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Science on YouTube: Legitimation Strategies of Brazilian Science YouTubers

Natália Martins Flores et Priscila Muniz de Medeiros

Résumés

Cette étude analyse les stratégies de légitimation exposées par les YouTubers des 10 chaînes de science les plus populaires au Brésil. En utilisant l’analyse du discours de l’école française, elle dévoile l’ethos des YouTubers, les scénographies discursives préférées, les types de contenus et les abordages discursifs de ces chaînes. Les résultats montrent la présence prédominante de la scénographie didactique, ainsi que celles moins importantes des scénographies commentaire, scientifique en action et journalistique. Elles sont présentées dans le cadre des sous-genres : monologue, questions & réponses, expérience en direct, vidéos de tableau blanc et documentaires courts. L’ethos discursif présente le YouTuber comme une personne informée qui a une connaissance sur des sujets scientifiques et qui les enseigne à son audience ou les commente selon son opinion. Les stratégies de légitimation viennent surtout de leurs expériences personnelles, et rarement d’une position dans le champ scientifique, même si parfois les YouTubers peuvent employer des énoncées recourant à une autorité scientifique. L’usage de l’humour dans les énoncées et l’édition des vidéos, la référence à la culture pop et l’usage d’un langage informel montrent la tendance de ces chaînes à présenter les thèmes scientifiques d’une façon légère et intéressante.

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Introduction

1The appropriation of digital technologies by scientific communities, among other actors, has caused various transformations in the field of science communication processes. The liberation of emission channels has led to a cultural reconfiguration of social practices (Lemos, 2006), giving access to a great number of content producers. New media landscapes of science communication merge user-generated content which are produced by scientists and institutions that are, in turn, engaged in disseminating scientific knowledge without an intermediary body (Brossard, 2013) and other contents which are produced by people without any science specialization. These last ones are included in science communication processes in a more interactive way, for they are able to comment on or produce content about science themes.

2In Brazilian context, YouTube has become a popular content platform, being used also to disseminate science. Brazil is today the world’s second largest market for the platform (Think with Google, 2017), having won 35 million new Brazilian users between 2015 and 2017, and having become the second most accessed website in the country (Alexa, 2017). In science communication context, the shift of science content producers to YouTube and other platforms have taken place especially since 2014, when science blogs faced a decrease in their numbers and activities (Fausto et al., 2016).

3On YouTube, there is the production of a vulgarized and informal discourse of science which is different from other science communication products. Self-image and self-representations of the enunciators, called YouTubers, play a key role in these discursive productions and may affect the trust of scientific information. This way, the discourses produced in these platforms might have a great impact on science communication practices, and science and society relations, and indeed, they may displace traditional sources of information regarding science. In a larger sense, these communication channels open space for the production of a friendlier image of science, enhancing people with no scientific background to be interested in science themes, and thus, further engage in science studies.

4In this paper, we aim to reflect on legitimation and image construction of Brazilian YouTubers on YouTube science videos. In this context, some important research questions arise, such as: What are the legitimating sources that Brazilian science YouTubers use? Do they retrieve the authority of science discourse to build their own enunciation positions? What discursive fragments and strategies support and define their image as science communicators? Is there a difference between scientists and amateurs in choosing these strategies? And finally, perhaps most importantly, how can we analyze their constructed and perceived discursive ethos?

5To answer these intriguing questions, first, our main goal in this paper is to map and analyze the legitimation strategies that are displayed by the 10 most popular science channels in YouTube Brazil. Second, we aim to unfold the relations between their image on YouTube channel and their pre-discursive ethos. This is done in order to analyze the preferred discursive scenographies used with legitimation ends by these YouTubers, and to map and compare the kinds of contents and discursive approaches that these science channels have. Our methodology is based on Discourse Analysis from a French perspective, operationalizing the concepts of discursive ethos and scenes of enunciation of Maingueneau (1999; 2008; 2013; 2014) on the corpus analysis. Other classical concepts, such as interdiscursivity and intertextuality, are also employed.

YouTube and Science Communication

6YouTube video platform has become a versatile tool for science dissemination, education, and communication practices. Academic scholars across different disciplines have focused on its use in academic community as a research source or tool (see Kousha, Thelwall & Abdoli, 2012; Giglietto, Rossi & Bennato, 2012), situated in e-learning contexts (Snelson, 2009) and within health faculties for educational proposes (Green et al. 2018; Duncan, Yarwood & Haigh, 2013; Burke & Snyder, 2008; Burke, Snyder & Rager, 2009). Some studies have also highlighted the use of YouTube videos in academic formal practices as peer-reviewed publications (Noruzi, 2017), while others have focused on more informal communication contexts, studying the platform as a source of information in social context on specific subjects, such as immunization (Keelan et al. 2007), tanning bed use (Hossler & Conroy, 2008), and H1N1 influenza pandemic (Pandey, et al. 2010).

