more on blogging as a research tool

The Media Anthropology Network‘s recent e-seminar discussing Erkan Saka‘s paper on blogging as a research tool, came to an end and I’ve been trying to work some of the ideas into my research proposal.
Here is what I’m working with:

Concern was expressed over the legalities, and ethical concerns of sharing confidential information on a blog – with some arguing that all data collected must be kept confidential, and hence it would not be legal do collect any data for social research in such a public fashion. Here in Canada we have ethics review boards, which have ethical “guidelines” but not such drastic controls. But the key concern here is that such a public medium could be harmful in many cases. In my proposal I’m pushing for the benefits of being transparent with ones research at all phases (pre-proposal, during fieldwork, and during the writeup) – and for allowing anonymous responses (which might help voice criticism). At the same time, I’m taking heed of this advice and setting up ground rules for publishing “data” i collect – ie: possibly separate permission forms to share information on the blog (ie to post an interview perhaps). At the same time, I mostly intend to post bits and pieces of analysis, and ideas about the project – with less filtered notes being kept offline, privately.

Aside ethics, was the issue of ownership – if a research project opens itself up to discussion throughout the project, who takes credit for the authorship? This fits into discussions of intellectual property, publishing, and “remixing” academics. It also again depends on how the blog is used as a research tool.

Another important point was that in order for blogging to gain respectability (as a research tool) certain rules and standards must be met. At first I thought this meant, “peer review standards” but now that I consider blogging about a broader range of topics, I see the challenge such formalities would bring. Do I split my postings up into two blogs, one formal dedicated to research ideas, and another informal dedicated to… anthropology and everything? Using the blog as a research tool brings up some serious conflicts between formal and informal writing (when mixing topics anyways)… A classmate suggested I create a separate blog for research, but I really like the way Enkerli blends it all together… The media list had no real suggestions on this one – although Erkan Saka mixes messages well and says it has been helpful writing about soccer and his research. I’ll probably do the same, as I feel the diversity of topics let’s me express myself more openly.

There was also some interesting discussion about how one should engage people as a researcher – some worried that they might alienate possible informants if they exposed their work too early in the project. Clearly, this has a lot to do with what kind of research one is doing. I liked Erkan’s position that “there are of course cases that one should tactically move.” I’m not much of a tactician – I tend to blurt things out in a hot headed manner, then trust that honesty and discussion can prevail over any immediate bumps! There is certainly an element of experience needed to work all these issues out – ie: I’m still not able to stop myself from publishing rants that need deleting soon after, and RSS readers pick this stuff up so you can never really delete it – causing all sorts of embarrassment for the new blogger. But I think overall its worthwhile!

And to wrap it up, the point was made that there are different ways to blog – and some ways are more open to building conversation than others. Erkan discussed how when it came to writing his thesis, he found his blog to be an essential source to turn to. So I find it becomes a matter of striking a balance – between using it for keeping track of ideas, and to building community interest and discussion. I’ve been mixing both kinds of posts – “opinion” pieces, and “taking a note of this” pieces. Some are meant to be engaging, others are meant as yellow stickies (creating a data archive) to focus my interests later.

Check out the whole discussion here.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the new trackback!
    Thing is, I’m probably not an example to follow. Especially not for “respectability,” “seriousness,” and “formalness.”
    In fact, though I do wish to do ethnographic research on a topic related to geek culture, I haven’t used my blogs for research. If I were to do so, and I might, in the future, making it more formal than my usual writing wouldn’t sound like such a good idea, in terms of research, though it would make sense in terms of career advancement.
    What you say about transparency is not only very insightful but it should hopefully lead to a broader discussion which integrates ethics in a culturally aware frame. Saka probably understands that transparency makes a lot of sense in some contexts, but it sounds like others might have been focused on rules.
    Even in U.S. public universities, it’s possible to do research using publicly-available data without requiring informed consent. This would be “exempt” research. You still need to get it approved by the IRB, but it’s much easier than one seems to assume. In fact, some IRBs seem to be looking at exactly the kind of transparency you’re talking about.
    One would think ethnographers were likely to discuss these issues.


  2. Skimmed the PDF, watched the Mullenweg interview linked as “Possibly related.”
    Two things:
    1) Erm… Thanks for the vote of confidence on my approach but, again, I’m probably not an example to follow.
    2) The interview with (though more than a year old) brings up an important point, which I tried to make in my comment to the post about your proposal: blogging is just one of several things which can be done online. Yes, it’s the one which relates most closely to self-publishing which, in turn, can go back to well-known issues about academic publishing, copyright, privacy, etc. But blogging is pretty much just “a technology” in the sense that it’s a system of tools and techniques to accomplish a number of tasks. Blogging is fairly flexible, but it has some strengths and weaknesses, depending on the uses we want to make of it. For instance, maybe there already has been a discussion about the use of IM in ethnography or about ethnographers on Twitter/Jaiku/Plurk/SocialThing. These don’t correspond so well to the concept of publishing but there’s clearly a dimension which is about making things public. IM less so than Twitter, but still. And IM is, in many ways, bigger than blogging.Not saying that blogging is irrelevant, of course. But it’s embedded in broader contexts.


  3. Thanks for the great feedback. I understand the issues of formality, respectability and seriousness – and while you say your blog isn’t a good example to follow it has a lot to do with why one writes. Formality/respectability and seriousness are terrible ways to make things interesting, and even worse for generating discussion…

    Blogging is only one tool of many out there, but I do feel that self publishing changes the “playing field” so to speak. Other tools are equally interesting, and I’m trying to decide how much of it I can participate in. [and i hate twitter!] I’ve also removed myself from the instant messenging world, as people found me to be incredibly rude in that I never responded even though they could see I was online [I also hate cell phones). So my emphasis on blogging is certainly built around my own participation in it. [but this won’t stop me from pestering you for stories about how you are using them 🙂 ]

    btw, I’ve been meaning answer the posts you made about my mini ethnography, but they were so filled with insight I thought it deserved a well thought out response – which I’m still working on 😛

    And as a random thought, I suppose what I like about blogging is that its entirely up to the reader to chose his time to find the information and involve himself. I can write on here and not “push” it at anyone. I didn’t really enjoy writing on a email list serve for that very reason – people are busy, and I didn’t feel I could express myself well, or freely, when obviously you don’t want to “steal” peoples time (especially when I happened to write a hasty posts that I’m not happy with!!!).



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