Media Industries Conference London, 18-20 April 2018

By Karen Patel on April 24th, 2018

The inaugural Media Industries Conference was a surprise to me – in terms of scale, reach, variety of themes and delegates from around the world, from 27 different countries to be exact. For a conference which was the first of its kind, that is some achievement. The three days overall were interesting and exciting, and I met some amazing people.

The plenary panels focused on the past, present and future of media industry studies, and it was notable how prominent the ‘big tech’ companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook were in such discussions. However, speaking in a panel on the ‘present’ media industry studies, David Hesmondhalgh suggested that we need to look beyond the big tech companies dominating the landscape. While it is crucial that we remain to explore and scrutinise such companies, Hesmondhalgh suggested that there are plenty of areas which require our sustained attention, such as issues around surveillance, as well as affect, intersectionality, inequality, and the aesthetic qualities of cultural and media objects. The focus on the aesthetic was also raised by Georgina Born in the opening plenary on the Wednesday. This is a particularly interesting theme for me which I am seeking to explore in the future, particularly in the realm of craft practice.

A lot of panels tended to take a broad view of various media industries, which is probably understandable given that it was a media industries conference. I was, however, struck by the lack of panels on cultural labour and issues around social justice in the industries. These are extremely important issues affecting how media is made and who is allowed to make it, and I felt it should have been given more attention throughout.

The panel I was involved in was concerned with cultural labour – specifically feminised cultural labour on social media. The panel was a result of ongoing chats with Brooke Duffy post-ICA 2017. The panel was chaired by Nora Draper from University of New Hampshire, who researches issues around identity and surveillance online. Also on the panel was Agnes Rocamora from London College of Fashion, who presented research on fashion bloggers. Brooke presented a paper she had co-written with undergrad student Becca Schwarz on the invisible labour of social media jobs.

My paper was an extension on the chapter I have written with Dan Ashton about vlogging labour, expertise and authenticity. I focused specifically on beauty vlogging, with two arguments. First, that the specific subject expertise of female beauty vloggers is there for all to see, but in addition to the labour of developing and performing expertise, they must also undertake a great deal of aesthetic labour, not only in their own appearance but in the composition of their videos, their home, and their online profiles. Second, their aesthetic labour can be capitalised on by vlogging intermediaries, such as Multi-Channel Networks and influencer agencies. The slides can be downloaded here. I haven’t had a chance to properly think through these issues in the specific area of beauty vlogging, so this panel was a useful opportunity for me to do some ground work for further research. I felt very lucky to be involved in such an interesting panel, and to have met more great women who are doing research on the labour of online work.