Grant Bollmer

is a theorist and historian of digital culture.

I am an Associate Research Professor in the department of Communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. My research investigates a wide range of topics related to digital media, including emotion recognition, selfies, memes, influencers, terrible videogames, motion capture, virtual reality and empathy, among many other topics. 

I am the author or coauthor of five books. Inhuman Networks: Social Media and the Archaeology of Connection (2016),  examines the history of connectivity in Western culture as it crosses the development of technological, biological, financial, and social networks. Theorizing Digital Cultures (2018),  provides a model for the study of digital media that synthesizes British and German approaches to media and culture. Materialist Media Theory: An Introduction (2019), attempts to update and revise the claims of Marshall McLuhan and Harold Innis in relation to a variety of recent theoretical innovations, especially New and Feminist Materialisms. The Affect Lab: The History and Limits of Measuring Emotion (2023) is a history of the American psychology of emotions through the lens of specific tools used to identify and produce emotion, using this history as a critique of any neurological or biological foundations of “affect theory.” The Influencer Factory: A Marxist Theory of Corporate Personhood on YouTube (2024), coauthored with Katherine Guinness, uses the backgrounds of YouTube influencer videos to examine the infrastructures of contemporary capitalism.

Among other awards, I’ve been the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a residency at the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was a contributor to an issue of the magazine esse: Arts + Opinions on “Empathy,” which received an honorable mention for “Best Editorial Package” from the Canadian National Magazine Awards/Les Prix du Magazine Canadien. Formerly, while I was employed at NC State, I was an NC State University Faculty Scholar, a recipient of the NC State CHASS Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in the Humanities, and recipient of the Robert M. Entman Award for Excellence in Communication Research.

This, however, is perhaps my proudest achievement. The above image is a meme by @cyborg.asm on Instagram, referencing the article “Do You Really Want to Live Forever,” which I coauthored with Katherine Guinness. The original meme can be found here and the article can be found here.


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The Influencer Factory: A Marxist Theory of Corporate Personhood on YouTube (coauthored with Katherine Guinness)

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Publisher: Stanford University Press

APRIL 2024


FROM $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503637924

Paperback ISBN: 9781503638792

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.
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.

"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

“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