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mso-spl-e:yes;} --> </style> <title>Johnson-Roberson: Annotated Bibliography

Chris Johnson-Roberson

Brown University

December 2012

 

Subcultural Capital and Immaterial Labor: The Case of Rap Genius

 

What drives users to labor tirelessly for the preservation of a community they value, in the absence of financial remuneration? How can subcultural capital become reified in an online context, and what problems might result from this reification? Consider Rap Genius, a website that promises to help its users "discover the meaning of rap lyrics," which has recently received 15 million dollars in venture capital to expand its operations. Site members contribute transcribed lyrics and provide line-by-line analysis and commentary, earning "Rap IQ" points when their interpretations are rated highly by other users. Users act as unpaid moderators and editors, given recognition for the quality of their contributions to the site primarily through additional responsibilities to the community. Through virtual participant observation in the site's annotation process and social network analysis, I examine Rap Genius's attempts to precisely quantify the authority of its members and the means it uses to encourage users to labor to create and maintain its value. I argue that Rap IQ results from users' conversion of their dispositions and stores of knowledge (embodied subcultural capital) into the objectified subcultural capital of annotations on Rap Genius, but a subsequent conversion into economic capital is unlikely if not impossible. Additionally, I call for a reevaluation of the importance of immaterial labor in the maintenance of online communities, arguing that this labor should be compensated commensurately with the value it adds to a for-profit corporation.

 

Androutsopoulos, Jannis. "Potentials and Limitations of Discourse-centred Online Ethnography." Language@internet 5 (2008).

 

This article outlines the methodology of discourse-centered online ethnography, which entails sending snippets of interaction to interlocutors and asking them to explain their significance.

 

Baym, Nancy K. Tune in, Log on: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community. Vol. 3. Sage Publications, Inc, 2000.

 

In chapter 2, Baym discusses interpretive practices within the online soap opera fan newsgroup rec.arts.tv.soaps. Making the soap storylines personal is a primary practice in her case, whereas Rap Genius annotations do not invoke personal experience as frequently. However, other aspects resonate quite closely, e.g.: "Collaborative interpretation [...] offers the chance to perform for one's fellow fans" (83). Pooling perspectives serves a valuable social function to enhance the readings that are produced. Further, as Baym writes, "For new viewers, this collaborative interpretation can serve as training, helping them to become more sophisticated interpreters of the genre" (93). This nicely parallels some of the posts on Rap Genius wherein younger users express how much they have learned by being on the site.

 

Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of age in Second Life: an anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/brown/docDetail.action?docID=10312551

 

Boellstorff's Chapter 8 deals with the political economy of Second Life. He coins the term "creationist capitalism" to describe the creative labors that are viewed as the fulfillment of an individual's self-realization, which also play a part in "prosumption" wherein consumers produce that which they consume (in the Rap Genius case, interpretations). The name is inspired in part by the Christian metaphysics which underlie this mode of production (cf. Weber's Protestant ethic). People in Second Life seek to acquire "linden dollars," exchangable for US dollars, which they do mostly by laboring to create new products that showcase their creativity (212). Social stratification is also (re)produced within this environment, with certain users receiving special privileges and access (227). The latter part of the chapter deals with the question "How does the platform shape the social form?", examining the "complex give-and-take" between Linden Lab and residents. Changes in the platform can allow greater freedom to users (for example, in the kinds of social formation they may join) or shape their behavior in various ways.

 

Byrne, Dara N. "Public Discourse, Community Concerns, and Civic Engagement: Exploring Black Social Networking Traditions on BlackPlanet.com." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (2007): 319–340.

 

Byrne talks about the potential for political engagement spurred by public discourse on BlackPlanet.com, as well as conducting a content analysis of postings there. Good discussion of a racialized subsection of the public sphere, and useful for the forum element of Rap Genius, which has a more actively politicized bent than the annotations.

 

Fish, S. E. Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Harvard University Press, 1980.

 

Fish's essay in Chapter 15 gives an analysis of how it is that not all interpretations are granted equal weight. He argues that there are no readings which are categorically wrong, but only readings for which a legitimating interpretive apparatus does not yet exist. Relatively little discussion of how it is that authority is constituted hierarchically, a necessary addition for the analysis of the Rap Genius case (and many others).

 

Gourgey, Hannah, and Edward B. Smith. "'Consensual Hallucination': Cyberspace and the Creation of an Interpretive Community." Text and Performance Quarterly 16, no. 3 (1996): 233–247. doi:10.1080/10462939609366150

 

This article discusses the role of William Gibson's "cyberspace" metaphor as a "host trope" -- a generative metaphor for members of a community that surrounds it. Over time, these metaphors can come to organize experience and be the grounding metaphor of an interpretive community. Does the "Genius" of Rap Genius function in this way?

 

Herring, Susan C. "Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis: An Approach to Researching Online Behavior." In Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning, edited by S. Barab, R. Kling, and J. H. Gray. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

 

Herring's computer-mediated discourse analysis is the method upon which Androutsopoulos's discourse-centered online ethnography is based. This approach is primarily concerned with "log data," the textual traces of an online encounter, which are coded and analyzed quantitatively. Useful thinking about what kinds of questions are answerable using these methods; particularly, Herring sees this as an adjunct to ethnography and other (more) qualitative approaches. Her work will inform some of the text-based quantitative approaches I hope to use.

 

Kannabiran, Gopinaath, and Marianne Graves Petersen. "Politics at the Interface: a Foucauldian Power Analysis." In Proceedings of the 6th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Extending Boundaries, 695–698. NordiCHI  '10. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2010.

