Online networks and the production of value in electronic music

Daniel Allington, Anna Jordanous, Byron Dueck

[Cross-posted from]

This project began with Pierre Bourdieu’s argument that cultural value is a form of belief. Drawing on Marcel Mauss’s work in the anthropology of religions, Bourdieu (1993 [1980]) argued that a painting or a poem is a sort of fetish: that is, a ‘magical’ artefact whose special status derives from the fact that believers hold it to be magical. So, for Bourdieu, cultural production involves not only the production of artefacts, but also the production of belief in the value of those artefacts. It’s easy to see how this would apply to what Bourdieu called the ‘field of large scale production’, i.e. the commercial culture industries: big businesses such as major record labels and Hollywood film studios invest both in the production of what is now called ‘content’ and in advertising and other forms of publicity through which to generate demand for that content. But what most interested Bourdieu was what he called the ‘field of restricted production’ or the ‘field of art and literature’, which puts little emphasis on the audience, is embarrassed by excessive commercial success, and appears to operate on the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’.

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The geography of SoundCloud: who’s following whom?

[Cross-posted from]

Wanting to find out what was typical SoundCloud behaviour – as opposed to what our case study users were doing – we took a random sample of 150000 SoundCloud accounts earlier this year and downloaded their profile data, plus the profile data of everyone they were following (plus some other stuff, but that’s for another time). One of the things we did with this data was to construct a social network graph showing ‘follow’ relationships at city level: every time our computer program found that a sampled user self-identified with city A followed a user self-identified with city B, it created an ‘arc’ (represented with an arrow) from city A to city B. We then combined all the arcs so that instead of, say, 2000 arcs from city A to city B, there would now be a single arc with a ‘weight’ of 2000. We then imported this data into Gephi, sized the nodes representing cities to reflect the total weight of all the incoming arcs, positioned them with the Force Atlas algorithm, and used the Louvain community detection method to identify ‘clusters’, where a cluster is a group of nodes that are better connected to each other than they are to nodes from outside the group. And here’s the result, with five colours to represent the five clusters.

Cities on SoundCloud: who's listening to whom?

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part II

[Cross-posted from]

In my previous post on this topic, I introduced a problem – how to understand the work that explicit genre categorisations are made to do by people uploading tracks to the SoundCloud audio-sharing website – and a potential solution – identifying the three categories most frequently used by each individual in a sample and studying regularities in the ways in which pairs of categories tend to pop up within the same group of three. I also presented some partial and preliminary findings in the form of a matrix comparing co-occurrences of the five genre categories most frequently used by people within an initial sample. And I either glossed over or left unmentioned a slew of problems, some of which we’ve been more successful in addressing than others at present (because these are only blog posts, and we haven’t finished the research yet). The biggest problem is the sample itself: the analysis was done on the basis of a snowball sample, when a random sample would be more appropriate. Hence the provisionality of all this. The analysis will be redone soon on the basis of a sample that will enable us to make more robust claims, but in the meantime I wanted to share our thought processes and working methods with the world because – quite apart from anything else – I’m excited about the patterns that are emerging.

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Exploring genre on SoundCloud, part I

(Cross-posted from

One of the problems you’re always going to face when studying electronic music is the need to decide what you think ‘electronic music’ means. It’s a question of genre, and as Paul DiMaggio acknowledged in one of his most influential papers, genre is at once a formal and a social concept:

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Big data and the study of reading

By Daniel Allington and Andrew Salway

[Cross-posted from Comments disabled here; enabled on the original.]

We’re really looking forward to running the workshop on big data and digital reading on 6 March 2014. Here is your required reading… just kidding, but we’ve selected two discussion pieces that we think could be interesting to talk about, so if you could have a look at them ahead of the workshop and post any initial thoughts below, that would be brilliant.

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Announcement: ‘Online networks and the production of value in electronic music’

Investigators: Daniel Allington (Open University), Anna Jordanous (King’s College London), Byron Dueck (Open University)
Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council [1]
Duration: 3 Feb to 31 July 2014

Cultural value is one of those areas in which (as the saying goes) perceptions are also realities. Thus, sociologists have argued that the production of cultural value is actually the production of a form of belief. Although popular accounts of how art gets made tend to focus on brilliant individual creators, research has highlighted over and over again that their work typically emerges from a creative milieu, in which value (or belief in value) comes into existence. This highlights the complex relationship between professional, semi-professional, and amateur cultural production, and may explain why so many cultural producers create work primarily for appreciation by their peers.

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Livetweets from ‘Placing cultural work: (new) intersections of location, craft, and creativity’

It’s a couple of weeks since Mark Banks and Susan Luckman’s CRESC-supported ‘Placing cultural work: (new) intersections of location, craft, and creativity’ symposium in Camden (click here for details). It was a fantastic event with a sizeable and highly engaged audience and all invited speakers, hence a remarkable degree of interconnection between presentations despite a wide thematic range (from Susan Luckman’s analysis of how craftspeople present themselves and their homes on Etsy to Ruth Bridgstock’s quantitative study of creative subject graduates’ career pathways in Australia to Nicola Thomas’s history of regional craft guilds in southwest England – not forgetting studies of boutique festivals by Marjana Johansson, the gendering of artistic identity by Stephanie Taylor, and Newcastle’s leftwing Amber film collective by Robert Hollands, plus Julia Bennett and Julie Brown’s account of new initiatives involving the Crafts Council). As for myself, I presented the first output from my ongoing ethnographic research in Hackney Wick. Here are the livetweets as a partial record of what was said.

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Social networks and the production of cultural value: forthcoming from Poetics at last

Well, at last it seems that my article on using social network analysis to study the production of cultural value is going to appear in Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research on Culture, the Media, and the Arts. The peer review process took a while, but it has been exceptionally useful and constructive. I’ve got a couple of last tweaks to apply, and I’ve got no idea when the thing will actually see print, but forthcoming it is, and I cannot tell you how good that feels. (And by the way: yes, Poetics is an Elsevier publication. It also happens to be a truly outstanding journal whose articles have for years played a huge part in my intellectual development. If you want to know why I am not going to feel guilty about publishing in one of my absolute favourite journals, read here and here. If you’ve got no idea why some people might have a problem with that, congratulations.)

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