What is social media and who gets to define it? To answer this question, this project investigates the legitimation of social media as a professional field and marketing practice.
Using Abbott’s theory of the system of professions, we explore contests amongst different professional fields such as journalism, marketing, and computer science as they vie for dominance over the emerging domain of social media. Through an analysis of discourse in mainstream news, professional trade press, and academic journal articles and dissertations, we find that social media has progressed through three historical phases, each surrounding a particular jurisdiction.
Although initially conceptualized around the jurisdiction of communication, understandings of social media have shifted to incorporate consumer learning, research, and more recently measurement. In understanding the alignment between these jurisdictions and existing professional fields, we examine the effects of these contests as social media becomes integrated with dominant consumer and market institutions.
This project is in collaboration with Andrew Smith, Merrimack College.
Ashlee Humphreys is a sociologist who examines core topics in consumer behavior and marketing strategy. Her research investigates the role of legal and cultural institutions in markets, the influence of language on consumer judgments of legitimacy, and the process of consumer co-creation. She is the author of Social Media: Enduring Principles (Oxford UP 2016), and her work has been published in the Journal of Marketing, the Journal of Consumer Research, and Sociology Compass. She is an associate professor at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, and Integrated Marketing Communication, Northwestern University.