RMeS Workshop Cautious labour: Exploring cultural workers’ negotiation of digital visibility in the era of promotional and surveillance culture

Workshop organised by dr. Qian Huang (RUG) within the context of the RMeS PhD workshop Grant, in collaboration with dr. Claudio Celis Bueno (UvA) within the context of UvA Global Digital Culture Event Grant

When: 4 November 2024, 9:00-18:00 hrs
Where: University of Amsterdam – Roeterseiland Campus, Room REC JKTB 20 (morning) & Room GS 11 (afternoon)
For: PhDs and research master students who are a member of a Dutch Graduate Research School (onderzoekschool). Students who are members of RMeS will have first access.

Registration will open 11 September 2024 via THIS LINK.

Please note that this event is also open for other participants via registration from GDC, but the credit will only be awarded to RMeS members who register via RMeS. Registration for both RMeS participants (with credit) and GDC participants will be centralised and processed by RMeS.

Description of the workshop

As the digitalisation and platformization of social activities as well as cultural production deepen (Van Dijck, 2021; Poell, Nieborg & Duffy, 2022), the world has witnessed the emergence of “social media entertainment” (Cunningham & Craig, 2019): more social media users engaging in creating and monetizing user-generated content. Meanwhile, there is a rising promotional culture (Jiménez-Martínez & Edwards, 2023), the need for visibility labour in rising attention economy (Abidin, 2020; Celis Bueno, 2016), influencer creep (Bishop, 2023), and influencer culture (Duffy et al., 2023), where more individuals feel obligated to self-document and self-brand in all forms of work. This phenomenon is especially true for artists in traditional cultural forms or cultural producers in legacy cultural industries. Therefore, both types of creative workers/cultural producers benefit from online visibility and audience engagement in the current attention economy.

However, their daily production practices are also under the influence of the ubiquitous culture of surveillance (Lyon, 2018), where they are governed in various ways by state institutions and platforms (such as content moderation and recommendation algorithms, c.f. Duffy & Meisner, 2023). In addition, as call-out/cancel culture (Ng, 2022; Huang & Janssen, 2019; Huang, 2023) and participatory surveillance (Trottier et al., in press), these cultural producers are also constantly scrutinised and evaluated against various values and community norms by other citizens, leading to potential public shaming and boycott. Unlike civilian users, it is hard or undesirable for them to completely withdraw from platforms because the sources of their social and economic capital depend on their visibility on platforms (Duffy, 2023). With more scrutiny yet fewer solutions, cultural producers experience greater risks and more severe consequences of intense surveillant assemblage on platforms.

Therefore, this workshop aims to encourage researchers to consider cultural workers’ – or even individual citizens’ – daily production practices and experiences on digital platforms by combining theories of platform(ised) creative labour and participatory surveillance. The phenomenon of negotiating digital visibility is universal across countries yet contextualised in specific cultural and political conditions. By studying practices that traverse national boundaries and considering how comparable phenomena are manifest in diverging contexts, critical and decentralised analysis can be produced.

Preliminary Workshop program

09:00-09:30 Doors open & coffee

09:30-10:00 Welcome & introduction to the theme: cautious labour in platform cultural production
Opening words by dr. Qian Huang (RUG)

10:00-10:30  Presentation about influencer culture and visibility bind by dr. Brooke Erin Duffy (Cornell University)

10:30-11:00   Presentation about the regime of visibility and promotional culture by dr. Cesar Jimenez-Martinez (LSE)

11:00-12:00   Group discussion based on prepared “influencer creep/influencer culture/the regime of visibility” examples

12:00-13:00  Lunch break

13:00-13:30   Presentation about participatory surveillance on digital platforms by dr. Danile Trottier (EUR)

13:30-14:00  Presentation about migrant journalists’ and academics’ cautious labour by dr. Qian Huang (RUG)

14:00-14:30   Coffee break

14:30-15:30   Roundtable discussions about participatory surveillance and cautious labour examples

15:30-17:00   Concluding presentation and collective reflections: Towards a (Post)Marxist Critique of Creative Labour by Dr. Celis Bueno (UvA)

17:00-18:00  Optional: Drinks

Confirmed Speakers

Dr. Brooke Erin Duffy is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. Her areas of expertise include media and cultural production, emergent technologies and political economies of work, gender and feminism, and digital labour. Duffy is the author or co-author of three books, including (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender and Aspirational Labor in the Social Media Economy, Platforms and Cultural Production (with Poell & Nieborg), and the current book project, The Visibility Bind: Creators and the Perils of Platform Labor (under contract, University of Chicago Press).

Dr. César Jiménez-Martínez is an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. His research examines the mediated visibility of personal and collective identities, focussing in particular on the construction, communication and contestation of the nation in and through promotional practices. His work has made significant contributions to debates on mediated nationhood, nation branding, public diplomacy, and soft power in the context of Latin America. He is the author of Media and the Image of the Nation during Brazil’s 2013 Protests, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020, and co-edited with Professor Terhi Rantanen Globalization and the Media, published by Routledge in 2019.

