Posts Tagged ‘Online Research’

working through divides

The internet provides fantastic opportunities to stay connected to ones interests, regardless of location. I’ve been on the move recently, and I’ve been engaging anthropologists and academics I meet using my blog as a business card of sorts. I’m not sure how well it will work out, but hopefully I’ll successfully bring some new collaborators into the mix.

I’ve found it difficult to engage non-bloggers, at least in terms of getting them to respond on this blog. I’ve been piling up offline interviews to compliment this discussion, but it brings up a huge point that there are strategies for building interest and communication and it would certainly help to refine these blogging strategies.

A few things to think about:

  • How can we get non-bloggers to participate in online, public, discussions. What stops them from participating?


Mary discusses the way conservative and liberal political bloggers rarely interact online, and how this is also the case for climate change bloggers. Most of the time opposing sides ignore each others writing. She writes,

“In a recent Public Choice (sorry, it’s subscription) article Hargittai, Gallo, & Kane (2008) studied the way bloggers interact on political topics, focusing on the interactions between liberal and conservative bloggers.  The shortest explanation of their findings is that there isn’t much interaction at all, at least not much productive interaction that leads to topical debate.”

As people pick and chose what to read, it’s easy to ignore opinions one doesn’t care for. But is this divide what political bloggers are looking for? How should we approach our writing to emphasize discussion between biased parties?  Mary’s post reminded me of one of my early research papers in the masters program, where I looked into nationalism and the internet. In it I wrote:

“Kluver writes “By personalizing news portals, web search guides, etc., the user is able to completely isolate himself or herself from issues that require knowledge and experience outside his or her own” (Kluver, 2001:5). The internet, as a civic space, allows for new kinds of discourse, but this discourse can be controlled to support and vent national sentiment, and not necessarily to work against it.  In this way the internet facilitates the division of ideas and people into “culturally homogeneous units” that never need to interact – although it can be structured to do so. “

Using blogs as a space for ethnographic research, it is an important  thing to consider. Fabian promotes confrontation as a style of conversation and inquiry, arguing disagreement and honest engagement is important. But how can we modify our approach to engage the “other side?”

I’ll attach my nationalism and the internet paper too so that I can find it later, and for those interested who have a lot of reading time. Keeping it on my hard drive is a sure way to lose it forever.

Waking up in the field

Today I officially begin a four month fieldwork period where I will be investigating how the internet is fueling change in anthropology.  Of course I’ve been thinking about this topic, making observations, and involving myself online for the past year. But not all research projects take up such an accessible topic and hence they rely more on intense and limited data gathering periods.

Traditionally I would take fieldnotes for 4 months, then reflect on (err analyze) them for a few more months , and finally write them up.  But in researching something so close to me, a field I can enter from just about anywhere, I find this divide between gathering data and writing it up unnecessary. However many anthropologists I’ve spoken to have said that the time for reflection between the fieldwork, and the final writeup was extremely valuable. So I’m going to try a compromise – I’m going to try and write it up as I go, and revise it with time to reflect.

The first chapter/vignette I intend to write up is the online debate surrounding the Human Terrain System (anthropologists working for the U.S. military). Over the next 2 weeks I will be dedicating a few hours a day to thinking about how anthropologists used the blogsphere to debate in public, rather than behind closed walls. I’m not assuming all the debate was held in public, or even the most important aspects.  I will use these observations to form a set of questions for anthropologists based on my observations.

I will tie the HTS debate into discussions of the “social field” of anthropology, looking at the internet and blogsphere as an arena, and the HTS debate as a “social drama”. This will be an experiment with Bourdieu’s concepts advocated by John Postill.

The second chapter of my research will involve a more reflexive investigation into how I am using online communication technologies to do research, and to learn about anthropology. I will talk about community and network formations.  Speaking of which, yesterday some classmates and I decided we would start up a private blog to share and discuss our fieldnotes. I encouraged everyone to start a public blog as well, but we agreed that by making a private one we could share all our field notes as we go and give each other feedback on issues we weren’t comfortable writing about publicly.

And yes, dear anthropologists, my eyes and ears are on you! No, no, I’m not staring, “I’m observing”.

dead blogs

Google’s magical algorithms turned up some interesting blogs today that left me pondering the “lifespan” of an academic blog. In discussions about blogging as a research tool on the Media Anthropology Network, one discussant argued blogging was a great tool for “apprentices”, meaning it might not be as valuable to full fledged “doctors”. Or so I interpreted the post.

As I surf the web I’ve found there really are a lot of “dead” blogs – and some really great ones too. What makes people stop blogging? Does the initial buzz wear off? Where does an academic blog go once a person leaves academia? It’s for this reason I love multi topic, free thinking blogs that move beyond academic formalities.

But give me a degree, send me out in the world, let the sun shine and perhaps offer me a beer [and throw in a few round the world plane tickets while your in a giving mood]. At that point – blogging becomes serious work. To investigate this I’ve decided to compile a list of dead academic blogs, to email their owners and ask them to allow me to interview them. [and the list isn’t growing very fast, I keep finding dead blogs that have been reborn on different blog platforms].  Is there some sort of “blog graveyard” one can retire a blog for archiving?

