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Cinema and Media Studies YouTube
by
Jean Burgess

Introduction

Originally launched in 2005 with a focus on user-generated content, YouTube has become the dominant platform for online video worldwide, and an important location for some of the most significant trends and controversies in the contemporary new-media environment. Throughout its very short history, it has also intersected with and been the focus of scholarly debates related to the politics, economics, and cultures of the new media—in particular, the “participatory turn” associated with “Web 2.0” business models’ partial reliance on amateur content and social networking. Given the slow pace of traditional scholarly publishing, the body of media and cultural studies literature substantively dedicated to describing and critically understanding YouTube’s texts, practices, and politics is still small, but it is growing steadily. At the same time, since its inception scholars from a wide range of disciplines and critical perspectives have found YouTube useful as a source of examples and case studies, some of which are included here; others have experimented directly with the scholarly and educational potential of the platform itself. For these reasons, although primarily based around the traditional publishing outlets for media, Internet, and cultural studies, this bibliography draws eclectically on a wide range of sources—including sources very closely associated with the web business literature and with the YouTube community itself.

Dedicated Books

There are very few book-length works solely dedicated to comprehensively exploring YouTube (or even online video more broadly) as an object of study, as opposed to using it as an example, or source of examples, in the discussion of other topics. The first monograph to be published on YouTube was Burgess and Green 2009, followed by Strangelove 2010; joining the wide-ranging international collection was Snickars and Vonderau 2009. The Video Vortex readers of Lovink and Nieder 2008 and Lovink and Miles 2011 provide a useful counterpoint to YouTube-centric scholarship.

  • Burgess, Jean, and Joshua Green. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Digital Media and Society series. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 2009.

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    Covers the history and evolution of YouTube as a platform for “amateur” cultural participation and commercial activity, explores its uses as a popular archive and a social network, and critically examines the future implications of its position in the new media economy. Also published in Italian as YouTube (Milan: Editora Egea Collana, 2009); and in Portuguese as YouTube ea revolução digital (São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Aleph, 2009).

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  • Lovink, Geert, and Sabine Nieder, eds. Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2008.

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    This highly international reader contains more than thirty short commissioned essays and other contributions derived from the annual Video Vortex conference, which brings together academics, artists, and activists interested in online video. The first of two such collections (see below), the volume includes a wide range of critical perspectives on online video focused on the rise of YouTube as a dominant platform. Full text accessible at website cited above.

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  • Lovink, Geert, and Rachel Somers Miles, eds. Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images beyond YouTube. INC Reader 6. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011.

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    The second of the two readers, as before, contains a large number of essays from scholars, artists, and activists. While a small number of essays critique or analyze aspects of YouTube directly, others take YouTube’s now-established commercial dominance for granted and suggest critical or creative alternatives and oppositional possibilities for online video. Full text accessible at website cited above.

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  • Snickars, Pelle, and Patrick Vonderau, eds. The YouTube Reader. Mediehistoriskt Arkiv 12. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

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    An extensive edited collection bringing together work from established media-studies scholars and newer YouTube scholars on a range of YouTube-related topics; contains some particularly valuable articles on issues of archiving and political economy.

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  • Strangelove, Michael. Watching YouTube: Extraordinary Videos by Ordinary People. Digital Futures series. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

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    Based on screen and cultural studies, this monograph focuses on YouTube’s implications for the post-television, participatory media age and engages closely with some of the most emblematic forms and practices associated with YouTube’s vast archive of user-created content.

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Key Journals

There is no such thing as a “field” of YouTube studies, and hence there are no scholarly journals wholly or primarily dedicated to it. However, high-quality articles on YouTube’s various uses and cultural implications, employing a wide range of empirical and theoretical approaches, are regularly published in the world’s leading journals in the fields of new media studies (Television and New Media, New Media & Society, Convergence), Internet studies (Information, Communication and Society, First Monday), and communication studies (Popular Communication, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication).

