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Manipulating Meaning: Language and Ideology in the Commodification of Online Sociality

Anu A. Harju
  • Corresponding author
  • Media and Communication Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Ella Lillqvist
  • Centre for Consumer Society Research, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki, Helsinki,Finland
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-10-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0023


Marxist Internet scholars have recently shed light on the commodification and exploitation of social media users. While some of these studies have also acknowledged the ideological nature of how online sociality is understood and discussed, they have not yet addressed in great detail the ways in which ideology figures in the process of commodification of social media users. We address this question by combining Marxist ideology theory with insights from cognitive pragmatics. Focusing on the idea of illusion, we draw on Relevance Theory and employ the notions of “relevance” and “cognitive illusion” to discuss the ideological process we call context manipulation, a concept that helps bring to focus the discursive obscuring of the capitalist operational logic of social media corporations. We illustrate our cognitivepragmatic model of ideology with examples of Facebook’s discursive practices. The paper contributes to the discussion on ideology in cultural studies and the discussion on commodification of online sociality in critical Internet and media studies by offering a revised interpretation of Marx’s ideology theory that highlights the discursive and cognitive nature of ideological processes, and by elaborating on the workings of ideology in the specific context of corporate social media.

Keywords: Marx; ideology; illusion; pragmatics; Relevance Theory; social media


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About the article

Received: 2018-03-02

Accepted: 2018-09-17

Published Online: 2018-10-18

Published in Print: 2018-10-01

Citation Information: Open Cultural Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 249–261, ISSN (Online) 2451-3474, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2018-0023.

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© by Anu A. Harju and Ella Lillqvist, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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