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Challenging Communication Research


Edited By Leah A. Lievrouw

Communication scholarship has not enjoyed the same kind of theoretical cohesion or ontological security as some disciplines. The field’s intellectual «roving eye» and resistance to establishing a single core body of knowledge has inspired serial rounds of soul-searching and existential doubt among communication scholars, on one hand, and celebration and intellectual adventurism, on the other. The theme of the 2013 ICA annual conference thus raised an interesting question: For a field that is perpetually in flux and «decentered», what exactly is, or should be, challenged? How, and by whom?
The chapters in this collection, chosen from among the top papers presented in London, suggest that the challenges themselves are constantly being reinvented, broken down and reorganized. The communication discipline undergoes continuous change rather than following an orderly, stepwise path toward the neat, complete accumulation of knowledge. The chapters challenge familiar approaches, notions or assumptions in communication research and scholarship and reflect on the field’s multifaceted and increasingly open character in an era of shifting social relations, formations and technologies.
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Chapter Ten: The New Reputation Custodians: Examining the Industrialization of Visibility in the Reputation Society


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The New Reputation Custodians

Examining the Industrialization of Visibility in the Reputation Society


In a 2012 New York Times Magazine article, Lizette Alvarez documents a change in a time-honored college ritual: spring breakers are moderating their behavior in view of the long-term consequences of their actions. The source of this trepidation? The smartphones in the pockets of their peers—each one equipped with a camera, ready to capture antics for personal commemoration and public circulation online. While anecdotal, this story illustrates the now-mundane reality that ubiquitous recording devices and accessible publishing platforms allow the performances of ordinary people to be easily decontextualized and rebroadcast for vast and unintended audiences. Popular media outlets rehearse anecdotes and issue warnings about the negative implications of these viral performances. Academics warn that the information we intentionally and unintentionally share online is used to create persistent reputations from which we cannot escape (e.g., Turow, 2011). If the spring breakers who spoke to Alvarez are any indication, people—even youth, popularly portrayed as eschewing privacy in favor of a cultural of extreme visibility—have heeded the advice.

The Times article also alludes to a parallel logic. The college students Alvarez interviewed reveal their muted behavior is part of broader strategic project. Armed with an understanding that potential employers use online search as a way to vet candidates, they imagine their digital presence—a collection of websites,...

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