My research centers on the economic, social, legal, and infrastructural regulation of internet conduct. It makes conceptual and empirical connections across digital media studies, interpersonal communication studies, economics, law, and social theory, formulating a humanistic account of digital society with implications for the study, design, and regulation of internet platforms.
Electronic commerce is my current area of focus. My dissertation, "Internet Markets", analyzes the economic and social dynamics of peer-to-peer online marketplaces. Do internet markets self-regulate in the way envisioned by advocates of electronic commerce? When are online exchange relations cooperative and trustworthy, and when are they conflictual and fraudulent? How do users, platforms, and governments ensure fair exchange online? Who performs the merchant labor required by these markets, and what happens to exceptional objects when they circulate in digital networks? Comparing three online marketplaces — Craigslist, eBay, and the dark web site Silk Road — I show that internet markets embody the best and the worst of free markets and open platforms. On the one hand, they are host to cooperative user customs, collective intelligence networks, supplementary income sources, and rare object supplies. On the other hand, they are subject to fraudulent economic practices, deceptive social behaviors, exploitative labor relations, and unruly object systems. Contrary to theories of electronic commerce, online exchange relations require systems of economic and social regulation, which users furnish when platforms and governments do not. The dissertation thus critiques the consensus bias of electronic commerce studies, or its tendency to position cooperation at the core of economic, social, and technological relations.
The dissertation is a tripartite enterprise: an empirical study of internet markets, a conceptual analysis of online exchange relations, and an operationalization of digital research methods. In conducting the original research, I designed three custom web crawlers to scrape text data from the marketplaces and their affiliated discussion boards. I then performed a critical interpretivist analysis of these varied digital texts. Fusing computer science methods of data collection with humanistic methods of textual interpretation, my work employs an interdisciplinary methodology for critical digital research. Its empirical material also includes interviews with internet merchants, court records, governmental proceedings, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents, design manuals, technical materials, financial disclosures, and a collection of digital images to be published online upon completion of the project.
Header: Photograph of the Amazon Warehouse by Andreas Gursky, Courtesy of The Broad, Los Angeles.