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 It asserts that this is not only an outdated understanding, but one that impedes comprehending what “truly being there live” means.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.