Making Cringe Content: The Performativity of Algorithms in Creative Labor

9 March @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

This event will be in-person and streamed via Zoom. The Zoom link will be sent ahead of the event.

Algorithms are now so intertwined with markets, workplaces, and media that scholars describe them as part of our social systems of meaning-making. This article shows how algorithms shape the practical work of making culture. I draw from a case of content creators who make entertainment videos engineered to go viral on social media, videos they dismiss as “cringe.” To explain the puzzle of creators contradicting their own artistic sensibilities, I combine social studies of technology and labor theory to develop a model of algorithmically-driven creative labor. Drawing from 16 months of ethnography and interviews with 60 viral creators, I show how creators interact with algorithms which discipline them into making attention-grabbing content. I trace workers’ interactions with data metrics in five steps. First, creators learn to subjugate their own tastes to data; second, they adapt to algorithm changes; third, they simplify stories into visual, often stereotypically sexualized and racialized imagery; fourth, they copy what works; fifth, they experience thrills of the game of scoring metrics. Ultimately, successful creators fuse their standards of quality with quantitative metrics they believe algorithms prioritize. By documenting this labor process from alienation, adaptation, simplification, replication, and gamification, I arrive at a theory of algorithms as performative in cultural production, which yields subpar cultural outcomes in the form of cringe content.

Ashley Mears is Professor of Sociology and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Boston University. Her research, at the intersection of cultural and economic sociology, documents how societies value people and things, and how people recognize and transact non-financial forms of capital. She is the author of two books, Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model (California, 2011), and Very Important People (Princeton, 2020). Her latest ethnography, on viral content creators, appears in the summer 2022 issue of The Economist’s1843 Magazine.


9 March
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category:
Book now


Oxford Internet Institute
1 St Giles
Oxford, OX1 3JS
+ Google Map

Latest news

Entrepreneurship Events Grant – Trinity 2023

If you're an Oxford student or staff member, you can apply for an entrepreneurship events grant. Learn more

Hannah Ireson, Founder of Mederi

Hannah Ireson, Founder of Mederi

Hannah is the founder of Mederi, Oxford’s first floatation centre. Learn more

Jasmine Anouna, Founder of Bloom

Jasmine Anouna, Founder of Bloom

Jasmine is the founder of The Bloom, an online hub for aspiring changemakers around the world. Learn more

Simone Koo Ishikawa – Founder of Ishikoo

Simone Koo Ishikawa – Founder of Ishikoo

Simone has her own fintech advisory and consultancy company, RSK Finance. Learn more

Enterprising Oxford

Tell us a bit about yourself and see information and resources relevant to your needs.

Get in touch

11 + 9 =

Copyright © 2022 Enterprising Oxford | Site by Herd