Katherine Guinness

is a theorist and historian of contemporary art. She is Assistant Professor of Critical Studies in the Department of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, she was Assistant Professor and Director of Art History at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS), where she also served as the academic director of the downtown Gallery of Contemporary Art (or GOCA). She received her PhD from the University of Manchester and is the author of the first academic monograph on German artist Rosemarie Trockel, Schizogenesis, which was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2019, and is co-author of The Influencer Factory: A Marxist Theory of Corporate Personhood on YouTube, which was published by Stanford University Press in 2024. She has been a guest editor for Art Journal Open and is the co-founder of FEARS, the Female Emerging Artist Residency Series, at UCCS.

Katherine has taught in a wide range of departments and programs across the globe, including the University of Sydney (where she taught a class in “Digital Arts” in their Digital Cultures program), the University of New South Wales (where she taught Architectural History), North Carolina State University (where she taught in their Art History and Women’s and Gender Studies programs), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where she taught a number of First Year Seminars in Art History). She is interested in many topics within contemporary art, all of which she examines with a feminist lens, and is currently working on projects that include: the relation between anesthetics and the history of aesthetic theory; “zaniness” in contemporary Australian performance and video art; death, immortality and digital media in the work of a number of younger video artists; and a project on the political economy and visual culture of social media influencers.

The above image is a meme by @cyborg.asm on Instagram, referencing the article “Do You Really Want to Live Forever,” which was coauthored with Grant Bollmer. The original meme can be found here and the article can be found here.

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(Coauthored with Grant Bollmer)

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Influencers are more than social media personalities who attract attention for brands, argue Grant Bollmer and Katherine Guinness. They are figures of a new transformation in capitalism, in which the logic of the self is indistinguishable from the logic of the corporation.

Influencers are emblematic of what Bollmer and Guinness call the "Corpocene:" a moment in capitalism in which individuals achieve the status of living, breathing, talking corporations. Behind the veneer of leisure and indulgence, most influencers are laboring daily, usually for pittance wages, to manufacture a commodity called "the self"—a raw material for brands to use—with the dream of becoming corporations in human form by owning and investing in the products they sell. Refuting the theory that digital labor and economies are immaterial, Bollmer and Guinness search influencer content for evidence of the material infrastructure of capitalism. Each chapter looks to what literally appears in the backgrounds of videos and images: the houses, cars, warehouses, and spaces of the market that point back to the manufacturing and circulation of consumer goods. Demonstrating the material reality of producing the self as a commodity, The Influencer Factory makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of contemporary economic life.

Buy it from the publisher, or from Amazon.

Click here to see our discussion of the book on The Page 99 Test.

The ideas from this book have been discussed by artists Lizzy Deacon and Ika Schwander in an interview for Émergent Magazine.

The novelist and digital media strategist Andrew Ladd has discussed our book at length in a fantastic post on his blog.
Publisher: Stanford University Press

APRIL 2024, 248 PAGE, FROM $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503637924

Paperback ISBN: 9781503638792

“I can’t remember the last time a book blew my mind quite so completely. I feel like this is how nineteenth century proletarians must have felt reading Marx: like it just perfectly describes every last tiny indignity of working life, even the ones you’d never fully noticed before.”

—Andrew Ladd, digital media strategist and novelist, author of NYPL Young Lions Award finalist  What Ends

"Don't read this book if you want to learn how to become an influencer. Do read this book if you're concerned about 'the self' being reduced to a mere product circulating on an endless social media reel. As Bollmer and Guinness convincingly demonstrate, influencer culture is only about celebrity and entertainment on the surface. The real story here concerns the reorganization of capital in the 21st century, and this is a story we all need to understand as it is ultimately about how workers who once made products have become products."

—Kate Eichhorn, The New School

"A dazzling and organic application of cultural theory, The Influencer Factory is a lively and provocative read for anyone invested in understanding how a new, expansive, and important sector of our cultural economy works."

—Michael Palm, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"At the intersection of authenticity, identity, and commerce, we find Bollmer and Guinness engaged in next-gen platform capitalism studies. The Influencer Factory nimbly combines digital media theory and political economy, with attention to the labor and infrastructure behind the corporate self."

—Alexandra Juhasz, Brooklyn College CUNY

"This compelling book gives voice to the often-invisible work of influencers. From the house and car to market and warehouse, The Influencer Factory puts influencers, their work and what they reflect about contemporary media culture into context—historically, socially, and culturally."

—Larissa Hjorth, RMIT University, Melbourne