7Although the academic and educational uses of YouTube are interesting research objects, in this article we focus on practices that communicate science to a lay audience. New media environments enable scientists to engage in direct communication with unspecialized audiences, which can also participate in the production of science communication content by making their own videos or commenting on blogs and Facebook pages (Brossard, 2013). By mixing the roles of scientists and lay audience in science communication processes, new media landscapes can help to bridge the gap between science and society, sustained by previous media contexts.

8Cardenas (2017) has highlighted the potential that social media have on knowledge networking construction. His network analysis on sociology blogs, YouTube videos, and the Twitter commentaries shows the emergence of a cohesive community of sociology bloggers who reference themselves, thus creating a common space of content for sociology. Against this background, this study helps to broaden our interpretation of social media as a space of connection of distinct platforms and actors. The expansion of knowledge construction, and the blur of boundaries of informal and formal learning (Holliman, 2008), all seem to be guidelines of these new media landscapes.

9The blur of boundaries of expertise have been noticed by some researchers as being one of the consequences of science blogging (Holliman, 2008). Academic blogging has gained space as a way of including other actors on scientific debate by constructing a conversational sphere regarding science (Gregg, 2006). Blogosphere brings together citizens who want to talk about science and scientists, and who are willing to interact with other people. Even though blogs have experienced a decline in the Brazilian context from 2014 onward (Fausto et al. 2016), their characteristics of promoting interaction and constructing an informal image of scientists (Flores, 2016) also seem to apply to science popularization use of YouTube.

10Recent studies have focused on quantitative analysis of science videos on YouTube, engaging on initial descriptions of this universe. Welbourne and Grant (2015) have conducted a statistical analysis of content factors that affect science video popularity on YouTube, comparing 390 professionally- and user-generated videos. Morcillo, Czurda and Von Trotha (2016) have studied the narrative characteristics of 190 popular science videos, observing narrative strategies, video editing techniques, and cinematography design. Besides taking into account these studies, our study employs a qualitative perspective to approach mise-en-scène and performance elements of the YouTuber, which has not been addressed in-depth by previous studies.

11Some Brazilian studies have focused on the analysis of how specific themes are represented in science YouTube videos, such as air contamination (Bortoliero, 2015) and breastfeeding (Carvalho et al. 2013), or have analyzed a single science YouTube channel (Carvalho, 2016; Dal Pian, 2015). Despite the interest of some researchers on expanding this kind of analysis to other YouTube channels, yet little has been done in practice. Therefore, our study aims to contribute to this direction by increasing the analysis scope to 10 most popular science channels.

Theoretical perspective

12The investigation of the construction of discursive ethos has gained importance in studies of Discourse Analysis from a French perspective, especially by the work developed by Dominique Maingueneau (1999, 2008). He inserts the rhetorical concept of ethos in Discourse Analysis framework, relating the concept to the enunciation scenes and performance of the enunciator. More than a strategy of persuasion, the discursive ethos is defined as a way of being and saying attached to the identity of a discursive position (Maingueneau, 1999, 2008). The enunciator corporificates the discourse by the construction of an image to himself, seducing his partner to engage in a certain universe of meanings. Thus, the concept of ethos gains a socio-discursive existence, as psychological and physical elements of the enunciator, that can help put into scene a particular discourse.

13The discursive ethos is inserted in a scene of enunciation, a discourse structure composed by global and generic scenes and scenography (Maingueneau, 2008; 2014). Global and generic scenes define broad aspects of enunciation as the types of discourse and discursive fields in which it occurs, and the genres and enunciation positions assumed by the communication partners. In a more specific level of enunciation, scenography refers to the staging of discourse by the use of discursive strategies and other elements. Scenography, in turn, gives form to a given situation of communication, making it recognizable to the enunciation partner. It is firmly related to the discourse, legitimating its existence and being created by it (see Maingueneau, 2013).

14Although scenography can be related to certain genres and global scenes, in some cases it gains a central position and dispenses these two spheres. This is the case of internet discourses, for some enunciations do not report to a specific genre or discourse sphere in particular (Maingueneau, 2013; 2014). As Maingueneau (2013) points out, scenography suffers from a hypertrophy in a web context, being composed by iconotextual and architectural elements. Digital scenography elements can be useful to see how interactivity and hypertextuality are being used in videos to produce and reiterate certain types of meaning.

