Title

Research Poster Session - Negotiating murky lands: methodological challenges to ethnography of internet-mediated occupations.

Location

Magnolia Room

Start Time

17-10-2013 6:30 PM

End Time

17-10-2013 8:30 PM

Abstract

While our cultural landscape has undergone upheaval, human needs haven’t changed as radically. We still need connection, involvement, information and avenues of expression, but what has changed are the myriad ways in which we do those things. Blogging is one such emergent transformative occupation which has been popular over the last decade. On the internet, blogs create a unique public-private virtual space (Kozinets, 2010) which provides multiple methodological challenges to researchers. This poster is based on some of the methodological challenges which arose during an ethnography of non-celebrity everyday blogging. As part of the ethnography, participant observation, document analysis and multiple in-depth interviews (LeCompte & Schensul, 1999) were employed to collect data. I will discuss three methodological and ethical challenges faced during this study. First is the inconsistency between what participants said and did. During initial interviews, participant bloggers framed their blogging as self-directed with their potential audience playing only a peripheral role. However, as the study progressed further, it became clear that bloggers simultaneously blog for an audience while remaining in apprehension of them (Lenhardt, 2006). Their use of the blogging software’s analytics to identify which of their posts were most popular and what websites linked to their blogs, for instance, belied their claims of self-direction. This inconsistency was a major turning point in this research, because if I didn’t include the audience in the study, the findings of this study would not provide a complete picture of the occupation of blogging. Second is about achieving a balance between the traditional research expectations of ensuring anonymity to participants and the nature of internet-mediated occupation. Given the public nature of the occupation, it quickly became evident that I could not ensure the traditionally expected anonymity to study participants especially since I intended to use available material from their blogs during dissemination of this research. While some bloggers use privacy settings and limit others’ participation in their blogs, by default, the settings of a blog are such that a blog is public and open to a limitless audience. Given the increased ease of connectivity and interpenetration of online activities, this translates into bloggers being easily identified through what was written on the blog. And the third challenge was brought out in part due to the collaborative nature of the ethnography (Lassiter, 2005) I had undertaken. As part of this research, I created a blog as a safe space to share the study’s findings with the participants and enable them to be involved in shaping the outcome of the ethnography. Though I was interested in this blog being a collaborative effort, it challenged the participants and me to rethink and renegotiate our roles as researchee and researcher. Such methodological issues though not unique to studying internet-mediated occupations, re-emphasize the need to use multiple research methods and work on building relationships with research participants in the study of occupations.

Keywords: ethnography, internet-mediated occupations, methodological approach challenges

References

Kozinets, R. (2010). Netnography : Doing ethnographic research online. Los Angeles: Sage.

Lassiter, L. (2005). The Chicago guide to collaborative ethnography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

LeCompte, M. & Schensul, J.(1999). Designing & Conducting Ethnographic Research. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press.

Lenhart, A. (2006). Unstable text: An ethnographic look at how bloggers and their audience negotiate self-presentation, authenticity and norm formation (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from http://lenhartflashesofpanic.com/Lenhart_thesis.pdf

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Oct 17th, 6:30 PM Oct 17th, 8:30 PM

Research Poster Session - Negotiating murky lands: methodological challenges to ethnography of internet-mediated occupations.

Magnolia Room

While our cultural landscape has undergone upheaval, human needs haven’t changed as radically. We still need connection, involvement, information and avenues of expression, but what has changed are the myriad ways in which we do those things. Blogging is one such emergent transformative occupation which has been popular over the last decade. On the internet, blogs create a unique public-private virtual space (Kozinets, 2010) which provides multiple methodological challenges to researchers. This poster is based on some of the methodological challenges which arose during an ethnography of non-celebrity everyday blogging. As part of the ethnography, participant observation, document analysis and multiple in-depth interviews (LeCompte & Schensul, 1999) were employed to collect data. I will discuss three methodological and ethical challenges faced during this study. First is the inconsistency between what participants said and did. During initial interviews, participant bloggers framed their blogging as self-directed with their potential audience playing only a peripheral role. However, as the study progressed further, it became clear that bloggers simultaneously blog for an audience while remaining in apprehension of them (Lenhardt, 2006). Their use of the blogging software’s analytics to identify which of their posts were most popular and what websites linked to their blogs, for instance, belied their claims of self-direction. This inconsistency was a major turning point in this research, because if I didn’t include the audience in the study, the findings of this study would not provide a complete picture of the occupation of blogging. Second is about achieving a balance between the traditional research expectations of ensuring anonymity to participants and the nature of internet-mediated occupation. Given the public nature of the occupation, it quickly became evident that I could not ensure the traditionally expected anonymity to study participants especially since I intended to use available material from their blogs during dissemination of this research. While some bloggers use privacy settings and limit others’ participation in their blogs, by default, the settings of a blog are such that a blog is public and open to a limitless audience. Given the increased ease of connectivity and interpenetration of online activities, this translates into bloggers being easily identified through what was written on the blog. And the third challenge was brought out in part due to the collaborative nature of the ethnography (Lassiter, 2005) I had undertaken. As part of this research, I created a blog as a safe space to share the study’s findings with the participants and enable them to be involved in shaping the outcome of the ethnography. Though I was interested in this blog being a collaborative effort, it challenged the participants and me to rethink and renegotiate our roles as researchee and researcher. Such methodological issues though not unique to studying internet-mediated occupations, re-emphasize the need to use multiple research methods and work on building relationships with research participants in the study of occupations.

Keywords: ethnography, internet-mediated occupations, methodological approach challenges