“Don’t forget to like, subscribe and turn on the bell notifications!” An Ethnography of YouTube Creators’ Labour
Zoë's doctoral research is concerned with understanding the lived experiences of aspiring and professional YouTube content creators within the flourishing online video industry, a topic that has been an enduring interest of hers both academically and personally since 2007. The project aims to paint a picture of the lives of content creators as they navigate this unpredictable and precarious career, thinking particularly about how they are shaped by and navigate technologies (platforms, algorithms), audience interactions and broader industry actors and structures (talent agents, MCNs, influencer marketing, YouTube, etc.). Ultimately, the project is interested in exploring what is new or different about creative labour that is native to the multi-platform environment of the Internet. With a generation of young people growing up with dreams of becoming a successful YouTuber, this cultural and economic phenomenon deserves greater critical scrutiny.
In order to gain a rich and complex understanding of the varied experiences of YouTube content creators, this project takes the form of a 2-year multi-sited online and offline ethnography (2018-2019). In terms of offline research this includes interacting with YouTube creators and industry professionals at events such as the YouTube Space London, VidCon USA and UK, London Small YouTubers Organisation meetings and informal YouTube gatherings, as well as in-depth interview with content creators. In terms of online research, this involves fieldwork with YouTube creators, observing their content and interactions with their audiences across various social media platforms. She is also carrying out innovative autoethnographic research in the form of becoming a YouTuber herself. By the end of this PhD project she aims to have a deeply embedded ethnographic understanding of the lived experiences of aspiring and content creators within this burgeoning industry, as well as novel insights about multi-sited ‘networked’ ethnographic methods. Her research is fully funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
She posts regular videos to her YouTube channel, 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.