Theorising TikTok cultures: Neuro-images in the era of short videos

Jian Lin*, Joëlle Swart, Guohua Zeng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Instead of viewing TikTok as a platform, in this article we borrow Dutch film theorist Patricia Pisters’s concept of neuro-images to approach TikTok as a cultural form that is deeply participatory, platform contingent, and algorithmically engraved. In the co-production between algorithms and users, TikTok becomes an enormous database and generates personalised narratives about individuals and the world onto and through its ‘brain-screen’ interfaces, which simulate our conscious and unconscious mind, and actualise the idea of creativity based on repetition. TikTok thus enables a quasi-automated cinema, whose non-stopping filming of everyday lives does not seek to reduce desires and tastes into a singular and coherent structure, but instead uncovers, releases and contains them in its vast database and interfaces, leading to a fluid and modulating categorisation of identities. It is within this quasi-automated, deeply participatory digital cinema that TikTok constitutes neuro-images, producing a distinctive experience of time, and unpredictable and unstable futures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1550-1567
Number of pages18
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov-2023


  • algorithms
  • digital culture
  • neuro images
  • platform
  • short videos
  • TikTok

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