This post was written by Nadia Murady, a Research Master’s student at the University of Amsterdam.
The conference ‘Global Perspectives on Platforms and Cultural Production’ addressed a wide range of issues and research areas. The two-day conference aimed to highlight a global perspective on these topics, steering away from a Eurocentric perspective. It facilitated an interdisciplinary discussion with researchers from different theoretical traditions, covering a diverse scope of research areas. As Professor Thomas Poell emphasizes in his opening lecture, the conference aimed to facilitate conversations and to go beyond Europe and the U.S. as the standard, on which universalizing theories can be developed. Poell calls for theory building from across the globe, rather than just from the West, for cross-disciplinary conversations. In short, the conference aimed to bring diverse perspectives together.
However, the call for global perspectives leads to the question: what are global perspectives? How do we speak about global issues, what are ‘localities’ and ‘global’ issues? And how do we approach the ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ dichotomy? Although the conference calls for global perspectives, the center-periphery narrative is still partly reproduced. In this post, I seek to critique this dichotomy and rethink the relations between ‘Western’ hegemony and knowledge production. Furthermore, I argue for context-specific approaches and methodologies to do research, and steer away from studying ‘localities’ as ‘other approaches’ to Western and European theory.
Why global perspectives?
The inclusion of global perspectives in research recognizes the specific contexts in which concepts, practices, and methods occur. It allows for diverse perspectives to be included in research and gives an insight into different regions and contexts. Global Digital Cultures aims ‘to build a strong (local and global) research community on these areas of investigation’. However, it is important to note that context-specific research cannot be generalized: a case study may not apply to every studied context. Platformization and cultural production may also vary among different contexts. Platforms and Cultural Production draw upon global perspectives and show that the analysis of different instances of platformization can be systematized rather than generalized. For instance, the authors emphasize that ‘To develop a truly global perspective, we should treat China-based platform companies and practices of cultural production not as exotic, but as distinctive.’ (Poell, Nieborg and Duffy 2021). Case studies of specific platforms and industries are always idiosyncratic. Accordingly, U.S.-based research is specific to American platforms and industries, hence the research cannot be generalized. Including diverse perspectives from different countries and contexts may create a more global understanding of platformization.
Global perspectives may also contribute to gaps in research and stimulate a representation shift. It allows for more underrepresented communities to be included in academic research. Seyda Bagdogan (2022) researches Turkish housewives cooking on Youtube, and rightly identifies that ‘there is a gap of research based on the cases of women of Global South, particularly of the Muslim women in virtual space.’ Both Ouejdane Sabbah (2022), also researching Domestic Youtube Community from a Moroccan perspective, and Bagdogan shows the significance of studying perspectives from underrepresented communities, and the need for an intersectional approach.
‘Center’ and ‘Periphery’ Dichotomy: Sites of Knowledge Production
The ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ dichotomy that is still reproduced centers ‘the West’ as a hegemony for knowledge production. To understand this dichotomy, it is essential to understand what the ‘West’ entails. As Stuart Hall (1995) notes, the notion is discursively produced and categorizes society into ‘western’ and ‘non-western. ’‘Our ideas of “East” and “West” have never been free of myth and fantasy, and even to this day they are not primarily ideas about place and geography.’ Hall considers ‘the West’ as a concept and historical construct, rather than a geographical construct. The notion of the West can be considered as an ideology and gives criteria of evaluation by which other societies are measured against. Furthermore, it produces knowledge and sets the ‘standard’ for comparison. ‘It produces a certain kind of knowledge about a subject and a certain attitude towards it.’ It allows for a standard model of comparison, through which societies are compared and how they differ or resemble each other. Academic research should look to challenge the discursive hegemony of knowledge production, rather than enforcing it. Through the process of rethinking sites of knowledge production and deconstructing hegemonic relations, global perspectives in research may be more inclusive.
In the plenary conversation on Markets and Infrastructures, Professor Tommy Tse presented his work and discussed the theoretical division of the ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’. Tse addresses a process of westernizing in researching non-western contexts and questions the divide between what is considered western and what is not. According to Tse, de-westernizing is not sufficient. Although the call for global perspectives is justified, the dichotomy of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’ should be contested. The ‘center’ ‘periphery’ dichotomy iterates the idea that the ‘Western center’ is the site of knowledge production while ‘non-western’ theories and case studies are dismissed as ‘periphery’. As mentioned before, localized research does not necessarily reflect a general process. In this case, there is no distinction between ‘center’ and ‘periphery’, because research is based on localities rather than dichotomies of hegemony.
Furthermore, it is relevant to reflect on the notion of ‘region’. In their work, Mohan and Punathambekar (2019) discuss YouTube concerning language, cultural regions, and digital platforms. What I find essential here is the discussion on the use of the term ‘region’, and how we identify ‘regions’ or ‘territory’ when doing research. The authors note that ‘region’ is a complicated term that can be contested. A region does not always correspond with territory or geography and traditional media perspectives. Using the term region may not always be justified since culture, language and other commonalities can transcend these regions. More importantly, ‘region’ is often associated with territory, while this is a legal state term. We should be mindful of the interplay between region and territory since culture may transcend territorial boundaries. Regions in themselves may also be culturally diverse and be composed of various diverse perspectives. Hence a territory or single region cannot be generalized. In doing research, academics should be mindful of these terminologies and how they study a ‘region’ or locality. Mohan and Punathambekar reflect on this while mapping Youtube’s trajectory in India and the linguistic and cultural diversity of southern India. They looked at a leading Youtube channel to explore how “region’ emerges as the dominant scale for localization and examine different conceptions of the region that are mobilized to secure an online audience.’ For instance, they identified that English content draws upon a more diverse audience. The content would address a larger audience beyond urban spaces, specifically creating content also for the Tamil community in English.
