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Accepted Paper:

Who's watching? Theorising an anthropological approach to digital value in the household via a case study of shared streaming service subscriptions  
Linda Ma (ReD Associates)

Paper short abstract:

How do households and families assign value to digital goods? Streaming services (e.g. Netflix, Spotify) despite their artificial scarcity, come to be valued as the locus of household consumption and kinship reproduction. This paper details ways in which digital value(s), too, are socially shaped.

Paper long abstract:

How do households assign value to digital goods? Economic anthropologists have shown kinship is mediated by consumption practices (Douglas & Isherwood, 1979; Miller, 1987). Consumption is critical to reproducing household values, preferences and commensality, predicated on value being determined through the decision to allocate scarce resources. But what does an anthropological theory of value look like when — as with digital goods —goods are artificially scarce? The household is the locus of sociality and moral reproduction (Sahlins, 1972). Yet households’ consumption of digital goods remains significantly undertheorised, despite their central place in time use and resource allocation.

This paper is based on ten remote ethnographic interviews conducted in mid-2021, conducted with members of households who share streaming service subscriptions in the UK, Australia and India. To resolve conflicts over what to watch and when, household members engage in active practices of negotiation, including technical restrictions on sharing passwords, placation, or reciprocity. Such practices are marked by intra-household power relations (Zelizer 2007). Yet digital goods can also facilitate new forms of expressing kinship values, for instance by allowing parents and adult children to continue to share preferences.

This paper argues for foregrounding the social practices that go into constructing digital value, rather than reifying technical affordances as their source. More broadly, more attention ought to be paid to how values and preferences are socially shaped in an age of algorithmic culture. While household practices may be increasingly digitally mediated, digital consumption practices continue to reflect and embed deeply relational, communal norms.

Panel P37
The Digital Architecture of Kinship in Hybrid Spaces of Togetherness: Are Anthropologists critical to the 'cultural and not technical' digital dilemma?
  Session 1 Tuesday 7 June, 2022, -