#STAYHOME UNDER LOCKDOWN IN ITALY (2): “AT HOME” ON YOUTUBE
by Federico La Bruna
This post reviews the methodological bases of the construction of an original dataset of YouTube videos, during the spring 2020 lockdown in Italy. This pilot study aimed to investigate the ways in which home and domestic spaces were presented and appropriated by YouTube users, as a part of their own (self-)representations. Moreover, the post presents some preliminary insights emerging from video categorization, in order to pave the way for further and deeper analysis.
How was home experienced and portrayed during Italy’s lockdownin spring 2020? In order to answer this question, we have systematically investigated the ways to use, represent and understand home on YouTube during that period in the country.
The idea behind this post is to share some methodological choices taken during the exploratory analysis of a YouTube dataset, and show the first insights emerging from this. The dataset includes a collection of selected videos from YouTube. Each video was categorized through a series of variables. The importance of prompt data collection on an unprecedented phenomenon such as Italy’s first lockdown (11 March to 3 May 2020) led us to build a dataset that is complete, valid and reliable. It is worth presenting, here, the most significant and critical methodological aspects of its construction.
Data collection started from an in-site and all-in-title research on Google. This allowed the author to collect all the YouTube videos with #iorestoacasa in the title uploaded during the lockdown. Google has limited validity and reliability and, in some cases, repeating the same search gives different results.
We have thus collected 2,250 videos that we watched, catalogued and pre-analysed. As a first step, we collected the metadata provided by YouTube itself: date, title, channel, description, number of visualizations, subscriptions to the channel, and comments. Subsequently, we added the “type of creator”, a category suggested by the relevant literature (Brodesco 2019a, b; Toniolo 2019). After that, we added two dichotomous variables: whether the home is actually represented in the video, and what is the “nature” of the video itself. These variables aim to facilitate the identification of videos with useful information for research on the meanings of “home” and to understand which of these, following a new trend of live-performing, were shared in live streaming. Finally, we opted for descriptive labels that summarize the contents of the videos.
Regarding the creators, we identified three types of videomakers: YouTubers, media, institutions and private associations or firms. Following Brodesco (2019a), YouTubers could be distinguished between amateurs, professionals and aspiring “pro”. Going more in details, channels with up to 2,000 subscribers were considered as owned by amateur YouTubers –“people who don’t aspire to become YouTubers, because they are neither interested or hopeful to obtain a sufficient number of visualizations” (Brodesco 2019a p. 135-136). Channels above 17,000 subscribers were considered as belonging to professionals that, despite representing the smallest part, can reach outstanding numbers of subscribers and visualizations. In the middle, between 2,000 and 17,000 subscribers, we can position channels owned by aspiring professionals. Heterogeneous and with limited visualizations, as in the case of the amateurs, the aspiring pros take advantage, as creators, of a minimum reward and share typical traits with professionals, especially in the editing style and in the proximate and intimate relation with the audience (Brodesco 2019b p. 103).
Interestingly, in some cases we also encountered hybrid categories. This is a chimera that ties single creators with organizations, whether they are institutions, associations, or firms. Such organizations sometimes delegate to single members the duty to share “publicly private” (Lange 2007) contents, which allow the ongoing supply of a service. This is the case, for instance, of a gym that posts videos to enable its subscribers to continue training. Similar videos, closely linked with questions of “smart working”, are revealing of the identity of their creators, while bringing contents that are useful only for a limited number of individuals (Lange 2007).
What are, however, the main contents and the forms of communication that are more widespread in such a dedicate dataset? The latter include petitionsabout social distancing. These videos are frequently found in the analysis of the first days of national quarantine, when #iorestoacasa was used as an endorsement to the campaign launched precisely as an appeal to respect the anti-Covid19 norms. Other formats we can frequently find are the Vlog and the tutorial, which respond to the different needs in the audience. Regarding contents, the principal categories that we can identify are as follows: fitness, the most frequent category during the studied period; health and body care; food, even if this category is not as present as expected by other media such as television; music and gaming, that is, classical and popular themes on YouTube; culture, art, information and children’s entertainment. The latter is important because “children represent, since the origins of YouTube, the wider group of users of the platform, and actually some of the most profitable channels are specifically dedicated to them” (Toniolo 2019 p. 119). Gaming videos deserve a few more remarks, as their presence has been growing substantially during the lockdown (especially Fortnite’s). These videos are created by all the above identified types of YouTubers, principally by young and not always identifiable males, with a strong customization of the spaces around them (when they are visible in the video). These videos are almost all in live streaming and “privately public” (Lange 2007), as their content is potentially useful for anyone, but produced and shared by underage creators (Major 2015 p. 24). Especially in the first days of lockdown, these videos start with a brief digression on the Covid-19 situation. This last aspect, linked to the pre-customized space that is usually shared on the platform and that was already a “stage” before the quarantine, underlines how these videos are a peculiar product of this period. In fact, they are the subject of a typical routine of YouTube, with the only difference of their endorsement to the #iorestoacasa campaign, or of the hashtag that enriches the title of the video and increases its visibility.
