Julian Hopkins, from Ireland, became SASS’s first PhD graduate when he completed his examination process in March this year.  It took him almost four years to complete this thesis “The monetisation of personal blogging: assembling the self and markets in Malaysia”. 

In his own words, “ Research on blogs often ignores personal blogs in favour of blogs that make social and political commentary on current affairs. However, personal blogs form the great majority of blogs, and a small minority are able to attract thousands of daily readers. Because of this, they are attractive advertising platforms, and for my PhD I decided to research how advertising would affect personal blogging in Malaysia. 

Using the primary method of anthropology – participant observation – I started one blog (http://julianhopkins.net), and eventually another (http://tropical-gardening.blogspot.com/) in order to practice personal blogging, attend offline ‘blogmeets’, and to seek to monetise my blogs. 

I was fortunate that a Malaysian company focused blog advertising started operations at the same time I started the research. Importantly, part of its model was to organise blogmeets – it brought bloggers together in the context of marketing events, thus strengthening and increasing the visibility of blogs and their potential for monetisation. A consequence of this was the birth of a new genre, the lifestyle blog, which developed from the personal blog.

My research started with a few assumptions. One of these was that on- and offline activities are complementary, not exclusive, and this was borne out – for example in the use of blogmeets and the relevance of blogging to advertising. Another assumption was that there would be a negative reaction in the ‘blogosphere’ to monetisation based on the principle of authenticity – that readers enjoy personal blogs because they get ‘raw’ stories from the bloggers’ life. Being paid for content, and having a commercial motivation, was likely to affect this parasocial relationship. However, although there were repeated and scattered objections to the monetisation of personal blogs, there was no sustained or organised reaction. 

The frequent response of the blogger to a critic is – ‘If you’re not happy with my blog, start your own!” This ‘principle of independence’ parallels the principle of authenticity and operates discursively to dissipate objections to monetisation. It also highlights the changing relation of new media to the public sphere, whereby claims based on notions of a public good are attenuated because there is an almost unlimited space for bloggers to stake their own space and publish their opinions, as opposed to the mainstream media which still requires substantial material and financial capital.” 

Julian is now working as lecturer in communication in SASS.