15In this sense, we engage in the theoretical perspective of Paveau (2013a; 2012), in the sense of conceiving the “extra linguistic” as part of an ecosystem that constitutes discourse. There is, thus, a continuum between linguistic and non-linguistic elements in the construction of meanings of discourses. In internet discourses, this perspective implies to observing the imbrications between technology and discourse, which give form to technologies of the discourse (Paveau, 2012). This concept can be dislocated to audiovisual discourse, which helps us to observe how elements of editions effects, video framing, cuts, and soundtrack are used to produce or reiterate certain meanings of these discourses.

16The scenography unfolds itself in discursive strategies chosen by the YouTuber to construct and validate his enunciation. We assume the concept of discursive strategy as the manipulation of linguistic and non-linguistic elements by the enunciator in order to produce certain reactions of his interlocutor. These strategies depend on the conditions of production of a discourse and on the more or less consciously choices made by the subject when engaging in language acts (Charaudeau & Maingueneau, 2002). In this sense, discursive strategies are constrained by rules and discursive conventions, as well as by individual choices. Among a great scope of strategies, we are interested particularly in those used by the YouTuber to legitimate his position as science communicator.

17In this article we also observe the constitutive heterogeneity (Authier-Revuz, 1982) of discourses, built by a mosaic of voices and discursive fragments related to previous enunciations enrolled in history. Interdiscourse constitutes the discourse from the inside (Maingueneau, 2005). Constructing a discursive position, for instance, relies on getting involved in dialogic clashes with former discourses. A great way to identify interdiscourse is to trace formulations that seem to be from another previous discourse but cannot be related to an accurate text or enunciation situation (Moirand, 2006). The crossing of other discourses is so intense that analysts need to accept the non-closing structure of corpus, for tracking all other-discourses fragments may become an infinite process (Moirand, 2004).

Methodology

18As an analysis corpus, we chose to study the 10 most popular science channels in YouTube Brazil. In order to find out which these channels are, we made several internet searches with the terms “canais ciência YouTube” (science channels YouTube) on google platform. Such searches allowed us to reach a number of journalistic contents and blog posts regarding the biggest science channels in Brazilian YouTube. This methodology created another research issue, namely, what kind of subjects are considered science subjects by Brazilian online journalists and bloggers?

19With the help of the above-mentioned journalistic contents and blog posts, we mapped out the popular science channels and, by comparing the number of subscriptions timewise, we collected the data (June, 2018), and came up with a list of the 10 most popular ones. The studied science channels are: Manual do Mundo (10 million subscriptions), Nerdologia (two million subscriptions), Poligonautas (770,000 subscriptions), Pirula (679,000 subscriptions), Papo de biólogo (336,000 subscriptions), Ciência todo dia (233,000 subscriptions), Space Today (246,000 subscriptions), Ciência e astronomia (121,000 subscriptions), Alimente o cérebro (115,000 subscriptions), and finally, Canal do Slow (108,000 subscriptions). For each channel, we collected all the presentation information along with the last five videos published in the page and the five most popular ones (by July 5, 2018).

20For the analysis, we employed a quanti-qualitative method that followed five different steps. As a first approach, we examined all videos in order to find discursive regularities (step 1). Such regularities allowed us to develop several categories of analysis (step 2). After that, we reexamined the videos with the aim of classifying them according to the category demands (step 3). We then proceeded to quantify the data (step 4). Based on these results, we explored in more details some of the discursive strategies hidden behind the numbers (step 5).

21It is important to add that we mainly observed the contents of the videos themselves. For the quantification, we only considered the contents in the video description section when they were mentioned by the YouTuber in the video. We made such methodological choice since the contents in the description section were often hidden and might have been ignored by the viewers.

22After step 1, we came up with six groups of categories: (i) subject and enunciation scenes, (ii) identity features, (iii) references features, (iv) entertainment features, (v) revenues features, and (vi) interaction features. It is important to mention that the confrontation of the videos to many of the proposed categories (step 3) required a discursive approach, since we did not always look for objective elements, such as keywords (as in a content analysis). Our discursive path will be described with the presentation of the results.

23First, we classified each video according to the main subject, the subgenre (generic scene), and the main scenography. For the subgenre classification, we made an adaptation of the division proposed by Morcillo, Czurda and Von Trotha (2016). The definition of the scenographies was based on and adapted from a previous study of Flores (2016). In the identity features categories, we observed how the YouTubers built their images (if they identified themselves or used pseudonyms, or if they built an ethos of scientists, journalists or others, or if they often employed slangs and swear words, etc.). We also payed attention to the kinds of references mentioned in the videos (books, papers, other YouTube videos, etc.). Regarding the entertainment features, we observed the presence/absence of elements, such as soundtracks, films/TV-shows, video-games, images, humor strategies, and others. In the revenue features, we observed the presence/absence of different strategies concerning the ways the YouTubers monetized their channels. Finally, in the interaction features group, we concentrated on the strategies used by YouTubers to interact with the audience.

