Researching microcelebrity: Methods, access and labour

By Jonathan Mavroudis, Esther Milne


The term “microcelebrity” describes a broad range of practices, platforms and social relations that includes but is not limited to the increasing significance of public performance in everyday life, the monetisation of social media and the widening scope of what constitutes celebrity culture. While contemporary research on microcelebrity has introduced important ways of discussing the cultural impact of these new forms of visibility, the methodological focus has generally been on discourse analysis and social media analytics. In response, this paper reports on the early stages of a research project which involves interviewing microcelebrities living in Los Angeles about their profile creation on Instagram and YouTube. We argue there are significant issues at play in relation to gaining access to the interview subjects. The paper outlines the methods used and explores how the issue of access is negotiated by the interview subjects and the researcher. Since one of the authors, Jonathan Mavroudis, himself identifies as a microcelebrity with over 25,000 followers on Instagram he is in a unique position to interview these people. This high level of access to a specific cohort of microcelebrities has not been easy to gain for many academic researchers. Jonathan’s microcelebrity status opens up the possibility of conducting autoethnographic research and this is framed as a discussion of relational ethics. Although the primary focus of the paper is on method we also want to discuss early suggestive themes arising from the data including the obligations felt by these microcelebrities to enact a particular mode of identity and how this is experienced as labour. We highlight these initial topics in order to bring context to the discussion of method. Access enables and constrains certain forms of research to occur and in so doing raises questions of trust and friendship. With only 3 interviews conducted to date this is not, of course, representative of all microcelebrities. However it can function as a snapshot of early findings that we hope will inform future research methods and conceptual debates. The paper concludes with some suggestions for future directions of the field more generally.

Source: First Monday (7/4/16).

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