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Improbable Curators: Analysing Nostalgia, Authorship and Audience on Tumblr Microblogs.

Munteanu, D.G., 2017. Improbable Curators: Analysing Nostalgia, Authorship and Audience on Tumblr Microblogs. In: Graham, J. and Gandini, A., eds. Collaborative Production in the Creative Industries. London: Westminster University Press, 125 - 156.

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Launched in 2007 and hosting around 280 million blogs as of February 2016, Tumblr is one of the most popular yet under-researched microblogging platforms currently in existence. Having established itself as a premier venue of online popular and youth culture (Dewey, 2015), the service provides an idiosyncratic synesthetic space wherein countless visual and stylistic statements are shared daily, ranging from digital images to literary excerpts, journal entries to animations. The absence of subordinating vertical structures (there exists no real ‘mainstream’ vs. ‘underground’ dynamic here), the possibility of interpreting the blogs both as niche and micro youth media (see Thornton, 1995, pp. 137-151) and the socially interactive element of these unregulated exchanges all reflects a parallel world rich in psycho-social connotations that remains largely uncharted by social scientists. This chapter draws on a project that investigated these novel circulatory dynamics over a period of three years by employing digital ethnographic and semiotic analyses. By becoming highly selective content curators, these users develop independent, privately informed yet interpersonally mediated, digitally synesthetic narratives. The Tumblr infrastructure provided a system of content distribution and collaborative design that not only destabilises the three conventional ‘sites’ of an image (‘production’, ‘image’, ‘audience’) (cf. Rose, 2007, pp. 14–27), but also raises interesting questions with regard to individual agency and the ‘naturalisation’ of creative practices online. What type of vicarious ‘curatorial’ visions are being articulated here, what psychological and cultural functions might they serve and in what ways do these phenomena interact with mainstream material realities? How does Tumblr’s potential as a platform for anonymous, flexible and easily accessible aesthetic expression, stylistic experimentation and emotional catharsis compare with other social media offerings, and what might we learn from it in terms of encouraging reflexivity and meaningful social communication online? Finally, how do these loosely-woven user communities compare to cultural and creative practises employed in contemporary museography and collaborative or activist online productions more broadly? I begin with a brief description of the Tumblr platform itself, followed by a number of relevant semiotic and ethnographic examples extracted from the fieldwork for this project. These inform a more theoretical discussion in the latter part of the chapter, where I consider to what extent Tumblr might model the ideal ‘curatorial’ platform for emergent modes of collaborative production, as discussed by Jean-Paul Martinon in his book The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating (2013). I also use Tumblr-related observations to address issues related to contemporary museography and artistic knowledge transmission more broadly, referring in this process to the work of authors such as Malraux (1978) and Rancière (2009). I conclude by suggesting that there exists considerable potential for Tumblr communities to function as independent sites of knowledge (re)production, acting as non-commercial user archives, or reflexive and dialogical repositories of individually-filtered cultural content. My analysis thereby also attempts to offer a more positive, conciliatory perspective on the debates within new and social media, which tend to oscillate between optimism and pessimism (e.g., Fuchs, 2015; Gauntlett, 2015; Turow, 2012; Jakobsson & Stiernstedt, 2010; see also Hesmondhalgh, 2013, chapter 9).

Item Type:Book Section
Number of Pages:240
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:31922
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:04 Mar 2019 16:11
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:15


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