24As mentioned in our methodology, we analyzed 10 videos from each of the 10 studied channels (the five most recent and the five most popular ones). For the presentation of most part of the results, we chose to categorize each channel according to the number of videos that contained the analyzed features (if zero, less than a half; a half, more than a half or all the videos).

Results and discussion

Theme and enunciation scenes

25Most of the analyzed YouTube channels presented videos that approached different science themes. Only three of them were monothematic: Papo de Biólogo (biology), Space Today (astronomy), and Ciência e Astronomia (astronomy). The monothematic channels boosted the results of the most popular themes between the 100 analyzed videos, since astronomy appeared as the most frequent theme, which was followed by biology (figure 1). Despite the monothematic channels, astronomy was still the most popular theme regarding the channels as a whole: it was also present in the videos by Poligonautas, Ciência Todo Dia, and Alimente o Cérebro.

Figure 1. Main theme of the videos

Figure 1. Main theme of the videos

26We also found videos that addressed issues connected to science as a whole, the scientific method, and science vulgarization. Most of the videos had themes that belonged to the so called “hard sciences”. It was possible to find, however, a few videos addressing themes from the social sciences, like anthropology and political science. Another interesting result was that some of the videos addressed themes that were not conventionally placed in the scientific field, such as history, philosophy, language learning, and religion (some of the videos approached religion from an anthropological perspective. In such cases, they were classified as having anthropological themes). It is important to say, however, that the YouTubers did not claim that such themes were scientific.

27In order to analyze the generic scene of the videos, we classified them according to subgenres. The following chart shows the main subgenre of each channel (figure 2). Some of the channels presented more than one subgenre, but in all of them we were able to observe a prevailing one.

Figure 2. Main subgenre of the channels

Figure 2. Main subgenre of the channels

28The most frequent subgenre was monologue. In these videos, the YouTuber is placed in front of a steady camera, alone, and in medium shot (less common) or medium close-up (most common). He addresses the viewers directly and looks at the camera. The monologues can be entertainment monologues or informative ones. In the entertainment monologues, the aim of the enunciator seems to be entertaining the viewer through the use of informal language, jokes, and enunciates that carry no substantial informative content. This kind of monologue was the main subgenre in the channel Papo de Biólogo, in which the presenter shows some wild animals, such as birds and hedgehogs.

29Whenever the YouTuber discourse is based on informative registers, bringing new information and data for the public, we have the information monologues, the most frequent kind in the analyzed videos. In these, we can often find entertainment features, but they work rather as didactic resources or as elements of approximation with the audience. The monologues usually present plenty of hard cuts that leave the message more direct, since hesitations and repetitions can be erased (as in the case of Canal do Pirula and Canal do Slow). Yet, other channels, prefer to present less edited videos (as in the case of Space Today). The monologues may or may not include external images in their edition.

30The subgenre Live experiment was observed in only one channel, Manual do Mundo, the most popular one. In this subgenre, the camera changes from shots that show the YouTubers (medium shot or medium close-up) to shots showing scientific experiments in close-ups. The YouTubers explain didactically how to reproduce the same experiment and the scientific principles regarding it.

31In the Question & Answers subgenre, the central issue was the response to questions made by the audience. It carries strong marks of interlocution and interactivity, since they are based on enunciates published by the viewers in the commentaries section. Such subgenre was the main one in the case of the channel Poligonautas.

32The whiteboard video subgenre simulates a classroom board in which the enunciator explains a content through the insertion of writings, drawings, pictures, and charts. It constitutes the visual identity of the channel Nerdologia that holds on to a didactic scenography to establish its discursive position.

33The last subgenre observed in our research was short documentary. In this category, we included videos that follow a documentary film esthetic. The channel Papo de Biólogo presented videos regarding the environment and nature in which we can follow the adventures of the YouTuber and his staff in expeditions through the Brazilian rainforests and other national biomes. In the edition, we can see shots from his paths (roads, forests, and landscapes), from wild animals and from the YouTuber himself/herself as an observer of the animals and the scenery. Adventure soundtrack that are used in the editing reiterate meanings of action and adventure.

34Most of the channels had a predominant scenography. The channel Alimente o Cérebro was the only one to present both, the didactic and the commentary scenographies, in the same degree. The most common scenography verified in our research was the didactic one. It was found predominantly in the channels Nerdologia, Ciência Todo Dia, Manual do Mundo, Ciência e Astronomia, Canal do Slow, and Alimente o Cérebro (figure 3).