Current Developments

Both YouTube and the technological and business environments in which it operates are constantly evolving, and those most active in discussing these developments are often to be found in the Internet technology and business community. For this reason the most up-to-date information can be found online, particularly on the YouTube website itself (Broadcast Ourselves: The Official YouTube blog), where a number of important primary sources of information (such as programming initiatives and changes to the website) can be found. Other sources of such up-to-date information include the commentary sections of publications such as Techcrunch and Mashable and websites devoted to following online popular culture, such as Know Your Meme. These resources are particularly useful for students or researchers seeking to keep abreast of current developments and to develop a critical awareness of the dominant popular and business discourses focused on YouTube. The comments sections of these websites will also provide useful pointers to wider blog-based discussions of the ongoing evolution of YouTube as a platform.

YouTube in Context

YouTube is both a symptom and a driver of change in the media and Internet industries and is particularly implicated in debates around convergence culture, the new business models of the web, and the rise of “user-generated content.” There are both optimistic and critical perspectives on these shifts from some of the most notable scholars of media and culture. Some see these as a part of an evolution into a more democratic or “participatory” culture (Jenkins 2008), while others are critical of such rhetoric (van Dijck 2009), going so far as to refer to it not as a democratic but a “demotic” turn (Turner 2009). Scholars of YouTube will also be interested in the broader frameworks of media convergence and the ways sectors of traditional media industry (TV and cinema) are changing alongside the growth of YouTube (Tryon 2009, Bennett and Strange 2011), as well as in a broader perspective on amateur video cultures (Buckingham and Willett 2009, Hilderbrand 2009, Zimmermann 1995).

  • Bennett, James, and Niki Strange, eds. Television as Digital Media. Console-ing Passions. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

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    Collection of essays interrogating the industrial, economic, aesthetic, and cultural characteristics of television in a digital age, including ways in which it relates to online video and YouTube.

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  • Buckingham, David, and Rebekah Willett. Video Cultures: Media Technology and Everyday Creativity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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    Based on extensive empirical research, this collection widens the frame of “amateur video” to consider a range of British case studies of everyday “video cultures,” particularly in their historical and broader social and offline contexts.

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  • Hilderbrand, Lucas. Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

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    Deep and extended, if at times nostalgic, exploration of various aspects of analogue video cultures, many of which prefigure contemporary debates and controversies around online video, particularly with regard to copyright. Covers the materiality of videotape as well as the emergence of its associated practices, including content copying, reappropriation, and sharing.

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  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

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    Well-known and frequently discussed book associated with the idea of “participatory culture”; argues, with reference to various popular media franchises, that technologically focused views of media convergence failed to take into account the economic and cultural significance of user participation within and across media forms and platforms.

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  • Tryon, Chuck. Reinventing Cinema: Movies in the Age of Media Convergence. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

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    Explores the implications of digital distribution, reception, audience involvement, and convergence for film culture—in terms of both current industry shifts and the place of film cultures past and present in contemporary popular culture.

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  • Turner, Graeme. Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn. London: SAGE, 2009.

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    Turner coins the term “the demotic turn” (as opposed to a “democratic” turn) to synthesize what he sees as a broad contemporary trend in which “ordinary” people are increasingly and willingly visible in media culture, by means of user-generated content and social media online, among others.

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  • van Dijck, José. “Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content.” Media, Culture & Society 31.1 (2009): 41–58.

    DOI: 10.1177/0163443708098245Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Available online to subscribers. Critical survey of some of the dominant scholarly debates on the issues of “democratization,” user agency, and participation in Web 2.0 environments, particularly involving user-generated content in YouTube and related platforms.

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  • Zimmermann, Patricia R. Reel Families: A Social History of Amateur Film. Arts and Politics of the Everyday. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

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    Provides a useful historical context for discussions of YouTube as a site of amateur cultural production, charting the coevolution of the technological, economic, and social aspects of amateur filmmaking from the beginning of the 1900s to the 1990s.

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Ethnographic Approaches

While there is now a significant body of work looking at YouTube’s uses and limitations, the majority of this work (particularly in media and cultural studies) treats YouTube as a publishing site for video texts. Alongside this work are in-depth ethnographic explorations of participants’ individual and collective self-understandings and practices in the context of YouTube as a social network or online community. The work of Patricia Lange is particularly notable in this regard (see Lange 2007 and Lange 2009); Coleman 2010 provides a useful synthesis focused on the value of ethnography in new media environments.

