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Alice Marwick Dissertations

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My dissertation looks at how people use social media to boost their social status.

When social media technologies, or "Web 2.0," emerged, scholars and technologists hailed them as a new era of participatory, egalitarian culture. This dissertation examines three status-seeking techniques enabled by social media-micro-celebrity, self-branding, and life-streaming-to provide an alternate view. I argue that Web 2.0 originated in the Northern California technology community, influenced both by counter-cultural movements which positioned new media as a solution to structural deficits of government, business, and mass culture, and the Silicon Valley tradition of entrepreneurial capitalism used as a model for neoliberal development world-wide. These status-seeking techniques constitute technologies of subjectivity which encourage people to apply free-market principles to the organization of social life. Drawing from discourses of celebrity, branding, and public relations, I describe three self-presentation strategies people adopt within social media applications to gain status, attention and visibility.

Based on fieldwork in the San Francisco technology scene from 2006-2009, I identify and describe these status-seeking techniques, how they are experienced, and their implications. Micro-celebrity involves creating a persona, performing intimate connections to create the illusion of closeness, acknowledging an audience and viewing them as fans, and using strategic reveal of information to maintain interest. Lifestreaming is the process of tracking and digitizing personal information and broadcasting it to a networked audience, creating a digital portrait of one's actions and thoughts. In a group of lifestreamers, the digital instantiation of personal information through social media creates a rich backdrop of social information to be scrutinized. Self-branding is the strategic creation of identity to be promoted and sold for enterprise purposes, promoted by self-help gurus and career strategists. These self-presentation strategies involve the creation of an edited self that can be safely viewed by a networked audience consisting of friends, family members, and co-workers. This self requires constant self-surveillance and monitoring and has real emotional affects, which constitute immaterial emotional labor.

Social media is thus undergirded by the neoliberal values of the Northern San Francisco tech scene. I argue that the prevalent myths of entrepreneurship and meritocracy are deeply gendered and contribute to a systematic devaluation of women's experiences, further undermining claims of egalitarianism and democracy.


  PDF [2.3 MB]

Alice Marwick - Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity & Self-Branding in Web 2.0

Since I began my project on status in Web 2.0, people have been asking me two questions:

1) Are you done yet?
2) Can I read it?

I am happy to announce that the answer to both of those questions is YES. Today I have put my dissertation online. Please click below to download it in PDF form:

Alice Marwick: “Status Update, Celebrity, Publicity, and Self-Branding in Web 2.0” [PDF].

The citation is:

Marwick, A. (2010). Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Self-Branding in Web 2.0. Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication.

I chose to Creative Commons license the dissertation and make it widely available online for several reasons. First, I want all my informants, and everyone who helped me with the project, to read my results, because without all the help I received on this project, it could not have been completed. Many people do not have access to ProQuest or other databases which will index this. Second, I want the widest possible audience for my work, because in many ways, this project is an intervention into the idea of Web 2.0 as egalitarian, democratic, and so on. I’m proud of this, and I want to share it, and hear what people think. Third, I’ll be shopping this around as a book — well, a very very revised version of this, to be written in the next year or so– and it’s in my best interest as a scholar to keep my professional profile up while I do that. Fourth, this work– especially the chapters on micro-celebrity, life-streaming, and self-branding– can, I think, be useful to other internet and media scholars, and I want to make a contribution to the discipline.

But because this is an ethnography, I am writing about people’s lives. I stand behind my interviews, my methods, and my perceptions, but inevitably I am turning people into characters and writing about them subjectively. I don’t want to upset anyone, to hurt any feelings, or to step on any toes, but it is inevitable when doing this sort of ethnographic work. But this is why disseminating this project is so nerve-wracking for me. I carefully thought through the choices I made while writing; I hope that comes through in the document itself. And I hope my informants will let me know if they feel that they have been misrepresented, and know that it was not intentional.

I hope people enjoy this dissertation and find it useful. Please mail me if you have comments or questions, blog about it, or leave a comment here.