Figure 3. Main scenography of the channels

Figure 3. Main scenography of the channels

35In didactic scenography, the enunciator occupies a teacher position, teaching his reader different science concepts (Flores, 2016). The ethos produced is from an informed person, who has knowledge and dominance over the science subjects that are presented. Several discursive marks shape and legitimize the YouTuber position as a “professor”, referring to the situation context of the classroom, such as: 1) the use of didactic resources, such as blackboards, videos, examples, infographics, and hypothetical situations (explored by the channel Ciência Todo Dia); 2) the insertion of didactic-rhetorical questions and other interlocution marks simulating teacher-student interactions; 3) interlocution marks with audience at the end of the videos, answering comments and questions sent by them; 4) explanation of scientific concepts, math formulas and phenomena with simple language; 5) reformulation of ideas already explained. These videos explore the potential of audiovisual discourse to create this scenography, for the examples and explanations are presented in a visual way.

36The commentary scenography is the second most used one, present in the channels Alimente o Cérebro, Poligonautas and Canal do Pirula. In this scenography, the enunciator places himself in a commentator position of a certain theme or topic. The strategies used by the enunciator to legitimate his comments range from personal experiences to scientific authority. In the first case, opinionated and subjective marks are prevalent on the YouTuber discourse, together with light themes. In Alimente o Cérebro, the YouTuber uses personal experiences of language learning and academic life to give tips on these subjects. This kind of self-centered video, common to this channel, exposes perspectives of the enunciator, and are marked by explicit judging expressions. In one of these videos, the YouTuber comments his relation with the philosophy of Nietzsche. The title of the video, “How Nietzsche has impacted me deeply”, shows aspects of a self-centered narrative.

37The second discursive strategy, of bringing a scientific authority to legitimate commentaries, in turn, tends to occur on situations where the YouTuber comments on controversial issues, marked by an argumentative perspective (Flores, 2016). This kind of discourse is common in the case of Poligonautas and Canal do Pirula channels. In Poligonautas videos, for instance, the YouTuber uses astronomy field information and science argumentative logic to disprove popular beliefs, legends, and myths about astronomy topics. In Questions & Answers videos, the YouTuber answers questions from the audience, such as “why didn’t man go back to the Moon?” Interdiscursivity marks appear as the enunciator constructs his arguments opposing them to popular and pseudo-scientific discourses. In Canal do Pirula, the YouTuber addresses themes from the actuality and social subjects, such as racism and homosexuality, from a scientific perspective, using science to prove a certain point. Although both YouTubers use science discourse in order to construct their points of view, they rarely use their academic position to legitimate their discourses (they are both scholars).

38Another scenography observed in the research was journalistic. In this scenography, the YouTuber employs elements imported from the traditional mediatic culture, especially from journalistic products, as a legitimization strategy. The channel Space Today was the only one to use this scenography. The themes of the videos are often related to astronomy’s actuality and scientific discoveries, what aligns it to the pursuit of novelty that characterizes journalism itself. The YouTuber also presents himself/herself as the editor of the channel and calls his videos “programs”. He also uses “TV Space Today” as a way to call each program. Also, his/her image is shown in medium close-ups in which we can see the presence of a studio microphone, like the ones used by radio presenters. His videos commonly present a ritualistic pattern that includes an unique greeting for all the videos (“hello friends of astronomy all over the world!”) and slogans at the end of each video (“we are together persistently in the fight against bad scientific divulgation in Brazil and against anemia in the astronomy’s divulgation in our country”).

39In the last scenography, we were able to identify our corpus as scientist-in-action. In this kind of scenography, the enunciator is placed in a position of an in-action subject, which is drawn by an action narrative. It appears only in the channel Papo de Biólogo. The field experience of the YouTuber as a biologist legitimates the enunciation, making it unnecessary to bring other strategies in addition to what is being shown.

Identity features

40The great majority of the YouTubers from the 10 analyzed channels were men. The only channel where we could find two YouTubers was also the only one with a female presence (Manual do Mundo) (figure 4). With such a result, more than exposing the gender gap in the popular science channels in Brazil, it may also indicate that, in the country, the ideal scientific ethos is mostly connected to the male image.

Figure 4. YouTubers’ gender

Figure 4. YouTubers’ gender

41In what concerns the identity positions created by the YouTubers, most of them do not discursively create any specific position to themselves (neither journalists, nor scientists or any others) (figure 5). Such a result can indicate that most of the researched channels are led by amateurs. In only one channel we observed discursive marks that placed the YouTuber exclusively as a scientist: Canal do Pirula. In one of the videos, he identifies himself as a paleontologist, while in another one he uses the second-person plural (pronoun “we”) to address the scientists as a whole. Also, in the background of most of his videos we can see bookshelves, i.e., a scenery that helps create an pre-discursive ethos for the YouTuber, based on an image of intellectuality.

