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THE LABOUR OF MEDIA USE

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The ‘active audience’ has theoretically been conceptualized from two perspectives: in political economy, it is suggested that television audiences work for the networks while watching and that they contribute to the valorization process with their labour. Although contested, it has survived among media scholars, also feeding into the discussion on web surveillance techniques. The other conceptualization comes from reception theory, media ethnography and cultural studies, where the interpretive work by audiences is seen as productive and resulting in identities, taste cultures and social difference. This article relates these perspectives by considering audiences as involved in two production–consumptions circuits: (1) the viewer activities produce social difference (identities and cultural meaning) in a social and cultural economy, which is then (2) made the object of productive consumption as part of the activities of the media industries, the end product being economic profit. This article argues for the relevance of analysing these as separate circuits, with different kinds of labour at their centre, and that recent debates on the active audience often misrecognize the difference.
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Keywords: Web 2.0; audiences; field theory; media consumption; media production; media use

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Media and Communication Studies,Södertörn University, Alfred Nobels Allé 7–11Huddinge,14189, Sweden

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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