Cultural ‘prosumers’ and vernacular online reviewing

Cultural journalism, as professionally generated content (PGC), has been said to be challenged by user-generated content (UGC) online. While the public reviewing of new products of arts and culture was previously in the hands of an exclusive group of professional critics commissioned by legacy media organisations, rating and reviewing has now become part of the everyday online behaviour of citizen-consumers – producing consumers, or ‘prosumers’ (Toffler, 1980). 

This project studies reviews produced by ordinary people online on new cultural products on the market. User reviewing by digital cultural audiences is embedded in different activities ranging from purchasing items (Amazon, eBay) to maintaining hobby interests (IMDb, WordPress), or from travelling (AirBnB, Tripadvisor, Uber) to using services (Yelp, Trustpilot). Individual product reviews – ranging from books to films, from cosmetics to technology gadgets, and from cultural events to consumer services – may reach audiences of millions, but what is their critical and transformative potential?

The main aim of the project is to produce in-depth knowledge about critical literacy related to reviewing as a specific cultural form of communication, and thus to explore ways of producing transformative cultural critique among citizen-consumers. Social networking sites, in particular the video-sharing platforms YouTube and Vimeo, as well as the visual app Instagram, constitute the primary interest of my study. The project also aims at developing digital data collection methods based on ‘big data’.

The main research questions are the following:

  • What kind of different user reviewers are there in the vernacular digital spheres in the most used social media platforms, and how do they account for the notion of reviewing?
  • How is vernacular reviewing produced? In particular, how do the prosumers create critical distance to the primary cultural producers, i.e. the industry? What kind of different concepts of quality occur? 
  • What is vernacularity in reviewing and what is the vernacular reviewing’s relationship to other forms of reviewing? How can the sociology of vernacularity understood and defined? 

Here, a ‘review’ refers to a stand-alone public presentation in which an author creates, motivates and delivers an informed opinion about a cultural product. These public contributions, based on the processes of collecting material, testing and demonstrating the values of a specific cultural object, assist readers to be more knowledgeable in their choice, understanding or appreciation of products or performances, answering to the questions: ‘What is it?’ ‘Is it any good?’. User reviews are thus more or less independent presentations that range from first-impression reactions to connoisseurial critique, entail long-time intellectual, emotional and economic investments by the producers and presuppose a certain extent of author integrity to be trustworthy.

Time period: 2018–2020
Financed by: Finnish Cultural Foundation
Persons: Maarit Jaakkola (PI), Pasi Luostarinen, Haitham Othman, Neha Sharma (project assistants)


Jaakkola, M. (2021, forthcoming). Reviewing culture online: Post-institutional cultural critique across platforms. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jaakkola, M. & Räisä, T. (2021). Kirja-arvostelut alustataloudessa: esimerkkinä käyttäjälähtöiset arvostelut Instagramissa. Media & viestintä 44:2, 45–68.

Jaakkola, M. (2020). Young voices, new qualities? Child reviewers and vernacular reviewing of cultural products. In: Kristensen, N.N. & From, U. & Haastrup, H.K. (eds.) Rethinking cultural critique: New voices in the digital age. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 185–208.

Jaakkola, M. (2020). Useful creativity: Vernacular reviewing on the video-sharing platform Vimeo. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 12:20, 1–20.

Jaakkola, M. (2019). From vernacularized commercialism to kidbait: Toy review videos on YouTube and the problematics of the mash-up genre. Journal of Children and Media, published online before print 18 November 2019.

Jaakkola, M. (2019). From re-viewers to me-viewers: The #Bookstagram review sphere on Instagram and the perceived uses of the platform and genre affordances. Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture 10:1–2, 91–110.

Jaakkola, M. (2019). Oman lukukokemuksensa visualisoijat: käyttäjälähtöiset kirjallisuusarvostelut Instagramissa. Kulttuurintutkimus 36:3, 31–44.

Jaakkola, M. (2018). Vernacular reviews as a form of co-consumption: User-generated review videos on YouTube. MedieKultur – Journal of Media and Communication Research 34:65, 10–30.

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