Popular Genres and Aesthetics

YouTube is a significant location for the development of new forms of contemporary popular culture, and although it is very large in scale and diverse in its content offerings, there are particular forms, practices, and aesthetics of popular culture that have become closely associated with it. There are two broad textual domains in particular where YouTube–specific aesthetics and modes of participation have cohered to the point that it is possible to speak of YouTube “genres”: the first such area is Video blogging and Performance, where participants speak, sing, or dance directly to camera, frequently from a domestic setting, and the second is that of Spoofs, Mashups, and “Viral” Video—the sphere of activity associated with YouTube’s most visible, generative, and problematic cultural products.

Videoblogging and Performance

From the earliest days of YouTube, live-to-camera performance has been a dominant mode, and in particular, videoblogging or “vlogging” has become a key driver of the YouTube user “community.” From a range of methodological perspectives, Alexander and Losh 2010, Christian 2009, Griffith and Papacharissi 2010, Tolson 2010, and Harley and Fitzpatrick 2009 interrogate the social and communicative aspects of videoblogging as a practice; Peters and Seier 2009 and Senft 2008 broaden the frame to consider identity performance and gender in online video culture.

  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Elizabeth Losh. “A YouTube of One’s Own? ‘Coming Out’ Videos as Rhetorical Action.” In LGBT Identity and Online New Media. Edited by Margaret Cooper and Christopher Pullen, 37–50. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Draws on a close analysis of various YouTube “coming out” videos and their contexts to critically discuss the performance, management, and politics of “queer” identities in online spaces.

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  • Christian, Aymar Jean. “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos.” First Monday 14.11 (2009).

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    Discusses the aesthetic and social norms associated with videoblogging on YouTube, tracing controversies around authenticity and celebrity within the YouTube community.

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  • Griffith, Maggie, and Zizi Papacharissi. “Looking for You: An Analysis of Video Blogs.” First Monday 15.1 (2010).

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    Draws on theories of the presentation of the self to examine the aesthetics and communicative norms of videoblogging culture; finds three dominant modes of videoblogging: vlogs as diaries, as identity expression, and as narcissism.

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  • Harley, Dave, and Geraldine Fitzpatrick. “Creating a Conversational Context through Video Blogging: A Case Study of Geriatric1927.” Computers in Human Behavior 25.3 (May 2009): 679–689.

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    Focuses on the example of well-known senior citizen Peter Oakley, who became one of YouTube’s more famous early videobloggers, as a case study in intergenerational engagement and videoblogging as a mode of conversational communication. Available online to subscribers.

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  • Peters, Kathrin, and Andrea Seier. “Home Dance: Mediacy and Aesthetics of the Self on YouTube.” In The YouTube Reader. Edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 187–203. Mediehistoriskt Arkiv 12. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

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    This chapter covers the aesthetics and cultural practices of a highly popular subgenre of amateur participation in YouTube—“home-dance videos”; uses this genre to explore issues concerning the performance and mediation of the self in distributed media environments.

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  • Senft, Theresa. Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

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    Ethnographic study of the “camgirls” phenomenon that flourished from the late 1990s and 2000s, positioning the camgirls as “beta testers” for various techniques of the self associated with popular modes of YouTube participation, especially videoblogging and bedroom performance videos.

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  • Tolson, Andrew. “A New Authenticity? Communicative Practices on YouTube.” In Special Issue: Self-Mediation: New Media and Citizenship. Edited by Lillie Chouliaraki. Critical Discourse Studies 7.4 (2010): 277–289.

    DOI: 10.1080/17405904.2010.511834Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critical article that draws on a close analysis of the “make-up tutorial” subgenre of videoblogs and of audience responses to these texts to propose the idea of “communicative entitlements” as an alternative to debates about communicative authenticity and inauthenticity.