 

This short article begins with the premise that design is inherently political. Using Foucault's ideas about power, it examines two case studies from human-computer interaction: transgender Facebook users who provide a textual description of their gender identification rather than putting a value in the "Sex" field, and a home heating system that has two controllers, one of which (the husband's) overrides the other. Power in both of these cases is constantly being negotiated; it is a set of relations, circulating through a system. People can even transform the power relations of systems designed to disempower them; it is this sort of phenomenon on Rap Genius that I hope to highlight.

 

Landow, George P. Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization. 3rd ed. Parallax. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

 

The third edition of Landow's critical work on hypertext. (Now with postcolonialism!) A discussion of Slashdot (362) provides a somewhat helpful case of users empowered as moderators and editors, comparable to RG's.

 

Lindemann, Kurt. "Live(s) Online: Narrative Performance, Presence, and Community in LiveJournal.com." Text and Performance Quarterly 25, no. 4 (2005): 354–372.

 

Draws upon Richard Bauman's notion of performance to describe the relationship between LiveJournal users and their audiences. Ideas about artistry and communicative competence inform this assessment, which are very much at stake in Rap Genius annotations (people are judged on  personal style as much as on the substance of their interpretation).

 

Lysloff, René T. A. "Musical Life in Softcity: An Internet Ethnography." In Music and Technoculture (2003): 23–63.

 

Useful for thinking through how creators conceive of their creative labors as distributed for free online.

 

Marshall, Catherine C. "Toward an Ecology of Hypertext Annotation." In Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia: Links, Objects, Time and Space—structure in Hypermedia Systems: Links, Objects, Time and Space—structure in Hypermedia Systems, 40–49, 1998.

 

Marshall compares the practices of hypertext annotation to each other and to earlier practices with texts on paper. Her work discusses a variety of useful ways to classify annotations; are they formal or informal? Explicit or tacit? She reads paper annotations as hypertextual, and gives evidence that those systems that least interrupt the reading process tend to garner the greatest success, suggesting why Rap Genius might be more popular than similar annotation efforts.

 

Marshall, Catherine C., and A. J. Brush. "From Personal to Shared Annotations." In CHI'02 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 812–813, 2002.

 

Marshall and Brush observe that people practice considerable self-censorship in deciding which of their personal annotations to share with a working group. This observation could be extended with Rap Genius by finding what kinds of annotations people do and don't add to the public store based on their observations.

 

Metro-Roland, D. "Hip Hop Hermeneutics and Multicultural Education: A Theory of Cross-cultural Understanding." Educational Studies 46, no. 6 (2010): 560–578.

 

This author uses Hans-George Gadamer's notion of hermeneutics and suggests that the text has its own tradition-bound meanings that interact with fore-knowledge of the reader/listener; when experienced, the text invites or almost requires a response. He talks about the tricky dynamics of interpretation when the readers and writers/listeners and performers occupy disparate social positions, and celebrates the potential for new understandings to emerge across these social and cultural barriers. Raises issues that should be considered in terms of RG's role in mediating black speech for people of other races.

 

Pardue, D. "'Writing in the Margins': Brazilian Hip-Hop as an Educational Project." Anthropology & Education Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2008): 411–432.

 

The author examines hip-hop itself as an "alternative education," a social system with potential to act as a pedagogical tool where the official provisions are inadequate. The use of "margins" is another candidate for the central metaphor that anchors the interpretive community of RG.

 

Pinard, Andre, and Sean Jacobs. "Building a Virtual Diaspora: Hip-Hop in Cyberspace." In Cybersounds: Essays on Virtual Music Culture, edited by Michael D. Ayers. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

 

This article about Okayplayer and several other hip-hop-centric websites discusses some of the online communities that have formed around the genre, and their function in facilitating contact between hip-hop producers and consumers.

 

Rotman, Dana, Jennifer Preece, Yurong He, and Allison Druin. "Extreme Ethnography: Challenges for Research in Large Scale Online Environments." In Proceedings of the 2012 iConference, 207–214. iConference  '12. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2012.

 

This paper briefly summarizes the methodological problems entailed by online ethnography. It suggests that social network analysis and Natural Language Processing (NLP) – two methods I hope to engage in my paper – can help guide the researcher to interesting facets of an online environment, but must be used with caution due to the "thin" descriptions they provide.

 

Schreibman, S. "Computer-mediated Texts and Textuality: Theory and Practice." Computers and the Humanities 36, no. 3 (2002): 283–293.

 

Schreibman imagines the kinds of variable engagements with texts that are enabled by computer use. Her primary interest is in classic texts, but the general conclusions (about the ability of electronic text to allow for a larger number of less-specialized readers, rather than experts in particular texts) might be fruitfully compared to Rap Genius.

 

Selfe, Cynthia L., and Richard J. Selfe. "The Politics of the Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones." College Composition and Communication 45, no. 4 (December 1, 1994): 480–504.

 

Drawing upon Mary Louise Pratt's "contact zones," this article calls for a critical examination of computer interfaces, seeking to uncover how they replicate asymmetric relations of power (colonialism, sexism, racism) and function as "interested maps of reality" (499). This gives another angle from which to analyse how the design of Rap Genius affects its social formations.

 

Suhr, H. Cecilia. Social Media and Music: The Digital Field of Cultural Production. Peter Lang Pub Incorporated, 2012.

 

Suhr's concept of social media sites as the "digital field of cultural production" draws upon Bourdieu's ideas about field and capital, usefully illustrating some of the ways that artists have thought about their relationships with fans on social media sites. MySpace in particular allows for artists to "interact" in a mechanized way by automatically adding friends, but also how personal branding is facilitated through direct involvement and interaction with fans, a function that may be served by performing verified annotations on Rap Genius.