Presentation at The Child And The Book Conference 2022
Presentation alongside Sonali Kulkarni (University of Tilburg) on the topic of #BookTok, a popular subculture on the social media app TikTok which focuses on literature and book culture.
Abstract is below, followed by the link to the full presentation on YouTube.
First launched less than three years ago, TikTok has quickly become a mainstay in the lives of social media users. This is particularly true for children and young adults between ages 10 and 19 who account for over 30% of TikTok’s one billion active users, making them the most populous age-group on the platform (Doyle, 2021). This popularity also percolates into TikTok subcultures where users engage with niche interests. One such subculture is #BookTok – a TikTok-based digital community in which (young) readers actively engage with the literary texts that they consume. Owing to the significant impact of the #BookTok trend on the YA publishing industry (Harris, 2021), it has been the subject of several recent studies that understand BookTok as a form of literacy engagement (Jerasa & Boffone, 2021) and examine its scholastic utility for teachers and librarians (Merga, 2021).
The present study shifts attention from literacy to the literary to understand the ways in which young readers harness the BookTok subculture to position themselves as active agents within the literary sphere. Upon framing the BookTok trend within the democratisation of literary criticism and the shift from a top-down system of literary criticism to a “horizontal network of lay readers” (Neima, 2017), we argue that young BookTokkers’ agency as digital literary critics may be understood by employing insights from practice theory. Drawing from the work of Couldry (2004) and Johansen (2018) on understanding media as practices – that is, attempting to understand what young people are actually doing in relation to media – we propose a re-conceptualisation of BookTok as a space for the negotiation of young adults’ readerly and critical agency through which literary discourses have shifted and developed as practice. Through this research, we espouse a move away from discourses of technological determinism to foreground the young adult users and their agentic reshaping of digital literary criticism.
This autumn I was one of the shadow researchers for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 2022, as well as on the editorial team for the publication of the author and illustrator spotlight blog for the project. For my own spotlight blog I chose to research French Canadian author and nominee Angèle Delaunois. You can read the article here.
I was one of ten presenters at the first ever Annual Children’s Literature Media and Culture Symposium – CLMC Speaks – this year. The event was hosted as a two-part Zoom session over two days in September, and was attended by more than 80 participants from around the world.
You can see an overview of my presentation on the CLMC Speaks Blog here.
I am also a founding member of the CLMC Alumni Association, which hosts the annual symposium. You can find more info about that here.
Understanding TikTok as young people’s media practice.
In 2021 I submitted my master’s thesis on the topic of TikTok. Below is the abstract and you can find the link to the entire dissertation here.
As of January 2021, the video production and sharing app TikTok had 689 million monthly users. Though it is hard to measure precisely how many of those users are young people, there is no doubt that the app is particularly popular among children and teens. Much of the discourse around TikTok in the mainstream media has taken a negative view of this, portraying the app as a discrete entity capable of having a direct effect on its young users. This view fails to appreciate the complexity of the relationships between the app and its users, and has led to an unbalanced understanding of the app itself. In an attempt to redress that balance, this study seeks to acknowledge the popularity of TikTok with young people in order to better understand its use, asking the seemingly simple question: why TikTok? That is to say, what is it specifically about TikTok that has made it such a success with young people? Starting with a re-interpretation of the app as a media using a framework derived from mediatisation research, practice theory is used to hone in on the particular ways in which young people use TikTok. Four videos which exemplify the concept of the ‘main character’ – a video ‘trend’ on the app – are analysed through this practice-based lens. In an attempt to interrogate the fixed nature of the categories adult/child and structure/agency, a basic language of media practice is established which helps us to comprehend the ways in which young people are negotiating their own spaces for exploration in a world which otherwise offers them very little tangible power. This has been undertaken with the aim of better comprehending how and where young people choose to engage with the world around them and what part new digital media such as TikTok have to play in that process.