Trenton Lee is a PhD Candidate and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Westminster in the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI). With a BA in Sociology and Women’s Studies (University of Michigan) and a MA in Social Media, Culture and Society (University of Westminster), he focuses his research at the intersection between political economy and a feminist approach to the understanding of digital media technologies and neoliberal subjectivity. His doctoral research project is a digital ethnography of YouTube’s creator community, exploring the effects of digital commodification on the identity formation and presentation processes of this emerging group entrepreneurial, neoliberal subjects.
The Theory of You(Tube): A Political Economy of the Commodified Self
In the developing digital economy, there is an emerging group of media creators who, with the help of YouTube’s Partnership Program (offering advertising revenue and creator support), are building careers from their bedrooms. YouTubers are emerging as an incredibly influential group, some receiving celebrity status, surpassing the influence of A-list Hollywood celebrities over American teens (Ault 2014, Arnold 2017), and are building multi-million dollar enterprises by branding their personalities using tools offered digital media technologies (DMTs). Academic literature that offer a political-economic analysis of these DMTs (including YouTube) criticises the neoliberal ideologies of digital capitalism, specifically in regards to data monetisation, consumer surveillance and targeted advertising. This study claims that these ideologies have a significant effect on the processes of identity, resulting in the constitution of a neoliberal, entrepreneurial subjectivity. This study will examine these effects, as well as how members of the YouTube creator community make sense of their roles as a YouTuber, from their everyday practices to their working conditions. Using a digital ethnographic approach, this study also attempts to develop a creative methodology that incorporates the processes inherent in the constitution of YouTube’s creator community in the data collection and presentation process. Finally, this study serves as a bridge between YouTube’s creator community and the Media and Communications academic community to that opens up a channel for research and advice.