Creativity is big business: the professionalisation of user-generated content creators on YouTube
Zoë's research focus is on YouTubers’ creative labour, especially vloggers, a topic that has been an enduring interest of hers both academically and personally. She is researching how the increasingly formalised commercialism on and around YouTube has impacted user-generated content creators. This ongoing process has been fraught with tensions and debates on the platform; some welcome the wealth and recognition that popular YouTubers are gaining, whilst other fear that it marks the end of an amateur, communitarian period, and the proliferation of financially-driven, unethical and unoriginal clickbait content. In her research, she addresses how mainstream vloggers are emerging through and are entangled with the complex commercial interests, structures and technological affordances of the platform, and how this in turn impacts upon audiences. Considering this process towards mainstream commercialism, she is exploring to what extent YouTube is still a platform that promotes creativity, education and community. With a generation of young people growing up with dreams of becoming a successful YouTuber, this cultural and economic phenomenon deserves greater critical scrutiny.
She is carrying out multi-sited ethnographic research (both online and offline) with YouTube content creators and audiences, and also at YouTube Space London to observe the efforts that YouTube is going to as a company to professionalise user-generated content on the platform. Her research is fully funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
She is posting weekly videos to her YouTube channel as the autoethnographic portion of her research, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the experience of content creators. You can watch these here: www.youtube.com/zedstergal.
Supervisors: Professor Sonia Livingstone and Dr Shakuntala Banaji
In 2017 Zoë completed an MA Digital Media (Distinction) at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she studied critical theory and ethnographic approaches to digital media. Her dissertation was entitled 'The Commodification of YouTube Vloggers', in which she addressed the increasing commercialisation of the platform and the effects that this has on content creators and audiences. She was awarded a full scholarship from the The Worshipful Company Of Stationers & Newspaper Makers, where she is now a Freeman. Prior to this, in 2013 Zoë graduated with a BA Social Anthropology (First Class Honours) from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her dissertation, entitled 'French the Llama, I’m a Nerdfighter! Identity Formation and Collaboration in a YouTube Community' involved ethnographic research with London-based self-appointed 'Nerdfighters'. Between her BA and MA she worked for various television production companies. Since 2013, she has also been involved with In The Dark, an organisation that stages live listening events in order to celebrate stories told through sound.