2023 Smythe Award winners

Watch this video with John Sinclair, Chair of the Selection Committee, announcing the award winners, and short statements by the accomplished individuals themselves.

IAMCR is pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 Prize in Memory of Dallas W. Smythe. Announcing its decision, the Smythe Award Selection Committee said:

This year’s award attracted an unprecedented number of submissions (almost 50). It was a high quality field that exhibited the extraordinary diversification of research pursuits which our discipline now spans, and across a whole range of Sections and Working Groups. The committee focused closely on the prime stated criterion of ‘developing and extending the critical, innovative and engaged spirit that characterised Smythe’s contribution to media/communications analysis’. However, since this contribution was made during the mass media era, the committee had to project how Smythe’s concerns would be manifested in the digital age. We took a ‘post-Smythean’ perspective on the hallmarks of his work: a critical rather than administrative stance; the applicability of research to policy; and the analysis of the audience as a commodity.

It is the last of these which requires the most rethinking. In the mass media age, there were mass audiences, relatively passive consumers of content that was distributed primarily by a concentration of media corporations. The digital era is defined by its interactivity – many to many, rather than one to many – but users are nevertheless at the mercy of algorithms designed to commercialise them in the corporate interest, and able to so on the basis of the data which users surrender about themselves. Each of the awarded papers provides a valuable insight upon this problematic.

The committee is pleased to announce the award-winning paper, in no particular order:

  • Tianyang Fu (University of Chicago, US) for her paper Digital Capital Never Sleeps: An Empirical Study of Digital Labor and Manufacturing Consent in China submitted to the Political Economy Section.
    Download Tianyang Fu's paper here
  • Christopher Petersen (Lakehead University Orillia, Canada) for his paper Therapy Tech in Surveillant Smart Cities submitted to the Participatory Communication Research Section.
  • Guo Xiaoxin (School of Culture and Media, Central University of Finance and Economics, China) for her paper "Board Game": Domestication Practice of User's Algorithm Consciousness and Algorithm Autonomy Consciousness under the Background of Digital Advertising Precision Marketing submitted to the Emerging Scholars Network Section.
    Download Guo Xiaoxin's paper here

The award will be formally presented at a special session to be held on 13 July during the main IAMCR 2023 conference in Lyon. 

tianyangfuTianyang Fu

Tianyang Fu is graduating from the MA Program in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago and applying to PhD programs in 2023. She holds a BA degree in Journalism and Communication Studies from Beijing Foreign Studies University. She explores interdisciplinary fields with specific research interests in digital society, the political economy of communication, and critical cultural and media studies. Especially, Tianyang is interested in the interaction and embeddedness of social structures and power dynamics in the global system revealed through digital societies.

The Smythe Award Committee shared the following statement regarding Tianyang Fu's paper:

Citing Smythe’s influential ‘blindspot’ article, and his notion that audiences do ‘work’ for capitalism, this paper presents research amongst ‘digital labourers’ on Bilibili, a popular video-sharing site in China. Respondents in the study were ‘working’ for Bilibili by uploading content to share, mostly without reward, and even at their own cost in time and money: they are ‘powered by love’. 


Digital Capital Never Sleeps: An Empirical Study of Digital Labor and Manufacturing Consent in China

In Tianyang's paper, she conducted a political economy of communication analysis of bilibili.com, one of the most visited online video-sharing platforms in China. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative evidence, her paper examines the video uploaders on bilibili as digital laborers who participate in the platform's operations and whose leisure time, social relations, emotion, creativity, and knowledge are transformed into digital capital, generating profits for the company who exploits the uploaders in an obscured manner.

This study examines the process during which video uploaders commit themselves to perform as digital laborers. Despite their self-identification as "powered by love" and willingness to burn savings to offset video-making costs, the manufacturing consent process is evident in bilibili's game-like system, which induces users to overwork, self-exploit, and compete to fulfill their original desires when joining the game designed by the platform algorithms. While uploaders are alienated from the surplus value created by their work, they do possess resistant agency and shared consciousness, allowing for collective action against cyberbullying and intellectual property disputes. Ultimately, this study highlights how the digitalization of society blurs the boundary between leisure and labor, creating a scenario where digital capital never sleeps, and each digital society participant becomes a digital laborer contributing to the circulation of digital capital.

