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Hinton, Sam and Larissa Hjorth, Understanding Social Media.

Hinton, Sam and Larissa Hjorth, Understanding Social Media, Sage, London, 2013, ISBN 9 7814 4620 1206, 168 pp.

Written primarily for students of media and cultural studies, Understanding Social Media provides an overview of the world of social media from the early development of Web 2.0 to twenty-first-century participatory culture. The opening chapters to the text introduce what the authors see as a tension between 'control and freedom' and 'exploitation and empowerment' (p. 7) in the use of digital media. Briefly tracing recent debates on the emancipatory vs exploitative nature of online audience engagement, the authors assert that emergent forms of participation enabled by Web 2.0 have produced a dialectic relationship between commercial interests and media audiences. The internet is, the authors argue, a place for the expression of freedom and empowerment, while at the same time, practices of surveillance and data mining make it a space that always potentially enables commercial 'colonisation' (p. 20) of users' lives.

Chapter 3, 'Social Network Sites', and Chapter 4, 'Participation and User Created Content', trace current arguments on the nature of sociality, network and community in online environments, and highlight what the authors view as the Anglocentric nature of social network analysis and scholarship. These chapters--and indeed later chapters--offer an overview a range of ethnographic studies of user engagement in non-Western contexts, and identify recent scholarly discourse on the nature of networked publics and online community. Here the authors make a series of primary arguments. First, they highlight the importance of close, interpersonal relationships for users of social media, and point to the significance of what they refer to as 'intimate publics' (p. 46) in online life. Second, they assert that there is a need for further 'affect-oriented' rather than 'effect-oriented' (p. 52) studies of user engagement with social networks. They advocate a hybrid approach to the study of networks that recognises the structural dynamics of online production alongside the intimate reality of the experience of networked media and offline existence. Tracing recent examples of discussions of online activism and citizen journalism, the authors further maintain that 'people's online productive behaviour is strongly anchored in real-world concerns' (p. 75) while at the same time the participatory dimensions of social media are always 'subject to local conditions' (p. 75).

Chapter 5, 'Art and Cultural Production', provides an overview of the way in which social media is providing forms of bypass to dominant institutional structures, while at the same time providing artists with new avenues of artistic expression. In Chapter 6, the authors explore themes of the local/cultural by pointing to the ways in which gaming is a global phenomenon, not simply confined to stereotypic demographics. Chapter 7, 'Social, Locative and Mobile Media', points to the way in which mobile media challenge traditional senses of place and space, and make the boundary between the embodied virtual and the actual increasingly complex. These new forms of locative media, they argue, are 'changing how we visualize intimate cartographies' (p. 135).

A solid overview of current research and debates in the analysis of social networks, Understanding Social Media is a useful text for all students of digital media.

--Rebecca Bishop, Independent Scholar, Sydney
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Author:Bishop, Rebecca
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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