The Medium in the Middle
Workplace from Meta, Enterprise Social Media, and The Intersection of the Personal and the Professional
Public Defence of PhD Thesis by Christoffer Bagger.
- Associate Professor Jun Liu (University of Copenhagen)
- Associace Professor Alessandro Gandini (University of Milan)
- Docent Salla-Maria Laaksonen (University of Helsinki)
Moderator of the defence
- Associate Professor Andreas Lindegaard Gregersen (University of Copenhagen)
Copies of the thesis will be available for consultation at the following three places:
- At the Information Desk of the Copenhagen University Library, South Campus, Karen Blixens Plads 7
- In Reading Room East of the Royal Library (the Black Diamond), Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1
- At the Department of Communication, Karen Blixens Plads 8
This PhD dissertation consist of an introductory framing text (da. ”kappe”) and five research articles. The topic of this dissertation is the boundary and intersection between work and non-work, the personal and the professional. The focus of this dissertation is social media, and more specifically enterprise social media. The empirical subject is the enterprise social medium Workplace from Meta (née Workplace from Facebook). The research question underlying this dissertation is how the uses and interpretations of enterprise social media complicate the boundary between the personal and the professional, or work and non- work. The framing text consists of five chapters preceded by a short overture. In the overture, I hint at the themes of the dissertation through the analysis of a personal anecdote. In the first proper chapter, I introduce the problem area (the boundary between work and non-work and the role media has in shaping this boundary), the research case (the Enterprise social medium Workplace from Meta) and the research questions. In the second chapter, I provide an overview of both work and social media as contexts unto themselves. In this same chapter, I outline how the thus-far mutual disinterest of media studies and studies of working life leave enterprise social media in a middle area between disciplines. In the third chapter, I outline the research methods which underlies the empirical research articles of this project. This method is inspired by media reception studies and seeks to understand how a selection of empirical users (n=28) interpret and use Workplace from Meta through qualitative interviews. In the fourth chapter of the framing text, I discuss the findings of this research project, highlighting how Workplace from Meta occupies a middle space between work and non-work, in that it is a medium for the professional context which is heavily reliant upon familiarity with social media from personal life. I end this chapter by suggesting how this should inform future research. In the fifth and final chapter, I summarize the conclusions of the overall research project.
In the first research article, titled ”Social Media and Work: A Framework of Eight Intersections” (published in the International Journal of Communication) I present a review of areas in the existing research where social media and work intersect. After delineating the two terms “social media” and “work,” I outline 8 conceptualizations describing different types of intersection between these two domains: (1) social media before work, (2) social media instead of work, (3) social media for work, (4) social media about work, (5) social media as work, (6) social media under work, (7) 194 work for social media, and (8) social media after work. I proceed to discuss how these different conceptualizations might give rise to (empirical) differences in how individuals experience social media and work, and how the two themes provide different analytical foci. I end with a conclusion on how research should be sensitized to a world of post-social media work.
In the second research article, titled” Digital Disconnection Research in Review: What, How and Who?” (Submitted for review), I review how the backlash against digital media has manifested in everyday practices of digital disconnection, or deliberate non-use of media. This article seeks to create an overview of the last decade of empirical disconnection research, tracing both its overarching tendencies and its boundaries. This is done through an analysis of 346 empirical studies on digital disconnection. For the purposes of this article, digital disconnection research is defined by a research ethos which does not see the act of media non-use or restricted media use as something to be remedied. In review, the typical interest of the research has been in studying relatively young and individualized agents’ disconnection from social media, a disconnection which is often temporary or partial.
Therefore, the discussion portion of the article considers the opportunity for the openness of digital disconnection studies to extend even further, with particular emphasis on structures and contexts where disconnection may not only be problematized by the imperatives of “always on” communication, specifically in working life.
In the third research article, titled ”Professional, Transmedia Selves: Finding a Place for Enterprise Social Media” (submitted for review), I proceed from an expanded view of transmedia theory to argue how enterprise social media (ESM), and especially Workplace from Meta, present an opportunity for digital self-presentation. The argument is that ordinary users are now cast in the role of transmedia producers, who must figure out what unique contribution ESM can provide. The chapter then proceeds to outline three individual case studies of how integration of the ESM Workplace from Facebook may unfold. The cases illustrate how considerations of both selfpromotion, citizenship in the workplace or using the playful functionalities of ESM may both encourage use and ultimately marginalize the medium in worker’s personal transmedia ecology.
In the fourth research article, titled “Overcoming Forced Disconnection: Disentangling the Professional and the Personal in Pandemic Times” (published in the anthology Reckoning with Social Media, eds. Aleena Chia, Ana Jorge and Tero Karppi), co-authored with Stine Lomborg, I turn to the question of what role Workplace plays when the lowercase-w workplace disappears. Analysing the interviews conducted during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we examine which role Workplace is understood to play during the, at the time, extraordinary circumstances brough about by the lockdown. Here, the evidence suggests that the phatic communicative affordances of Workplace were secondary to more “live” forms of 195 communication. Additionally, the COVID-19 lockdowns represented a clear example of work migrating into the domain of the personal, potentially eroding temporal, spatial and social boundaries along the way. Under these circumstances, not only was Workplace a medium which had “migrated” from the personal into professional life, professional life had now plunked itself unavoidably into the personal. In addition to providing more examples of the negotiations about what kind of communication Workplace is supposed to promote, this article also illustrates the difficulty of relying on this medium for community at work, especially under circumstances where working life became particularly reliant upon digital media.
In the fifth and final research article, titled ”An organisational cultivation of digital resignation? Enterprise social media, privacy, and autonomy” (published in Nordicom Review 42(s4)), I discuss how Enterprise social media (ESM) have largely gone ignored in discussions of the datafication practices of social media platforms. I presents an initial step towards filling this research gap. My research question in this article regards how employees of companies using the ESM Workplace from Facebook feel that the implementation of this particular platform relates to their potential struggles for digital privacy and work–life segmentation. Methodologically, I explore this through a qualitative interview study of 21 Danish knowledge workers in different organisations using the ESM. The central analytical proposal of the article is that the interviewees express a “digital resignation” towards the implementation of the ESM. In contrast to previous discussions, this resignation cannot only be thought of as “corporately cultivated” by third parties but must also be considered as “organisationally cultivated” by the organisations people work for. The study suggests that datafication-oriented media studies should consider organisational contexts.