Figure 5. Identity position built by YouTubers’ discourses

Figure 5. Identity position built by YouTubers’ discourses

42In Nerdologia, the YouTuber presents himself as a researcher and biologist in the beginning of the videos. Along with this identity, we observed marks related to the construction of a nerd position, as the enunciator makes references to pop nerd culture, such as comics, movies, and games, creating thus a narrative based on curiosity about these universes. One of these videos, for instance, presents theories to answer the question: Which Marvel’s character has the strongest punch? In case of the Poligonautas channel, the YouTuber also engages on nerd culture by the use of a scenario of a bedroom with shelves full of miniatures of characters from pop nerd culture.

43The YouTuber on the channel Space Today, despite not being a professional journalist, creates a journalistic ethos through his enunciates and visual identity in the shots. Concerning the channel Manual do Mundo, in two of the videos we can see the YouTubers acting as reporters in external visits to factories (using microphones and conducting interviews). That is why we placed the channel as if their YouTubers assumed a journalist position, even if in most of the videos they assume no position at all.

44The YouTuber on Papo de Biólogo is presented by a tag in the initial part of the video as a biologist. This identity is reinforced by a presentation video called “Who is Vinícius Ferreira?”, placed on the bottom of the channel site, which shows a little bit of the lifestyle that the so-called biologist and conservationist has. The identity of biologist is linked to an adventurer who loves his/her work, which appears on YouTuber showing to be grateful to have the opportunity to be in rainforests and other landscapes. The biologist position is reiterated by the YouTuber talking about his field experience on rescuing wild animals or when he alerts people with no specific training, not to manipulate wildlife animals or to act as he does in the videos. It is as if his social position of a professional biologist legitimates his actions, thus differentiating him from people who do not have the same experience or academic degree.

45Still, regarding how YouTubers use language to construct their images, we could find in nine of the channels (some more often and other less) enunciates related to aspects of the YouTubers’ intimacy, such as interaction with their pets, mentions of girlfriends, mentions of their health, trip plans or personality descriptions (figure 6). Such discursive marks may be a strategy of approximation with the audience. Another way YouTubers create approximation to their viewers is by their use of colloquial language and expressions, such as slang and swear words. Such strategy could be found in videos from half of the analyzed channels (figure 7). They also promote an important difference concerning the regular use of language by traditional science popularization actors.

Figure 6. Do the videos reveal elements of the YouTubers’ intimacy?

Figure 6. Do the videos reveal elements of the YouTubers’ intimacy?

Figure 7. Constant use of slang and swear words

Figure 7. Constant use of slang and swear words

46Most of the YouTubers present themselves with their real names. Only three of them use pseudonyms (Poligonautas, Canal do Pirula and Canal do Slow) (figure 8). In the case of Canal do Pirula, the YouTuber is an academic scholar with a doctorate in zoology. The use of a pseudonyms may indicate an attempt to separate the real-life scientist from the YouTuber, since, at least in the analyzed videos, he does not mention his own research neither his academic titles nor positions. While the scholar is supposed to speak about science subjects, following the academic rituals and its demands concerning the use of language for specific discourse genres (as a conference or a scientific paper), the YouTuber is allowed to express intimacy or to speak informally, using slang and swear words, for instance.

Figure 8. How do YouTubers present themselves?

Figure 8. How do YouTubers present themselves?

Entertainment features

47Many of the studied channels managed to present scientific themes, softening them to the audience by using pop culture/mediatic culture elements in the videos. In eight of the channels studied, we could find such intertextuality references inserted on the speech of the YouTuber, or as images (figure 9). In half of the channels examined, we were able to verify the presence of images of movies, TV shows, or video games (figure 10). In four of the channels we could find videos in which there were more than just a reference or an image: the videos presented debates regarding films, TV shows or video games (figure 11). The use of soundtrack in the videos was also very frequent (for our results, we did not consider the videos in which music was present only in the sticker) (figure 12).

Figure 9. Reference to pop culture/media elements

Figure 9. Reference to pop culture/media elements

Figure 10. Images of films/TV Shows/Video Games

Figure 10. Images of films/TV Shows/Video Games

Figure 11. Debates about films/TV Shows/Video Games

Figure 11. Debates about films/TV Shows/Video Games

Figure 12. Presence of soundtrack

Figure 12. Presence of soundtrack

48Another common entertainment feature that we were able to observe was the use of humor in the videos. Such a feature appeared in two different ways: humor was created either by the enunciation (figure 13) or by an edition effect (figure 14). The channel Canal do Slow used both strategies in all the analyzed videos. We could see the images changing from colored to black and white from time to time. The black and white scenes marked the moments in which the YouTuber would perform funny interpretations related to the discussed subject, playing one or more characters. Regarding the use of edition to build humor effects, the channel Manual do Mundo also stood out. Some of its strategies were, for instance, to digitally manipulate the YouTubers face in order to create humorous effects (color change and distortion, among others).

