Users like you? That’s the title of one of the top articles (and by that I mean: most popular) of one of my favourite scholarly journals, Media, Culture & Society, in 2009. The author, Jose van Dijk (prof at the University of Amsterdam, one of my favourite intellectual hot spots) writes as follows in her conclusion:

David Croteau (2006) rightly observed that we still know very little about the effect of user-generated content on the new media landscape. Conceptually and methodologically, media scholars will need to devise new ways to assess content trends across these new production platforms. In this article, I have argued for the articulation of user agency as a complex concept involving not only his cultural role as a facilitator of civic engagement and participation, but also his economic meaning as a producer, consumer and data provider, as well as the user’s volatile position in the labour market. Such a multifaceted concept needs to be met with proposals for multi-levelled methodologies that combine empirical research of users’ activities, motivations, status and intentions with contextual analyses charting techno-economic aspects of media use.

User agency in the age of digital media can no longer be assessed from one exclusive disciplinary angle as the social, cultural, economic, technological and legal aspects of UGC sites are inextricably intertwined. Theories from cultural theory, empirical sociology, political economy and technology design need to be integrated to yield a nuanced model for assessing user agency. Indeed, composite companies like Google should be met with equally multi-faceted models for understanding ‘users like you’.

C’est ca. Right on. That’s what we’re at in this project, in our own way. Elsewhere, I (and Phil Napoli, a working paper for the IAMCR)  have written about types of participation and media policies — the macro-level stuff (see, e.g., this working paper, also the latest RIPE book on “The Public in Public Service Media“).

For research to be truly relevant, micro needs to feed macro and vv. For research to matter in real life, for instance in policy making, it needs to consider micro and macro. Amelia, if anyone, knows this, having conducted qualitative research for, and coauthored, a ground-breaking report that informed the FCC about broadband in low income communities (A: PLS COMMENT 🙂


José van Dijck: Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media Culture Society 2009; 31; 41.