3 September 2011

In preparation for a bid for funding with the ESRC, I will be presenting my work and having several meetings regarding my future research plans with several International collaborators in New York City at the end of October. The abstract is below and the specifics of the presentations can be seen under the Presentations tab on the sidebar.


'YouTube's Psychopath': What Internet drama tells us about language, community, and power
Since 2005, YouTube has grown to become one of the most frequently visited sites on the web and a main driver of web 2.0 culture where content production, consumption, and social-networking converge. This presentation focuses on a YouTube world somewhere between videos of cats playing pianos and Presidential speeches—the small, but passionate community of individuals discussing religious issues on the site. In a utopian vision of the Internet, the affordance of instant access to the lives and faces of users from different backgrounds, faith traditions, and geo-political perspectives allows the free exchange of ideas and philosophy, with users considering one another's opinions, building on those opinions, and moving towards greater understanding. In reality, however, YouTube interaction is far more antagonistic with YouTube comments threads being notorious for vicious and mean-spirited exchanges. In particular, arguments between Evangelical Christians and atheist/non-religious users in many ways represent a microcosm of a larger argument is occurring between the rise of so-called 'New Atheism' and Evangelical Christianity, but these arguments about faith are too often abstracted to political or ideological positions, with figureheads of political, religious, and secular institutions representing canonised beliefs and party platforms. For believers and secularists and everyone in between, however, discussions about belief are often entangled in personal relationships and social contexts that shape not only how we present what we believe, but the beliefs themselves.
Following a two-year, longitudinal observation of Evangelical Christian YouTube users, this presentation investigates the discourse dynamics of user affiliation and group emergence in religious discourse on YouTube. From the observational period, a series of antagonistic interactions within a community of practice of Christians and atheist/non-religious users discussing religious issues in early 2009 were analysed with the goal of investigating how the resources of metaphor use, user categorisation, and impoliteness and antagonism affected relationships between users. My analysis will show that user groups and affiliation occurred in the following instances: first, users employed Biblical and ad hoc metaphorical stories in creative and novel ways, developing metaphors and appropriating the metaphors to position themselves and others through recognising shared hermeneutics, exploiting metaphorical ambiguity, and indirectly evaluating others. Second, although everyone was a member of the same community of practice, employing membership categorisation devices for themselves and others, users differentiated from and affiliated with each other, often by recognising shared repertoires and ways of speaking. Categories, however, were dynamic and often employed differently, dependent on the user and context. Third, impoliteness was used to assert power over other users by attempting to control their freedom to interaction on the site as well as oppose users and limit their participation in the community of practice. User affiliation and grouping will be shown to exhibit traits of dynamic complex systems, with groups and affiliation emerging and stabilising temporally within discourse activity.