Open Access
Kuehn, Kathleen Mary
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 08, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Patrick Robert Parsons, Dissertation Advisor
  • Patrick Robert Parsons, Committee Chair
  • Michael Elavsky, Committee Member
  • Matthew Paul Mcallister, Committee Member
  • Michelle E Day, Committee Member
  • new media
  • web cultures
  • prosumer theory
  • prosumer citizenship
  • consumer reviewing
  • user generated content
  • prosumption
  • consumer citizenship
  • citizen-consumer
  • consumer-citizen
  • the politics of consumption
  • Yelp
  • social network
  • social media
  • consumer generated content
  • participatory consumption
  • Internet
  • localism
  • hyperlocal media
  • Web 2.0
  • local 2.0
  • local listing sites
Over the past few years, content developers searching for new markets have found a potentially lucrative consumer base in local and location-based services as new media platforms have begun to “expand” their focus to hyper-local place-based communities. This shift to “local 2.0” has given birth to “local listing sites,” an emerging social medium that converges the content of traditional Yellow Pages, consumer-generated content and the interactive features of social network sites. Such sites harness the productive power of “prosumers,” the hybrid subjectivity of new media users who simultaneously produce and consume online content (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). These sites capitalize on the productivity of users who create discourses through and about local consumption by voluntarily rating and reviewing local businesses and services, challenging the power of institutions traditionally responsible for the production of consumer culture and reputation management (e.g., local business owners, marketers, advertisers, professional critics). Theoretical perspectives on the power of prosumption vary across academic scholarship; on the one end of this debate are techno-utopians who believe prosumption empowers consumers whose choices have been long constrained by a top-down corporate culture and marketing industry (e.g., Bruns, 2008; Jenkins, 2007). On the other end, critical scholars position consumer-generated content as a form of free labor and thus tend to view prosumption as an inherently exploitative practice (e.g., Andrejevic, 2007; Cohen, 2008; van Dijck, 2009). Yet while the theoretical positions on prosumption are divisive, empirical research on these debates is comparatively limited – particularly as it pertains to how prosumers negotiate their role as content producers in the digital economy. This dissertation aims to fill the lack of empirical prosumption research with an investigation of the practice of consumer-reviewing as a form of prosumption on the local listing site – a social networking site and local listing guide that allows consumers to rate and review local businesses and services in their community. This project aims to understand how consumers-as-media-producers experience and make sense of their productive activity through this emerging social media format, as well as the mediating role that localism plays in this process. Yelp offers up a unique opportunity to not only appropriate prosumption as a form of consumer-citizenship but to reconnect people through a local, place-based identification through social and political action. Thus, this research also explores how prosumption in the “virtual” impacts offline behaviors in the “real.” This project is a study in three parts; the first section begins with a critical discourse analysis of Yelp’s promotional campaign and site architecture that investigates how the site rhetorically and structurally enables and delimits prosumer agency and power. The second section offers a textual analysis of consumer reviews in order to demonstrate how Yelp structures participation to primarily articulate prosumers as customers over [local] citizens; the third part analyzes interviews conducted with active Yelpers and argues that consumer reviewing, as a form of prosumption, is a complex and conflicting practice. While consumer reviewing is not inherently empowering or exploitative, its potential to serve as a form of consumer-citizenship is decidedly limited. Interviews reveal that although Yelpers negotiate and contest the discursive constraints placed on prosumption by the site’s architectures of participation, these same users also rationalize and identify with the site’s exploitative tendencies. As such, Yelp is ultimately treated as “not the place” for articulating the politics of consumption which suggest limitations in the transformative capabilities of this prosumption practice. While counter-discourses are at times employed, Yelpers ultimately work to reproduce hegemonic discourses of consumption.