Dr. Daniel Trottier is an associate professor at the Department of Media and Communication of Erasmus University Rotterdam. His current research considers the use of digital media for the purposes of scrutiny, denunciation, and shaming. He has authored books and edited volumes such as Violence and Trolling on Social Media: History, Affect and Effects of Online Vitriol Social Media (with Polak in 2020), Introducing Vigilant Audience (with Gabdulhakov & Huang in 2020), and Digital Media, Denunciation and Shaming The Court of Public Opinion (with Huang & Gabdulhakov, coming in 2024).

Dr. Claudio Celis Bueno is an assistant professor in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of the book The Attention Economy: Labour, Time and Power in Cognitive Capitalism, and numerous academic articles and book chapters. His current research focuses on the importance of the notion of information for a critique of the political economy of algorithmic technologies and contemporary capitalism.

Dr. Qian Huang is an assistant professor in the Research Center for Media & Journalism Studies at University of Groningen. She was a RMeS member when doing her PhD at Erasmus University of Rotterdam between 2017-2022 and was a visiting scholar at The University of Oxford in 2024. Her research interests include digital vigilantism, cancel culture, visibility negotiation, and digital cultures in general. She is the co-editor of the volume Introducing Vigilant Audience and the co-author of the coming book Digital Media, Denunciation and Shaming: The Court of Public Opinion (both with Trottier & Gabdulhakov). She is currently co-editing a special issue on “Negotiating Digital Visibility in Asia” for the journal Convergence.

Assignment for participants:  Conceptual Reflection Memo
(only mandatory for the RMeS PhD and RMA participants)

This assignment is geared towards identifying tangible demonstrations of cautious labour and contributing to the conceptualization of creative labour in general. The participants will be asked to write a conceptual reflection memo based on their preparation and roundtable discussions during the workshop with guided questions provided by the organiser.


Prior to the workshop, participants are asked to submit a prompt worksheet where they identify a real-life example of influencer creep and map out potential forms of surveillance involved. Cases can range from highly specific or personal examples like ‘I have my own YouTube channel where I talk about my research and post vlogs of my everyday academic life’ to more general phenomena from your research data or your research topics such as ‘freelancer journalists need to brand themselves on social media platforms’.

The prompt worksheet includes the following tasks:

  • Identify a case that demonstrates the regime of visibility or influencer creep/culture based on provided literature (required readings will be communicated to registered participants close to the event date)
  • List all potential surveillance and potential harms involved in your selected case (e.g., from the state, platforms, other citizens)

During and after the workshop
Based on similarities between their case descriptions, participants will be divided into three or four discussion groups. The group discussions have 45 minutes to discuss their selected cases, identify elements of cautious labour, and reflect on the conceptualisation of creative labour in general (such as emotional/affective/relational/visibility labour). Each group will have 5-10 minutes to present their common findings and major differences due to different contexts.


  • Abidin,C. (2020). Mapping Internet celebrity on TikTok: Exploring attention economies and visibility labours. Cultural Science,12(1) 77-103.
  • Bishop, S. (2023). Influencer creep: How artists strategically navigate the platformisation of art worlds. New Media & Society, 0(0).
  • Celis Bueno, C. (2016). The attention economy: labour, time and power in cognitive capitalism. Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Jiménez-Martínez, C., & Edwards, L. (2023). The promotional regime of visibility: Ambivalence and contradiction in strategies of dominance and resistance. Communication and the Public, 8(1), 14-28.
  • Duffy, B. E., Ononye, A., & Sawey, M. (2023). The politics of vulnerability in the influencer economy. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 0(0).
  • Duffy, B. E., & Meisner, C. (2023). Platform governance at the margins: Social media creators’ experiences with algorithmic (in) visibility. Media, Culture & Society, 45(2), 285-304.
  • Huang, Q. (2023). The discursive construction of populist and misogynist nationalism: Digital vigilantism against unpatriotic intellectual women in China. Social Media + Society, 9(2).
  • Huang, Q., & Janssens, A. (2019). Come mangiare un cannolo con le bacchette: The Contested Field of Luxury Fashion in China, a Case Study of the 2018 Dolce & Gabbana Advertising Incident. ZoneModa Journal9(2), 123–140.
  • Lyon, D. (2018). The culture of surveillance: Watching as a way of life. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Marwick, A. E. (2015). Instafame: Luxury selfies in the attention economy. Public Culture, 27(1), 137–160.
  • Ng, E. (2022). Cancel culture: A critical analysis. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Poell, T., Nieborg, D. B., & Duffy, B. E. (2021). Platforms and cultural production. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Trottier, D., Huang, Q., & Gabdulhakov, R. (in press). The court of public opinions. Routledge.