Figure 13: Presence of humor in enunciates

Figure 13: Presence of humor in enunciates

Figure 14. Presence of humor in the edition

Figure 14. Presence of humor in the edition

Revenues features

49In most of the analyzed channels we could verify the presence of advertisement in the content of the videos (figure 15). For this category, we did not consider the automatic advertisements generated by YouTube, but rather, the presence of mentions to a specific product, service or brand in the YouTuber’s enunciates with the clear aim of selling it. We could verify three different ways that YouTubers profit from advertisements in the videos: sponsored videos, brief mentions of products/services, and advertisements of online stores for which the YouTuber has a promotional code.

Figure 15. Presence of merchandise or brand ads

Figure 15. Presence of merchandise or brand ads

50In the sponsored videos, YouTubers are paid by enterprises to make videos connected to their products, in which they are central. In three of the most recent videos from the channel Manual do Mundo, the YouTubers presented live experiments connected to the concept of a product, after presenting some trainers from Adidas (which were made of plastic collected in the ocean). In that, they showed the viewers how to recycle plastic in people’s homes. The sponsored videos are more likely to appear in the most popular channels, since they are more attractive for sponsors. In our research, they were only found in the channels of Manual do Mundo, Nerdologia and Alimente o Cérebro (only the third one has less than one million subscriptions).

51Products and services can also be mentioned in the videos, for not being central or making part of the video’s concept (figure 16). Such revenue strategy was present in the channels of Pirula, Papo de Biólogo and in one video of Poligonautas. The third kind of advertisement that we observed was based on promotional codes, which means that the YouTubers profit every time a viewer buys a product from the online store and adds the YouTuber’s code there. Such revenue strategy could be found in the channels of Pirula, Ciência e Astronomia and Canal do Slow. A single online store that sells t-shirts with science themes was mentioned in four of the studied channels.

Figure 16. Publicity of products related to the channel

Figure 16. Publicity of products related to the channel

52Seven from the 10 studied channels also presented some kind of publicity of products of their own. While most of them were announcing tickets for the YouTubers live performances, the channel Space Today was the only one to have a store of its own, selling t-shirts with astronomy themes. Papo de Biólogo made an interesting intervention, announcing face-to-face courses about the management of wild animals taught by the YouTuber in São Paulo.

53One last revenue strategy was based on requests of crowdfunding and donations. This strategy was found in four channels (figure 17). We observed requests for monthly contributions through online tools, such as Patreon (or its Brazilian version, Apoia-se). As pledges for the monthly contributions, the YouTubers offer the divulgation of the donors’ names in the videos along with other advantages, like membership in secret Facebook or WhatsApp groups, or the possibility of suggesting themes for the videos.

Figure 17. Crowdfunding and donations requests

Figure 17. Crowdfunding and donations requests

54To attract donors, a particularly interesting discursive strategy could be found in Canal do Slow. While most of the requests invite donors to help scientific vulgarization in Brazil – or to make it possible for the YouTuber to go on producing videos – Canal do Slow shows pictures of the donors in the beginning and end of its videos, and invites the viewers to “join this family” (faça parte dessa família). Turning the donors into a “family” is particularly appealing here, for all the discursive memories of proximity, intimacy, and affection that the wording “family” implies.

References features

55In some of the analyzed videos, we could find references to books (figure 18), influential scientists (figure 19), or scientific papers (figure 20), even if such references were not that frequent. The same could be said about references to other videos from YouTube channels: they appeared in six channels but in only one it was a constant feature (figure 21). Canal do Pirula was the only one to try to create intertextuality relating to different YouTube science channels. The YouTuber often mentioned videos from other channels, especially when they had addressed the same theme as his own videos. Along with the mention, he encouraged the viewers to watch such videos.

Figure 18. References to books

Figure 18. References to books

Figure 19. Reference to influential scientists

Figure 19. Reference to influential scientists

Figure 20. Reference to scientific papers

Figure 20. Reference to scientific papers

Figure 21. Reference to videos from other youtubers

Figure 21. Reference to videos from other youtubers

56The most frequent reference made by the YouTubers was to other videos from their own channels (figure 22). The links between the videos through the use of hypertext allow a reconfiguration in the discursive memory of the web (Paveau, 2013b), which relates the video to previous co-texts and discursive sequences that are concomitant to it. The presence of the hypertexts, along with the reference to previous videos, constructs an idea of unity and continuity for some of the channels, thus turning the channels themselves in coherent databases of interconnected contents.

