[Thesis] A Critical Theory of Web Culture in 4chan’s /b/ Mediascape

On: July 20, 2012
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About Liam Voice
My name is Liam and I'm from Nottingham in the UK. I am currently enrolled in the MA New Media course at the University of Amsterdam. Previously, I attended the University of Leicester, UK. I obtained a first-class honours degree in Communications, Media and Society BSc. I am interested in online communities and social relationships.



This thesis project examines the infamous online forum 4chan and its most notorious image board, known as /b/. Commentators have called 4chan ‘the Internet’s dark heart’ and ‘the id of the Internet’. It is definitely Not Safe For Work. It is a hothouse of irreverence yet is also responsible for many influential aspects of modern web culture. This crude yet creative online laboratory has churned out the majority of viral Internet memes, while the origins of the Anonymous collective also lie in the forum.
Qualitative and quantitative research methods are used to critically examine aspects of 4chan’s web culture, and situate them in the rich media ecology of /b/’s mediascape. Following a data collection period in which a sample of over 1,200 posts was obtained, a content analysis of the comments was conducted. The content analysis’ coding schedule included fourteen specific web culture variables which were foreshadowed in the projects literature review. Additional screenshots were attained for a hybrid discourse analysis that utilised qualitative and ethnomethodological research methods.
Academic research on 4chan and similar media platforms, along with literature on pornography studies and wider applicable cultural theories represent the three stratums of the project’s literature review. The research, firstly, asks whether the aspects of 4chan web culture represent a suspension of certain social conventions or if they are an entirely new set of norms. Secondly, it examines the consequences of 4chan’s web culture specificities on interactions. Essentially, it is argued 4chan’s web culture is the product of its rhizomatic structure and the site’s architecture such as its ephemerality and anonymity. Aspects of 4chan’s web culture such as vitriolic flaming comments, Internet trolling, racism and gore, and black humour are positioned as markers or as signposts to users indicating a suspension of certain social conventions. It is suggested that the result of the suspension of certain social conventions is that the innate animalistic instincts rise to the surface and become manifest in 4chan interactions.
The analysis is particularly focused through the lens of pornography. 4chan’s alternative netporn is repurposed, resituated, and reassembled into something more than the lowest base urges of sexual arousal with which it porn is traditionally associated. The project raises the question: can 4chan’s brand of netporn be considered a form of social critique, reminiscent of the origins of pornography? This project neither aims to defend or condemn the actions of 4chan’s users necessarily, it merely aims to examine the dark shadows of 4chan web culture. Ultimately, the research project aims to add 4chan to the accumulation of critical web discourse.

A full copy of this thesis can be viewed and downloaded here

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