Download "Digital Capital Never Sleeps: An Empirical Study of Digital Labor and Manufacturing Consent in China"

cpetersenChristopher Petersen

Christopher Petersen has recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Social Justice Studies from Lakehead University and received the Dean’s Scholar Award in the faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities. His MA Research-Creation project explored Pop Music and the Problem with the Nostalgia Industry. He has a BA in Electroacoustic Music Studies from Concordia University, Montreal.

The Smythe Award Committee described Christopher Petersen's paper as:

This paper is a critique of how the take-up of mental health therapy technologies is exploiting users, engaging them with the features of ‘gamification’ and ‘responsibilization’, at the same time as they surrender their personal data. This is cast in the context of the ‘dataveillance’ of ‘smart cities’, and explored via the case studies of Sidewalk Labs in Toronto, and the Inuit community of Nunavut.


Therapy Tech in Surveillant Smart Cities

Technology has been slowly encroaching on all aspects of life and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the speed at which smart technology and surveillance have been immersed into human daily activity. This includes our most basic emotional or affective engagements with mental health therapy technologies.  By deconstructing therapy tech in my paper, the intended goal of therapy is overshadowed by dataveillance and algorithms prioritizing responsibilization and the neoliberal entrepreneurial self.  I argue that what is presented as smart technology innovation is actually an expansion of rentier capitalism and surveillance society.  To challenge this system of big tech control, I argue data should be publicly owned and decommodified, particularly in the context of therapy tech in surveillant smart cities.

gxiaoxinGuo Xiaoxin

Guo Xiaoxin is a master's student at the School of Culture and Media, Central University of Finance and Economics, Beijing. Her main research interests include platform economy, algorithms, new media and society.

The Smythe Award Committee expressed the following about Guo Xiaoxin's paper:

This paper utilises the concepts of ‘algorithm consciousness’ and ‘algorithm autonomy’ to explore how internet users relate to algorithms, especially those leading them towards advertising. A concept of ‘domestication’ is invoked in a study of Gen Z users to explain how they both accommodate themselves to algorithms yet resist them, seen as a metaphorical board game.


"Board Game": Domestication Practice of User's Algorithm Consciousness and Algorithm Autonomous awareness under the Background of Digital Advertising Precision Marketing

This study takes "domestication theory" as the research perspective and uses qualitative interviews to analyse whether and how Gen Z users in China perceive and negotiate with algorithmic in the context of digital advertising and precision marketing, and to explore how algorithmic awareness affects users' attitudes and behaviours in order to reflect on the challenges that the rising status of algorithms poses to users' sense of self.

The study finds that the algorithmic consciousness of users contributes to the reverse domestication by algorithms under the consideration of utilitarianism, while the structural factor of the social system as a chessboard rule determines that users and algorithms always act as chess pieces in a cycle of domestication practices. The study thus provides a contextualised understanding of domestication theory, thus promoting its further revision and development in the digital context.

Download Guo Xiaoxin´s paper

About the IAMCR Dallas Smythe Award

Born in Canada in 1907, Professor Dallas Smythe was a founder of the field of political economy of communication and a leading scholar who had significant influence in American and international communication policy. Trained as an economist, Smythe's professional career included appointments at the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor and the Federal Communication Commission in the United States and the University of Illinois. His professional work and social engagement eventually caused him problems and during the McCarthy period he found it difficult to get articles published or to get money to fund research. In 1963 he returned to Canada, where he worked at the University of Saskatchewan and later at Simon Fraser University, where he was Professor of Communication from 1976 until his death in 1992.

Dallas Smythe was an active member of IAMCR. He established the Communication Satellites Section, which later became the Communication Policy & Technology Section, and was an active participant in the Political Economy Section.

In recognition of his work, the Dallas Smythe Award was established by IAMCR for “a paper which combines scholarly excellence with a commitment to developing and extending the critical, innovative and engaged spirit that characterised Smythe’s contribution to media/communications analysis.”

2023 Smythe award committee

  • Chair: John Sinclair (School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne)
  • Ben Birkinbine (Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada)
  • Peichi Chung (Chinese University of Hong Kong)