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Gaming–playing on social media: using the psychoanalytic concept of ‘playing’ to theorize user labour on Facebook

A Research Paper by Jacob Johanssen, published by Information, Communication & Society

Political economists have argued that user activity on corporate social media is regarded as labour that appears playful and fun but is exploited and sold to advertisers for profit maximization. This article begins with the working assumption that such user labour on social media constitutes a form of playing. It is theorized through a psychoanalytic perspective on the term as developed by D. W. Winnicott and André Green. The notion of gaming–playing is put forward to account for set interface structures on Facebook that resemble a game as well as free-flowing dimensions more akin to playing. Some user discourses on Facebook are analysed through this prism. A psychoanalytic conceptualization of user labour as playing allows one to analyse both positive discourses that emphasize Facebook as a space for creativity, exploration and the unknown, as well as negative discourses that critique the platform with regard to lacking privacy controls or data ownership. Both discourses are conducted in a playful manner that creatively utilize a sense of user agency in relation to others and Facebook itself, but often remain without consequences.

KEYWORDS: PlayinggaminglabourpsychoanalysisD. W. Winnicottsocial media

Johanssen, J. (2018). Gaming–playing on social media: using the psychoanalytic concept of ‘playing’to theorize user labour on Facebook. Information, Communication & Society, 1-15.

Jacob Johanssen

About Jacob Johanssen

Jacob Johanssen's work revolves mainly around two themes: exploring Freudian psychoanalysis as a theory and method for media audience research with a particular focus on psychoanalytic conceptualisations of affect, as well as using psychoanalysis to think critically about contemporary digital culture more broadly.

His research interests include audience research, social media, digital labour, psychoanalysis and the media, affect theory, psychosocial studies, critical theory, as well as digital culture. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, International Communication Gazette, and Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture.


Jacob Johanssen
8 May 2018
Published By
Information, Communication & Society
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