent changes in Kowloon City, which might become a “generic district” in the near future, has told a story opposite to a local sense of belonging.

Photo 3: Hoover Cake Shop on the left; a new luxury apartment project across the street.

Photo 3: Hoover Cake Shop on the left; a new luxury apartment project across the street.

Photo 4: Kung Wo Soya Bean Factory on the right; a new luxury apartment project across the street.

Photo 4: Kung Wo Soya Bean Factory on the right; a new luxury apartment project across the street.

Photo 5: A new building with street shops occupied by chain stores.

Photo 5: A new building with street shops occupied by chain stores.

While “Faces of Hong Kong” highlights the stories of Hong Kong people from all walks of life, they are simply used to illuminate the values of “Asia’s World City,” which desperately brands Hong Kong as a generic global city. Generic cities that embrace neoliberal capitalism are very similar in nature. It is difficult if not impossible to have a strong sense of belonging if the “homes” in these cities are all equals. The problem is that both China and the West would like Hong Kong to further develop into a generic commercial city. The fluid, vibrant, and hybridized everyday life practices, a vital source of multiplicity in Hong Kong over the past fifty years, have been under threat in the past decade or so. Hong Kong citizens recently expressed that it is ever more important to safeguard core local values. Apart from values, sadly, local space cannot remain unfazed as well. Urban redevelopment has been sped up by not only rampant capitalism but also integration with the Mainland, the free tours from which, for instance, profoundly alters the ecology of the local market. The example of Kowloon City has shown that “to belong” has already become a luxury for many Hong Kong people.

[For the full article, see Yiu-Wai Chu, “‘Faces of Hong Kong’: My City? My Home?,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]

All photos taken by the author on 23 October 2013.


The Gendered Politics of Digital Brand Labor Wed, 18 Mar 2015 14:00:35 +0000 Love Keyboard

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

Amid the flood of actors, directors, and reporters congregating in Park Springs, Utah, for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was a cadre of social media influencers that New York Times writer Sheila Marikar designated the “new celebrity crowd.” With thousands—even millions—of social media followers each, these fashion bloggers, YouTube vloggers, and Instagrammers were being wooed by advertisers and publicists at the Sundance gifting suites, where they were furnished with designer clothes, shoes, tech accessories, and more. In exchange, the social media personalities were expected to share photos and reviews of the Sundance swag with their followers, part of a mutual incentive system that increasingly structures digital communication in the so-called “attention economy.”

Although gender was scarcely mentioned in the NYT article, the feminized nature of the system was patently clear: the majority of the social media personalities mentioned were female, a disparity which was highlighted by a comment from a PR rep, “When it comes to the sales, the digital girls are making those. We see higher conversions off those girls than we do with celebrity placement that we might have paid money for” (italics added for emphasis). And save for the male chief executive of a talent agency, three of the four publicists quoted were women. This brings to mind Ann Friedman’s provocation last year about the gendered dimension of the public relations profession, which she said is treated like “a pink ghetto.”

The article also drew attention to the highly gendered discourses of affective or emotional labor, particularly in the context of the promotional “love fest.” Justine Ezarik, more commonly known as iJustine, gushed to Marikar, “I love products, and I love sharing if I love something. Like, you can probably guarantee that it’s going to be posted, especially if I love it.” For retailers and advertisers, an endorsement by a social media influencer like Ezarik enables them to rise above the flood of ubiquitous marketing messages through a seemingly authentic brand promotion.

Social Media NailsWhile the NYT article profiled those faring quite well from their social media promotions, legions of other young women engage in similar brand work—without monetary compensation. Often, these creative aspirants are seduced by the infectious rhetoric of “dream jobs” and “passion projects”; indeed, the notion of doing what you love has become so central to contemporary career narratives that scholar and Jacobin contributor Miya Tokumitsu declared it the “unofficial work mantra of our time.”

My recent International Journal of Cultural Studies article, “The Romance of Work: Gender and Aspirational Labour in Digital Culture Industries,” brings gender politics to the fore of discussions about using social media to pursue one’s labor of love. Based on a study of female social media producers, I contend that digital labor scholars must take seriously the meaning-making activities of participants, especially female content creators.

Drawing upon in-depth interviews with eighteen fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers, and DIY stylists—as well as an analysis of social media professionalization resources—I argue that these young women are engaged in “aspirational labor”: a highly gendered form of (mostly) uncompensated work that 1) amateur participants believe has the potential to “pay off” in terms of future economic and social capital; and 2) that keeps female content creators immersed in the public circulation of commodities. Like individuals performing social roles through aspirational consumerism—for instance, purchasing luxury goods to mark oneself as a member of elite social strata—aspirational laborers seek to mark themselves as creative producers who will one day be compensated for their craft—either directly or through employment in the culture industries.

My analysis explores three salient features of aspirational labor: narratives of authenticity and realness; the instrumentality of affective relationships; and entrepreneurial brand devotion. The latter, which describes the “new celebrity” Sundance promotions, reaffirms a cultural history of gendered social sharing surrounding consumer goods. Scholars Crystal Abidin and Eric C. Thompson aptly refer to the presentation of intimacy that takes place at the intersection of femininity and commercialism as “persona intimacy.”

As I show in the article, many individuals try to curry favor with brands by freely publicizing their products and messages; however, the reward system for these aspirants is highly uneven. Only a few of these young women rise above the din to achieve the level of digital stardom associated with internet personalities like Ezarik. The rest, meanwhile, remain suspended in the highly gendered consumption and promotion of branded goods. Despite such unevenness, I argue that aspirational labor does “pay off” in one important way: it has successfully romanticized work at a moment when its conditions and affordances are evermore precarious, time-intensive, underpaid—and decidedly unromantic.

[For the full article, see Brooke Erin Duffy, “The Romance of Work: Gender and Aspirational Labour in the Digital Culture Industries,” forthcoming in International Journal of Cultural Studies. Currently available as an OnlineFirst publication:]


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