Context-Specific Approaches and Methodologies
Rather than using general approaches across different contexts, research should apply context-specific approaches and methodologies. The same approach or method may not work for every context, since industries and platforms operate differently. These can be influenced by region, language, culture, and many other factors, making a context-specific approach more suitable. It is important to not take U.S.-based research as a point of departure or comparison when researching other localities. Through this practice, researchers can defer from the U.S. as the default for the standard of comparison or evaluation. Tse (2022) calls for a pluralist epistemological approach and emphasizes in his presentation that the notion of ‘context’ should be considered relational rather than fixated. Furthermore, it is not necessary to reject ‘Western’ theories or to completely disregard them, but to refine these theories.
Through their research, Elisha Lim (2022) shows how platform-dependent social justice can transform ‘imperial and racial oppression’. In their case study, the movement from hashtags across borders regarding Black Lives Matter does not reproduce the social justice outcomes of the American civil rights movement. Rather it emphasizes a context-specific approach, as the same hashtags may not transmit the same outcome. Lim finds that ‘while platform-dependent hashtags export representational language and politics, they do not transmit the concrete material concerns of social justice and on the contrary, support the imperialist subject-constitution of privileged social capital, which further erases the voice of the subaltern.’ Lim’s study stresses how a single platform and platform mechanism do not reproduce the same outcomes across different contexts. Specifically, it shows how a platform-dependent U.S.-based movement may contradict itself in another context. Hence the need for a context-specific approach.
An interesting methodological intervention that challenges the division of ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ is proposed by Victoria Andelsman Álvarez (2022). Álvarez positions themselves in their ethnographic study as ‘the stranger’ and explores their positionality in the research. The positioning of a researcher from the ‘Global South’ studying the ‘Global North’ implies a ‘reversal’ of roles in ethnography, which may uncover tensions and opportunities in the ‘North-South’ division in academic research. This approach challenges the tension discussed earlier between the ‘West’ and the ‘rest’, and opposes the idea of ‘the West’ or ‘Global North’ as the standard model of evaluation. Rather than ‘the West’ as a point of departure, the reverse takes place. Through this approach, the position of ‘the West’ as the hegemonic site for knowledge production is undermined.
These different approaches show a single point of departure may not work across different contexts and illustrate the need for a context-specific approach. The same operationalization or methodology may not be applicable across different platforms, cultures, and more. Context-specific approaches and methodologies may contribute to a better understanding of platformization and cultural production.
In researching global perspectives, it is important to not essentialize and minimize regions, cultures, and identities to single concepts. Rather, regions and cultures can be understood for their diversity and complexity, and provide space for these complexities in research. Global perspectives are crucial in doing research and valuable for the research community. Additionally, taking an intersectional approach in researching to acknowledge the various aspects of identities and cultures. However, perspectives should not be generalized based on research on a locality, although they can be systematized. ‘Regions’ and ‘territories’ may be contested as they do not necessarily reflect the boundaries of culture and linguistics. The center-periphery dichotomy of ‘the west’ and ‘the rest’, or ‘global north’ and ‘global south’ division is historically and discursively constructed concepts. ‘The West’ as a standard model of comparison and evaluation is an aversion from global perspectives, as it implies a hegemonic relation. This dichotomy may imply a hegemony of ‘western’ knowledge production that we must steer away from. We should avoid speaking on ‘global’ processes and phenomena based on local research. By doing so, we can truly study global perspectives. Localized research may contribute to diverse perspectives and gain a better understanding of processes across different platforms and contexts. Finally, the use of context-specific approaches and methodologies can respect the different perspectives and contexts of research. For example, a pluralist epistemological approach, while taking into account that context is relational and not essentialized. The departure point for research should not be U.S.-based as opposed to ‘localized approaches’. Instead, we should acknowledge the locality of various studies in understanding global perspectives.
Álvarez, V.A. (2022). The stranger and the familiar: studying digital platform use in Danish family life as a Global South researcher. Abstract.
Bagdogan, S. (2022). Affective Publics: “May God Bless YouTube” Modest cooking of Turkish housewives on YouTube. Abstract.
Davidson, R., & Poor, N. (2019). Location, location, location: How digital platforms reinforce the importance of spatial proximity. Information, Communication & Society, 22(10), 1464–1478. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2018.1444075
Hall, S. (1995). The West and the rest: Discourse and Power. Formations of Modernity.185-191.
Lim, E. (2022). Glocalization Fail: Lives That Won’t Matter. Abstract.
Lotz, A. D. (2021). In between the global and the local: Mapping the geographies of Netflix as a multinational service. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 24(2), 195-215.
Mohan, S., & Punathambekar, A. (2019). Localizing YouTube: Language, cultural regions, and digital platforms. International journal of cultural studies, 22(3), 317-333.
Poell, T., Nieborg, D. B., & Duffy, B. E. (2021). Platforms and cultural production (Ch.4, 7 & 8) Introduction). John Wiley & Sons.
Sabbah, O. (2022). Unglamorous Labor The Performance (and Monetization) of Domestic Labor on Moroccan YouTube. Abstract.
Tse, T. (2022, July 1). Markets and Infrastructures [Plenary Conversation]. Global Perspectives on Platforms and Cultural Production, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Nadia Murady is a Research Master’s student at the University of Amsterdam, specializing in New Media and Digital Culture.