Tamara Shepherd

Tamara Shepherd received her PhD in the Joint Doctorate in Communication at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. She has published and presented papers on aspects of labour in user-generated content and social media, from a feminist political economy perspective. Her dissertation is titled “Persona Rights in Young People’s Labour of Online Cultural Production: Implications for New Media Policy” (2012).

What one insight from your field, approach, method, findings etc. do you think is most important for scholars working in this topical area?

What seems to be lacking from much of the debate on the production of digital culture is a labour and human rights perspective: how do creators as workers require protection of their informational privacy and intellectual property? One useful way to frame this question involves looking at networked sociality and cultural production as promotional labour. In this light, the privacy and IP rights of creators might be articulated through persona rights law. According to legal scholar William McGeveran (abstract | PDF), persona rights law sees networked communication platforms as built on the marketing premise of endorsement. So in addition to the more common understandings of how online social platforms capitalize on private personal information and users’ intellectual property, persona rights law highlights the promotional logic that subtends networked sociality more generally. The varied forms of digital cultural production thus all tend to bolster commercial platforms through determinations of public value, consolidated through measurements such as brand equity. If this kind of exchange value is held up as the measure of digital culture’s permeation into everyday life, what then does that mean for the labour-based rights of people working to produce that value?

What are two issues that are not adequately treated within current work on cultural production in the digital age in your field or in others?

The question of rights brings up the vexing role of government regulation in shaping the uses and discursive frameworks in which new technologies are integrated into cultural production practices. While regulation might play a key role in protecting the rights of cultural workers broadly defined, governments tend to lag behind commercial actors in terms of recognizing the emergent ways that culture gets produced and circulated through new digital technologies. As such, new paradigms for regulatory intervention require further development as part of policymaking in the public interest.

Are humanistic values such as justice, equality, democracy or (insert preferred humanistic value here) currently served by cultural production in a digital networked environment?

I think that more certainly needs to be worked out in terms of rights structures; for example, what kind of territory is a “digital networked environment,” and how does it produce certain kinds of inhabitants or “citizens”? Part of this work will involve setting up some normative understandings of justice, etc.—something that has been happening in cultural studies scholarship throughout the past decade or so, particularly in response to the postmodern and poststructuralist turns that tended (at least in their wider applications) to evacuate normative values. Restoring more humanistic criteria for analysis, re-articulated for the current conjuncture, could involve seeing digital cultural production as an element of the public sphere(s), but also as the walled garden(s) of commercial exchange, as determined by transnational capitalism and state regulation. In this sense, looking at people’s rights in digital environments from a normative standpoint might begin by resurrecting exploitation and appropriation as mechanisms that underpin the work of cultural production in networked sociality.