Thanks for Watching

An Anthropological Study of Video Sharing on YouTube

by Patricia G. Lange

2020 Franklyn S. Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression

“Thanks for Watching demonstrates how anthropological concepts can be understood within the context of mediated technologies and challenges a number of popular discourses and assumptions around technology use. . . . This is good ethnography.”

—Lori Lopez, University of Wisconsin–Madison

“In Thanks for Watching, Patricia Lange has written a theoretically sophisticated and nuanced ethnography of the social life of YouTube creator/consumers. With welcome clarity of thought, Dr. Lange takes on the pervasive and pernicious assumptions about online communities. Rather than create false dichotomies she invites us to join a conversation about how online and offline lives intertwine, how anonymous players can embrace accountability, and how technologically mediated interactions can build human relationships. She avoids focusing on extremes and celebrities, instead bringing 'a sense of empathy for everyday creators who are trying to have their voices heard and engage in civic dialogue.' This book is a pivotal work for communications theorists across multiple disciplines and will resonate with ethnographers who work with content creators, as well as anyone who has ventured into the worlds of everyday media creation.”

—Jan English-Lueck, San Jose State University

"Lange’s research presents rich, comprehensive insight into YouTube’s social and cultural impact."


"Lange’s work highlights the value of self-expression and freedom of expression on the world’s largest video hosting site, You Tube. This 12-year participant-observation ethnography poignantly uncovers the journey of YouTubers as they negotiate their mediated sociality through the making and sharing of videos. The themes presented in this work include the establishment of a community of vloggers, who sought respite from the barriers and oversight of corporate media. The early users of the site harnessed the emancipatory potential of the digital sphere until the site was purchased itself and became yet another corporate entity with all of the requisite regulations, monetization and subscription policies along with content censorship, which serve as a threat to free speech on this social networking site platform."

—National Communication Association

YouTube hosts one billion visitors monthly and sees more than 400 hours of video uploaded every minute. In Thanks for Watching, Patricia G. Lange offers an anthropological perspective on this heavily mediated social environment by analyzing videos and the emotions that motivate sharing them. She demonstrates how core concepts from anthropology—participant-observation, reciprocity, and community—apply to sociality on YouTube. Lange’s book reconceptualizes and updates these concepts for video-sharing cultures.

Lange draws on 152 interviews with YouTube participants at gatherings throughout the United States, content analyses of more than 300 videos, observations of interactions on and off the site, and participant-observation. She documents how the introduction of monetization options impacted perceived opportunities for open sharing and creative exploration of personal and social messages. Lange’s book provides new insight into patterns of digital migration, YouTube’s influence on off-site interactions, and the emotional impact of losing control over images. The book also debunks traditional myths about online interaction, such as the supposed online/offline binary, the notion that anonymity always degrades public discourse, and the popular characterization of online participants as over-sharing narcissists.

YouTubers’ experiences illustrate fascinating hybrid forms of contemporary sociality that are neither purely mediated nor sufficient when conducted only in person. Combining intensive ethnography, analysis of video artifacts, and Lange’s personal vlogging experiences, the book explores how YouTubers are creating a posthuman collective characterized by interaction, support, and controversy. In analyzing the tensions between YouTubers’ idealistic goals of sociality and the site’s need for monetization, Thanks for Watching makes crucial contributions to cultural anthropology, digital ethnography, science and technology studies, new media studies, communication, interaction design, and posthumanism.




  • publisher
    University Press of Colorado
  • publisher place
    Denver, Colorado
  • rights
  • rights holder
    University Press of Colorado