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Studying the Processes of Media Production

The final speaker in this AoIR 2013 plenary is Gina Neff, who notes that the study of online practices and texts can only provide a limited perspective on resistance to capitalism. The political and economic affordances of the Internet are less open to resisting capitalist models than we might have thought; it tends to subsume resistant practices into online capitalism in the end.

This leads Gina to suggest that the era of the amateur is over. Capitalist dynamics privilege the platform developers, policy makers, proprietors and others over users; the Net is tool for and symbol of the reproduction of this set of power relations. Through it, proto-, pseudo-, and not-quite-yet-professional media makers are subsumed into the system.

The story of the bubble illustrates this. The stories which the hipsters working in late-1990s Internet companies do tell stories of resistance, but in doing so supported the existing system; this created a sense of opportunity and excitement amid an otherwise struggling labour market and dispersed the economic risks of the market.

We need to figure out the underlying structures of production and power which generated this environment. The workers' understanding of their relationship to the creation of media texts determined their positioning in the industry; they accepted the inherent risks in the market, sometimes as their only chance to participate in the industry at all.

The latest field in which these issues emerge today is the area of outsourcing ourselves: the marketisation of emotional life, from connecting with our family and friends to other forms of social and emotional attachment through commercial services. This ties us more intimately than ever to the capitalist system. We must contextualise these practices by examining the context of their production. .

This is brought to the fore especially in the area of 'big data', where the scholarship has focussed more on user practices than on the assemblages which make such practices possible. This does the scholarship a disservice, Gina says - we need more research on the commercial interests around 'big data' and the bigger economic and institutional arrangements that surround that phenomenon.

The fundamental issue with prosumption and consumption studies is that we need to begin by understanding production better first. If we want to address power and resistance, we need to do so by examining the political economy and institutional conditions of media production.