PhD Defense: Gemma Newlands (University of Amsterdam)

22 June 2023 | 16:00hrs | Agnietenkapel
Supervisors: Mark Deuze; Christian Fieseler

As new occupations emerge in response to the growth of the digital economy, the relationship between digital technology and labour has resulted in significant changes in how work is evaluated. By critically examining the ways in which humans and artificial intelligence (AI) are co-evolving and the ways in which work is becoming more technical and less human(e), this dissertation provides insights into the challenges and opportunities of this rapidly changing landscape. The integrated dissertation offers six distinct and self-standing articles which provide theoretical, empirical and methodological contributions to understanding the process of work evaluation in the digital economy. Taking a micro-level approach, I present the results of a qualitative interview study that I conducted with app-based food delivery couriers in Norway and Sweden on the topics of workplace recognition and perceived employability. I then take a meso-level approach by examining companies utilizing digitally mediated labour, investigating how these organizations surveil, measure and advertise the human labour they depend on. Finally, to address the macro-level societal perceptions, I detail the results of a quantitative study into the perceived occupational prestige and perceived occupational social value for a comprehensive and robust list of occupations, including those in the digital economy. This work is framed as a contribution that speaks to different audiences, primarily sociologists and other social scientists, but also policymakers, business leaders, and the general public, who all have a stake in understanding the implications of AI in the workplace.

PhD Defense: Kun He (University of Groningen)

Bottom-up and online populism in contemporary China: An understanding beyond the West

29 June 2023 | 14.30hrs | Academy building RUG
Chinese populism exhibits unique features that distinguish it from populism observed in democratic settings. Notably, Chinese populism encompasses two distinct forms: communist populism and online bottom-up populism, each operating in its own distinct manner. Communist populism is propagated through the party-state system, mobilizing against perceived corrupt elites in the name of the majority Chinese people. This aligns with the underlying antagonism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat in communism, as well as the populist sentiment of “the people versus corrupt elite.” In contrast, online bottom-up populism thrives on semi-anonymous digital media platforms, enabling collective protests by the people against corrupt elites through the expression of public concerns and discontent. This interaction between the people and netizens exemplifies the manifestation of “people’s power in the Internet age.” These sub-forms of populism often engage in cooperation, competition, and strategic maneuvers within the specific context of China.

PhD Defense: Constanza Gajardo (VU University)

Truly Engaging Audiences. How are the needs of the audience – as citizens – served by journalism?

Friday 20 October 2023 at 13:45 hrs
VU University – Amsterdam

From a traditional normative perspective, it is understood that if people do not consume news, democracy loses an informed foundation for an engaged citizenship (Christians et al., 2010; Schudson, 2008; McNair, 2009). Hence, the acquisition of factual information, primarily about politics and public affairs, is often considered what people need from journalism (McQuail, 2013). However, such normative formulations seem to primarily represent the viewpoint of journalists. The audience’s perspective has only been tangentially included in the normative framework of journalism, mainly based on predefined definitions of what it means for individuals to fulfil a citizen’s role (Moe, 2020).

How are the needs of the audience – as citizens – served by journalism? Or, more specifically, how does the audience experience journalism as truly engaging, and how do journalists feel they truly engage with their audiences? This dissertation deconstructs the relationship between citizens, journalism and democracy by taking the perspective of audiences as a starting point, and also considering the experiences of journalists’ relationship with them.

The research is based on 37 semi-structured interviews with Chilean news users (aged 18 to 65), and 20 professional journalists. Some key findings are: first, audiences not only appreciate but also demand that journalism be “on their side,” highlighting the importance people attach to journalism as a resource that allows them to have a sense of agency in their own lives. Second, feeling served by journalism in their role as citizens is not only based on the types of content they receive but also on the communicative experience it evokes. People feel served when they perceive that journalism communicates with them, adapting to their needs and preferences, specifically through demonstrations of (1) editorial transparency, (2) professional commitment, and (3) social commitment. And third, an empirical understanding of how journalism serves the audience as citizens may be construed around the notion of living citizens: concrete news users targeted by journalists based on professional democratic ideals. When journalists conceive of their audiences as living citizens, they see themselves as professionals whose value is strongly linked to their capacity to perform the role of a watchdog, not only in the interest of seeking to hold the de facto power accountable, but also by being a watchdog on behalf of the people and by taking people’s problems seriously. Likewise, approaching the audience as living citizens encourages journalists to see themselves as accountable both for making their journalism relevant and appealing to their audience, and also, being aware of and reflecting on the potential impact their journalism has on people’s lives.