Figure 22. Hyperlink to other videos from the channel

Figure 22. Hyperlink to other videos from the channel

Interaction features

57Regarding the interaction features, we observed that most of the researched channels presented requests for subscriptions (figure 23). This element shows the concern that YouTubers have in playing by YouTubers’ rules of engagement. The more people subscribe the videos, the more popularity and visibility they gain on the platform. Moreover, most of the channels promoted, in the videos, the connection to the YouTubers social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram (figure 24). These intertextuality resources fortify the identity of the channel, conducting people to check content produced in other platforms, too. A stronger modality of interaction, however, was verified less often, and the mention to commentaries published by the viewers in the commentaries section of the videos (figure 25). In most cases, the YouTubers answered questions posed by users or commented on the repercussion of previous videos.

Figure 23. Requests for subscriptions in the channel

Figure 23. Requests for subscriptions in the channel

Figure 24. Interconnexion with other social media

Figure 24. Interconnexion with other social media

Figure 25. Interaction with the commentaries

Figure 25. Interaction with the commentaries

Conclusion

58By employing a quanti-qualitative method, our research sought to understand the discursive regularities present in the most popular YouTube science channels in Brazil, and how such regularities help construct the discursive legitimacy of YouTubers as science communicators. By doing so, we were also able to identify how these YouTubers differ from traditional actors in the communication of science contents.

59Most of the YouTubers in our research did not choose to discursively incorporate any traditional position of the science communication field (as journalists or scientists). Although leaving aside traditional positions, they are still the most popular science channels in Brazil, which indicates that Brazilian public is more concerned about the content itself than with the credentials of the YouTuber per se. Still, in some videos, scientific authority and journalistic references are used as strategies to legitimate certain enunciates. The study of the scenographies showed a prevalence of the didactic one that places the YouTuber in the role of a teacher. Among the subgenres, the most frequent one was monologue, a subgenre that requires less production and edition than the others, and which we found in commonly used YouTube format.

60Informality in language (by the use of slang and swear words) and a relevant use of entertainment features (as humor and references to pop culture elements) were strategies that can be perceived as a way to build proximity with the YouTube public. They also subvert the common image of severity that seems to be associated with a discursive memory of the scientific field. By introducing more humorous and interesting ways of talking about science, YouTube science channels may become the main reference of science to younger audiences, which are accustomed to the Internet and audiovisual discourses. In this sense, they can work as key actors in promoting science culture and scientific interest to younger generations.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Main theme of the videos
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-1.jpg
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Titre Figure 2. Main subgenre of the channels
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Titre Figure 3. Main scenography of the channels
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-3.jpg
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Titre Figure 4. YouTubers’ gender
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Titre Figure 5. Identity position built by YouTubers’ discourses
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Titre Figure 6. Do the videos reveal elements of the YouTubers’ intimacy?
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-6.jpg
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Titre Figure 7. Constant use of slang and swear words
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Titre Figure 8. How do YouTubers present themselves?
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Titre Figure 9. Reference to pop culture/media elements
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Titre Figure 10. Images of films/TV Shows/Video Games
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Titre Figure 11. Debates about films/TV Shows/Video Games
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Titre Figure 12. Presence of soundtrack
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Titre Figure 13: Presence of humor in enunciates
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Titre Figure 14. Presence of humor in the edition
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Titre Figure 15. Presence of merchandise or brand ads
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-15.jpg
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Titre Figure 16. Publicity of products related to the channel
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-16.jpg
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Titre Figure 17. Crowdfunding and donations requests
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-17.jpg
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Titre Figure 18. References to books
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Titre Figure 19. Reference to influential scientists
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Titre Figure 20. Reference to scientific papers
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Titre Figure 21. Reference to videos from other youtubers
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-21.jpg
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Titre Figure 22. Hyperlink to other videos from the channel
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Titre Figure 23. Requests for subscriptions in the channel
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Titre Figure 24. Interconnexion with other social media
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-24.jpg
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Titre Figure 25. Interaction with the commentaries
URL http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/docannexe/image/4782/img-25.jpg
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Référence électronique

Natália Martins Flores et Priscila Muniz de Medeiros, « Science on YouTube: Legitimation Strategies of Brazilian Science YouTubers », Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [En ligne], 15 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2019, consulté le 21 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rfsic/4782 ; DOI : 10.4000/rfsic.4782

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Auteurs

Natália Martins Flores

Natália Martins Flores is a member of the research group “Communication and Languages” of the Graduate Program of Communication of the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil). She holds a PhD in Communication from the same university and made her postdoctoral studies in Communication Strategies at the Federal University of Santa Maria (Brazil). She has research experience in discourse analysis of media discourses. Courriel : nataliflores@gmail.com

Priscila Muniz de Medeiros

Priscila Muniz de Medeiros is a professor at the Department of Communication at the Federal University of Alagoas (Brazil). She holds a PhD in Communication from the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil). She has research experience in the fields of discourse analysis, cyberculture, and environmental communication. Courriel : priscila.medeiros@ichca.ufal.br

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