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Spoofs, Mashups, and “Viral” Video

The creative, humorous, and subversive repurposing of existing media content is one of the most prevalent characteristics of YouTube’s popular culture, and one that cuts across the domains of popular culture, mainstream media, and politics. Burgess 2008 and Chu 2009 investigate the dynamics of imitation and variation in the dynamics of “viral” video phenomena, Edwards and Tryon 2009 explores the political possibilities of video mashups, Willett 2008 considers the implications of spoofing practices for youth culture, and Vernallis 2010 explores the ways in which audience reuse of mainstream music videos contributes to their overall popularity.

Political Economy

YouTube’s status as a commercial enterprise, and a subsidiary of the highly powerful Internet company Google, has far-reaching implications for the future of the website as a site of participatory culture; these issues are of obvious interest to scholars who take a critical political-economy perspective. From various perspectives, all the articles below argue that YouTube affords opportunities for cultural participation and communication for nonprofessional media users. However, at the same time it seeks to exploit that participation as part of a complex and ever-changing business model overdetermined by its relationship with Google (Andrejevic 2009), bringing up issues of free or affective labor (Russo 2009), an entrepreneurial rather than “democratic” turn (Jakobsson 2010), and the ongoing dominance of the mainstream media industries (Wasko and Erickson 2009), even in the age of the Web 2.0 “platform” (Gillespie 2010).

  • Andrejevic, Mark. “Exploiting YouTube: Contradictions of User-Generated Labor.” In The YouTube Reader. Edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 406–423. Mediehistoriskt Arkiv 12. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

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    Elaborates on existing theories of affective labor in new media via a focus on YouTube. Argues that YouTube’s parent company, Google, seeks large-scale user interactivity because these interactions can be monetized through various forms of data-mining—but without the user-generated content that threatens to infringe on the business models of the corporate media players with whom Google seeks to partner.

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  • Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics Of ‘Platforms’.” New Media & Society 12.3 (2010): 347–364.

    DOI: 10.1177/1461444809342738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Situates YouTube in the broader landscape of online content and service providers, tracing the discursive contradictions along the way that such businesses are framed as “platforms.”

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  • Jakobsson, Peter. “Cooperation and Competition in Open Production.” In Special Issue: Yes, We’re Open! Why Open Source, Open Content and Open Access. Edited by Jessica Coates and Elliott Bledsoe. PLATFORM: Journal of Media and Communication (December 2010): 106–119.

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    Draws on an analysis of videos, sourced from the YouTube community, that comment on or critique YouTube’s partner program; also argues that YouTube’s model of open access to production works not only to democratize cultural participation but also to “generate an entrepreneurial desire” and to create competition among participants.

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  • Russo, Julie Levin. “User-Penetrated Content: Fan Video in the Age of Convergence.” Cinema Journal 48.4 (Summer 2009): 125–130.

    DOI: 10.1353/cj.0.0147Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points to key tensions in the “participatory turn”—between the flowering of amateur (particularly fan-based) creativity on the one hand, and the harnessing of this creative labor for promotional and commercial purposes on the other—and discusses the antagonism and forms of resistance associated with these tensions. Available online to subscribers.

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  • Wasko, Janet, and Mary Erickson. “The Political Economy of YouTube.” In The YouTube Reader. Edited by Pelle Snickars and Patrick Vonderau, 372–386. Mediehistoriskt Arkiv 12. Stockholm: National Library of Sweden, 2009.

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    This political-economic analysis of YouTube discusses the company’s history, ownership structure, and evolving business model, arguing that even though YouTube continues to represent itself as user focused and democratizing, at the same time its corporate strategy appears to privilege traditional media companies and commercial partners.

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Archives and Copyright

Just as Wikipedia is often the first port of call for web users seeking information on a wide range of topics, YouTube is now the default media search engine for many Internet users—it is a significant and growing cultural archive (Hilderbrand 2007, Gehl 2009, McKee 2011). But there are serious questions to be asked and answered about the provenance, politics, and future of this archive, hosted as it is on a commercial platform whose interest in building profitable relationships with media companies often conflicts with its aims to be a democratic archive where anyone can ‟broadcast themselves”. It is in the context of copyright issues that these questions become most starkly evident, as Clay 2011, Hilderbrand 2007, and Kuhn 2010 discuss.