Using the Chilean context as a starting point, this dissertation adds nuances to the automatic link between journalism and democracy and contributes to a better understanding of how the relationship between audiences, journalism, and democracy unfolds in empirical and everyday terms, thereby complementing and expanding the normative theory of journalism.


PhD Defence: Anouk Mols (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Everyday experiences of privacy and surveillance: Negotiating appropriate forms of monitoring

8 December 2021 at 13:00
Senaatszaal Erasmus University Rotterdam
Link to livestream:

Supervisors: Susanne Janssen and Jason Pridmore

On an ordinary Wednesday evening, a family is about to have dinner. Meanwhile, the father receives WhatsApp messages from the neighbourhood crime prevention group, the mother checks the student tracking system of the youngest son, and the daughter instructs a smart speaker to play music. In this scenario, personal information of the family members is collected, processed and shared. In other words; they are the subject of surveillance. The smart speaker collects data for commercial purposes, the mother processes information to support her son, the father is connected to a group of neighbours who keep an eye out on the street (and one another). It seems that the family members don’t care about privacy and trade it for safety, control, and convenience. However, the dissertation of Anouk Mols shows that everyday experiences of privacy and surveillance are more complex. The research is based on interviews with a 100 respondents about the use of WhatsApp for security and work communication, smart technologies, and parental control tools. On a daily basis, people negotiate what forms of surveillance they find (in)appropriate and respond accordingly. They are constrained in these negotiations by a lack of transparency about data collection, and limited influence on surveillance practices. This study leads to the conclusion that tangibility is key to increasing awareness of and resilience in privacy and surveillance practices. Making complex surveillance issues and privacy solutions tangible via metaphors, examples, and visible markers, enables people to better identify surveillance practices and to apply privacy-preserving measures.

PhD Defence: Esther Hammelburg (Hogeschool van Amsterdam)

Being There Live: How Liveness is Realized Through Media Use at Contemporary Cultural Events

3 December 2021 | 11:00 hrs
University of Amsterdam – Aula

Supervisors: Thomas Poell, José van Dijck, and Jeroen de Kloet
Please register:

Liveness is a key concern in media studies, yet has been mostly theorized as a phenomenon related to broadcasting and is understudied for the Internet and social media. This study is an appeal for preserving liveness as a concept that continuously evolves as new media technologies emerge. In addition, it argues for and contributes empirical work to media scholarship on liveness. Through extensive fieldwork on the ground and online at three annual Dutch cultural events – Oerol Festival 2017, 3FM Serious Request 2017, and Pride Amsterdam 2018 – using ethnographic, digital and visual methods, it examined actual situated live instances and the media practices of people experiencing them. The matter of live media practices at cultural events is topical against the background of processes of mediatization and festivalization in the 2010s, and the intersection of these processes as the  COVID-19 crisis boosts mediated communication and restricts physical gathering.

This thesis challenges media theory’s conceptualization of liveness as mediated presence to an unfolding reality that exists in and of itself. It asserts that this is not only an outdated understanding, but one that impedes comprehending what “truly being there live” means. Empirical observations and analysis reveal the constructive role live media practices play in realizing live instances. Live instances, this study suggests, are realized when event joiners align their physical event environment and the various mediated contexts in which they are continuously involved as users of smartphones, social media, TV, and direct messaging apps. It is through their live media practices that they constitute their sense of “being there live” as “being now here together,” in relation to distant times, places, and others. By investigating how live instances are situated in both physical and mediated contexts, this study contributes to and shows valuable directions for future academic research. It also offers tools that can be used for innovating the design of future media and cultural events.