This week we’re featuring Mikka Lene Pers’s work on the Ego-Media Project. Mikka – a clinical psychologist who has studied and practised narrative therapy – is completing her PhD, which focuses on the phenomenon of mummy vloggers.
“Mummy vloggers,” Mikka explains, “are a genre of social media microcelebrity that has emerged in social media. They started appearing on YouTube around 2006-2007, making YouTube vlogs about everyday life as mothers. And since then this whole community has emerged online.” These followers, Mikka argues, are invested in practices related to following and making sense of mummy vloggers’ personal lives.
Mikka has been conducting a focused case study of how the lives of seven mommy vloggers are emplotted. In other words, “how stories about them are told and the plots are circulated in social media.” This also involves exploring how people adopt different kinds of participation roles in these stories, and how they negotiate the ownership and entitlement to tell these stories in social media.
“When I started being interested in the storytelling activities surrounding mummy vloggers,” Mikka says, “the communities that gathered around them, and their channels, were still quite small.” This, Mikka explains, was in 2013. “Since then, many of the mummy vloggers have become very well established, quite well-known, and treated a bit like celebrities”.
Watch Mikka discussing her research
Growing professionalisation of mummy vlogging
Over the past five years, Mikka has observed a change in the sharing and following practices surrounding mummy vlogging. Mummy vlogs have become increasingly professional and commercialised. “Nowadays,” she says, “as a mummy vlogger you can become a celebrity and gain social status and also make a living from vlogging.
So suddenly there’s a lot at stake. What I’ve seen is that mummy vloggers suddenly face new kinds of challenges. Because vlogging has, in a way, become their job, they have to invest a lot of time in it. This kind of investment in something that actually started out as a hobby can be quite hard because they live off showing a life in which they carry out a very labour-intensive form of motherhood. It means they have to be professional mothers, and professional vloggers at the same time.”
Narrating (M)others’ Lives
The risks of mummy vlogging
In order to stand out online, mummy vloggers face the challenge of having to produce content and establish a personal brand that sets them apart from other vloggers. “That,” says Mikka, “can be dangerous, because it makes them vulnerable to accusations of being inauthentic, or being a bad mother. So, for instance, kids’ suffering makes for high value content. But, at the same time, the vloggers have to find ways of showing this sort of thing while still appearing to be a good mother.”
Losing control of the stories of (m)others’ lives
The version of their lives that mummy vloggers share online in mummy vlogs is scrutinised, shared and discussed by their followers. “This,” says Mikka “is basically what interaction in this particular community is all about – trying to make sense of the information that the vloggers offer.” This level and mode of audience involvement means that mummy vloggers are often unable to keep control of their stories, and sometimes “the stories that vloggers put out are taken apart and reconfigured in ways that can surprise them.” In some cases, Mikka argues, “this can lead to quite interesting discussions about what it means to be a mother. Which kind of experiences are hard? Which kinds of experiences are hard to talk about and share?”
Blog summer break
The Ego-Media blog is taking a break for the summer, while we focus on completing our digital publication. See you back here in September!