Politics and Journalism

For many communications scholars, a key test of the supposedly “democratizing” nature of YouTube and other forms of social media is its efficacy in promoting broader and more-active participation in the related areas of politics and journalism. Across a number of case studies, the sources here deal with YouTube’s affordances and limitations in the areas of popular engagement with elections (Ricke 2010), political debate (Hess 2009, van Zoonen, et al. 2010), eyewitness representation of significant events (Andén-Papadopoulos 2009; Antony and Thomas 2010), and implications for journalistic practice (Peer and Ksiazek 2011).

  • Andén-Papadopoulos, Kari. “US Soldiers Imaging the Iraq War on YouTube.” Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture 7.1 (2009): 17–27.

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    Examines YouTube videos made by soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan; argues that these uncensored, firsthand representations of the experience of warfare may provoke further questioning of US foreign and military policy.

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  • Antony, Mary Grace, and Ryan J. Thomas. “‘This Is Citizen Journalism at Its Finest’: YouTube and the Public Sphere in the Oscar Grant Shooting Incident.” New Media & Society 12.8 (December 2010): 1280–1296.

    DOI: 10.1177/1461444810362492Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    On the basis of a thematic analysis of the YouTube audience’s responses to eyewitness footage, shot by citizens, of a subway shooting in the United States, the authors argue that traditional notions of the “guard-dog media” and the public sphere will need to be rethought. Available online to subscribers.

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  • Hess, Aaron. “Resistance Up in Smoke: Analyzing the Limitations of Deliberation on YouTube.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 26.5 (2009): 411–434.

    DOI: 10.1080/15295030903325347Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyses the flurry of frequently playful or parodic community responses to the (US) Office of National Drug Policy’s video advertisements, published on YouTube in 2006. Based on their findings, the authors question the potential for YouTube to be a viable location for “democratic deliberation about serious political issues.” Available online to subscribers.

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  • Peer, Limor, and Thomas B. Ksiazek. “YouTube and the Challenge to Journalism: New Standards for News Videos Online.” In Special Issue: Journalism as an Institution. Journalism Studies 12.1 (2011): 45–63.

    DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2010.511951Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Investigates the possible implications of YouTube’s popular culture for journalism via an analysis of popular news videos; finds that deviations from standard journalistic practice were rewarded with higher engagement from the YouTube audience.

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  • Ricke, LaChrystal. “A New Opportunity for Democratic Engagement: The CNN–YouTube Presidential Candidate Debates.” In Special Issue: YouTube and the 2008 Election Cycle in the United States. Edited by Michael Xenos. Journal of Information Technology & Politics 7.2–3 (2010): 202–215.

    DOI: 10.1080/19331681003772768Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses content analysis to examine the nearly 8000 video submissions to the 2007 CNN–YouTube Presidential Candidate Debates, finding significant diversity among participants and topics.

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  • van Zoonen, Liesbet, Farida Vis, and Sabina Mihelj. “Performing Citizenship on YouTube: Activism, Satire and Online Debate around the Anti-Islam Video Fitna.” Critical Discourse Studies 7.4 (2010): 249–262.

    DOI: 10.1080/17405904.2010.511831Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes a large corpus of videos posted in response to a video expressing strong anti-Islamic sentiment, to critically examine the possibilities for and constraints on cultural citizenship afforded by YouTube participation. Available online to subscribers.

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Education

As with previous new media technologies, scholars of media literacy and education have begun to investigate the implications and applications of participation in YouTube in both formal and informal learning, in some cases (Juhasz 2011, Wesch 2007–, Trier 2007) developing innovative practical experiments in the uses of YouTube for the extension of students’ critical and creative media literacies. Direct engagement with YouTube videos has been employed in the curricula of diverse fields and educational level (Jones and Cuthrell 2011), extending well beyond new media and cultural studies (Hodgson 2010).

LAST MODIFIED: 10/28/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791286-0066

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