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Frustration/Revelation Series: Going Viral: Ethnography and the Study of Social Media

Lecture
Photo of Ashley Mears
Thursday, February 3, 2022, 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Every research project involves countless small decisions, and each one could have huge consequences on the findings as well as on the researcher. This is especially the case for ethnographers, who collect data on the social world with first-hand participant observation, using their own bodies to gain a sensory understanding of the field.  This talk presents my ethnographic research on virality and social media. To trace the organization of virality, I ask, How do people go viral online, and why do they pursue it?  Over the course of 11 months and 50 interviews, I immersed into the world of content creators to understand how they catch and hold the attention of global mass audiences on Facebook and other platforms. There are tremendous economic rewards of high reach, but there are also social risks in the form of status loss and context collapse. I experience these risks and rewards personally as I learn to create and post videos for my own monetized Facebook page. In discovering the labor and logic behind virality, this carnal ethnography pushes theoretical boundaries in the sociology of culture, and it pushes my own boundaries too: am I willing the risks to go viral? 

A discussion will follow the talk. The first three questions to open the discussion are reserved for undergraduate students.

This lecture is part of the Frustration/Revelation speaker series organized by the Undergraduate Studies Program: Research can be characterized by long stretches of frustration and puzzlement, punctuated by occasional moments of revelation. This series focuses on exceptional scholars who will not deliver standard academic talks, but who will bring to life struggles faced when pursuing their research, how they came to study a specific topic, difficult choices made, failures, and then sometimes revelations - sudden or slowly accumulating - that have transformed how they view their research, their respective disciplines, and even the world at large. In the process, we also learn about academic disciplines and the kind of work scholars do in crafting their research. 

You can register for the event here.