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Cultural Metrics

Mon, May 29, 11:00 to 12:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 3, Aqua 309

Session Submission Type: Panel


This panel explores the concept of “cultural metrics:” considering how digital, mobile, and social technologies have given rise to tools for measuring both culture and its audiences; how this effort often involves unique hybrids of quantitative measurement and qualitative assessment; and how cultural production, circulation, and consumption have shifted in light of this commitment to metrics.

Metrics are “those data that are used to provide some sort of measure of the world” (Beer 2016) Across many industries, a push to construct systems of quantification and measurement is generating new, compelling understandings of users, markets, and the social landscape. Yet this raises serious questions about how cultural metrics shape, influence, and stratify; “metrics facilitate the making and remaking of judgements about us, the judgements we make of ourselves and the consequences of those judgements as they are felt and experienced in our lives.”

The commercial production of culture and knowledge has long depended on quantitative measurement - ratings, charts, sales figures - and Communication scholars have already grappled with questions about what they measure, how measurement reshapes what it measures, and how these systems can be gamed (Napoli 2003; Gillespie 2016). That audiences are manufactured through the industry’s attempts to count them is not new (Ang 1991; Baym 2013; Bermejo 2009). But the proliferation of cultural metrics tracking user activity, preference, and social relations expands these tools and threatens to reshape what counts as culture, how it is produced, and how it moves. Our interest here is not only in how culture has been metricized, but also how metrics are cultured: how attempts to measure reflect deep cultural origins, expose the nature of measurement itself, and become flashpoints for public conversation and contestation.

The participants are all working on fruitful lines of scholarship in this area. Each explores specific questions about the embrace of metrics by the culture industries (including companies using media to forecast cultural trends, the measure of audience attention and popularity in online journalism, and the measure of linking by search engines as a proxy for popularity and relevance.) And each is inquiring into a complementary aspect of this shift: the values and assumptions about culture, taste, and affect built into particular metrics; the impact of metrification on the perception of and engagement with audiences; the practices by which metrics are made meaningful; and the feedback loops introduced by the increasing embrace of such cultural metrics.

NOTE: All intended participants agree to register for the conference and participate in the panel.

Ang, I. 1991. Desperately Seeking the Audience. London: Routledge.

Baym, N. 2013. Data Not Seen: The Uses and Shortcomings of Social Media Metrics. First Monday 18 (10).

Beer, D. (2016). Metric Power. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Bermejo, F., 2009. Audience manufacture in historical perspective: from broadcasting to Google. New Media & Society, 11(1-2), 133-154.

Gillespie, T. (2016). #trendingistrending: when algorithms become culture. In R. Seyfert & J. Roberge (Eds.), Algorithmic Cultures: Essays on Meaning, Performance and New Technologies. Routledge.

Napoli, P. 2003. Audience Economics: Media Institutions and the Audience Marketplace. New York: Columbia University Press.

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