So far, we have talked about the differences between the collected videos. What are, however, the characteristics that make these data a research subject with peculiar features of its own? Many of the videos of this case have, as a common denominator, the “YouTuber style”. Brodesco (2019b) describes this structure, on which almost every video of the dataset is based, as a quid that allows us to distinguish the behaviour assumed by the vlogger in front of the webcam. This “style” is strictly linked to the spaces and places that become the set of the video. Toniolo (2019 p.128), citing Burgess and Green, talks about a “children’s bedroom culture.” Likewise, Brodesco (2019a p. 143) mentions a “sociology of the children’s room”. It is evident that spatiality is a central concept in YouTube’s culture. But what happens when the “Wunderkammer” (Brodesco 2019a p. 143) apparatus is not only used by young gamers or vloggers, but becomes a feature shared by a wider group of creators? The “children’s room” becomes a kitchen, a living room, or a home office, on the basis of the content transmitted with the video, transforming a Goffmanian backstage in a stage. The book cases in the backgrounds of quarantine videocalls are emblematic in this sense.
To conclude, it is worth reflecting again on the kind of spaces being represented in these videos. Many videos are focused on how to “bring home” habits and activities that are usually set out and enacted of the domestic sphere. The material objects, which are used or present in the videos, are charged with symbolic importance. These objects and technologies, as symbols of domestic practices or of specific practices usually performed out of the home, are vectors for a domesticization of a practice or for a colonization of a room. In the video “AZUKITA – Sedia Gym n.8 (#iorestoacasa)” by FlyDanceArezzo, we can see how, through an ordinary domestic object such as a chair, the fitness training is domesticized. It becomes not only a hobby or something homemade, but more precisely something that can be performed, following these rules, only at home. By contrast, in the case of “Total Body con 2 manubri 24 minuti | Allenamento in casa #ConMe #iorestoacasa” by Umberto Miletto, we can notice how, through the dumbbells, the yoga mat and the other professional items, the room seems colonized by objects that do not belong to the domestic sphere.
In conclusion, we are at the starting point of a research prospect that aims to study the evolution of the meanings of home through the analysis of YouTube’s quarantine videos. This will give us many promising cues for a deeper study of the public representation of home and of the ways in which it is readapted and re-signified through a variety of shared (domestic) practices.
Brodesco A. (2019a), “La Video-Recensione come Fenomeno YouTube” in “Atti critici in luoghi pubblici: scrivere di cinema, tv e media dal dopoguerra al web” a cura di Guerra M., Martin S., Reggio Emilia, Diabasis, Permalink: http://digital.casalini.it/9788881039289 .
Brodesco A. (2019b), “YouTube come Medium Generazionale. Figure, Pratiche, Casi” in “Fenomeni di generazione: narrazioni, problemi, metodologie” a cura di Grossi G., Mereu M. Schermi 6-2019.
Lange P. G. (2007), “Publicly private and privately public: Social networking on YouTube” Journal of computer-mediated communication, 13(1), 361-380.
Major, N. L. (2015), “Online Stars and the New Audience: How YouTube Creators Curate and Maintain Communities” (Doctoral dissertation, UC Irvine).
McLuhan M., & Fiore Q. (1967), “The medium is the message”, New York, 123, 126-128.
Toniolo F. (2019), “Le Generazioni su YouTube Italia” in “Fenomeni di generazione: narrazioni, problemi, metodologie” a cura di Grossi G., Mereu M. Schermi 6-2019.