‘A Workers’ Inquiry 2.0’: An Ethnographic Method for the Study of Produsage in Social Media Contexts

  • Brian Brown Western University
  • Anabel Quan-Haase
Keywords: Internet, Critical Theory, Immaterial Labour, Flickr, Social Media, Web 2.0, Digital Ethnography, Produsage, Research Methods


In this paper, we propose a new ethnographic method for the study of produsage (Bruns 2008) in social media contexts. The proposed method is based on three lines of thought: Marx’s method of ‘A Workers’ Inquiry’, the autonomists’ method of co-research, and recent critical theory of Web 2.0. To show the applicability and usefulness of the proposed method, we first compare it to other Marxist inspired methodological approaches and then we describe a case study to illustrate the method’s diversity and its potential for providing new insights into the processes of produsage and the commodification of audiences as described in previous work by Smythe (1977), Bruns (2008), Cohen (2008), and Fuchs (2011). The case study consists of a critical examination of the mode of produsage as it takes place in Flickr, one of the largest photo-sharing communities on the Internet.

Author Biography

Brian Brown, Western University
Brian A. Brown is a PhD candidate at Western University in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. His research is focused on the biopolitics of social media, autonomist theory, and visual culture.dddChristian Fuchs is professor and chair in media and communication studies at Uppsala University's Department of Informatics and Media. He is board member of the Unified Theory of Information Research Group and editor of tripleC (cognition, communication, co-operation): Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society. He holds a venia docendi in the field of ICTs and society.
His research interests are: critical theory, social theory, media and society, ICTs and society, information society theory/research, political economy. He is author of many publications in these fields, including the books 'Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age' (Routledge 2008), which presents a social theory of contemporary society with a special consideration of media, information, and technology, and the book 'Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies' (Routledge 2011), which is an introduction to the theoretical and methodological foundations of critical media studies and critical information science.
He is co-ordinator of the research project 'Social Networking Sites in the Surveillance Society' (funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF) and management committee member of the EU COST Action 'Living in Surveillance Societies'.
URL: http://fuchs.uti.at
Marx is Back-The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Comm. Studies Today, ed C. Fuchs & Vincent Mosco