If any ex-bloggers come upon this page, please share your experiences. Why did you stop blogging? For you academic bloggers, how did your feelings about blogging change once you graduated? And to the current crop of academic blog enthusiasts, have you given any thought to your blogs “lifespan”?

community, the internet, and anthropology

Through the Media Anthropology Network I’ve been introduced to a wealth of information on social networks, online communities, and the troubles encountered using such terms. I like the word “community” to describe a group of identifiable people with some common relationship – ala “anthropology”. But the term community is used to describe many things, and hence using the word is about as descriptive as the word “culture” (another anthro favourite). Vague, general words that sound nice and are hard to use effectively.

In his essay “Localising the Internet beyond communities and networks” (2008), John Postill discusses some of the problems that a reliance on these words can bring. He brings up the work of one of my teachers Dr. Amit, writing:

“Amit cautions that expressions of community always ‘require sceptical investigation rather than providing a ready-made social unit upon which to hang analysis’ (2002: 14). Relying on emotionally charged, bounded notions such as community (or diaspora, nation, ethnic group, etc) is unwise, she adds, for there are numerous sets of social relations that cannot be brought under these banners.”

I often say I’m looking at the online anthropology community, but in my proposal I tried to steer clear of such a description, opting instead to focus on problems (and questions) rather than people and places. I think by leaving the “field” vague, I can use the term community in an unbounded sense. But Postill suggests some other terminology which I am happy to use but am not quite sold on their advantage:

” One advantage of field is that it is a neutral, technical term lacking the normative idealism of both public sphere and community.” [referring to social field]

Why I like the word community is, it will make sense to tech savvy internet users caught up in “2.0”. The community in this sense is the users, the authors, and the relationships in between. So its pretty vague, and has no sense of being bounded or coherent. I also have concern that using concepts like “social field” might bring unnecessary jargon specialist vocabulary – and probably I don’t quite get the difference yet. Is it mostly a matter of semantics and translation?

Postill writes:

“As I have argued earlier, community is a vague notion favoured in public rhetoric, not a sharp analytical tool with an identifiable empirical object. Amit (2002: 14) puts it well: ‘Invocations of community… do not present analysts with clear-cut groupings so much as signal fields of complex processes through which sociality is sought, rejected, argued over, realised, interpreted, exploited or enforced’ (my emphasis).”

I admit I’m a fan of public rhetoric, but I’m also a fan of Bourdieu so I’m happy to go either way. I’m pretty sure I need to read this article some more to understand what other differences such definitions bring. Can I use social field interchangeably? At that point, isn’t a “social field” just as problematic a concept:

“As I have argued earlier, social field is a vague notion favored in anthropological rhetoric, not a sharp analytical tool with an identifiable empirical object.”

I wonder if any of these terms can be used without a great deal of contextualizing. [And I haven’t had time for this essay to sink in, but I find that when I post ideas on this blog, I can’t stop thinking about them, so heres to thinking]

Some key distinctions discussed in Postill’s essay:

  • Social network analysis overemphasizes relationships at the expense of social other forms of capital (Thanks to Dr. Postill’s corrections below!)
  • Postill argues interactions do need to be taken into account, and can be worked into Bourdieu’s concept of a “social field”. [aka finding a middle ground]
  • Kinds of sociality – how do we describe the networks/communities/field I’m engaged in. [do I need a general concepts for this? I wonder if the bigger problem is trying to get around writing context by using generalizing concepts for sociality].

Apologies to Dr. John Postill, as I’m sure I missed a lot of important points, but thanks for a constructive essay discussing issues with the terminology and approaches. He brings up more discussion surrounding the essay on his blog.

A Call For Feedback! (a research proposal)

Dear world,

With the guidance of Dr. Forte, I am almost finished my thesis research proposal. I am trying to build a more collaborative research framework using this blog to generate feedback and as a place to let people know what exactly I’m doing – so if you have time, check it out and voice your concerns and ideas! This written section compliments the presentation I created earlier, and the two together form my research proposal so far.

Thanks to everyone involved, especially Dr. Forte, for having put up with unending delays, whining, bitching, and other lovely unprofessional behavior. The workload over the past semester has been excruciating, leaving me feeling a bit demented. Hopefully such dementia hasn’t infiltrated my writing too much – although evidence of it certainly exists on this blog!

Edit #3 – added more bibliographic information, and brutally deleted and edited incoherent sections. You might as well start here, although I feel I may have cut too much – I wanted to incorporate more about “decolonizing anthropology” but since I hadn’t worded it well, I nuked it. It may make its way back in.

Research proposal draft beta 0.4 (lots of editing, deleting)

old versions

old research proposal draft. (with more about decolonizing)

And if you do take the time to leave some feedback, I will certainly do my best to incorporate it into the research. So please contribute (and by doing so you can say you contributed to the success of using a blog as a research tool! check out Erkan saka’s paper linked on left side of his blog)


Owen Wiltshire

An Incredible Research Tool

Dear World,

I present you a revolution in my bibliographical skills. Nothing has bothered me more than having to reproduce bibliographies from some unkept format, and being forced to put it into a proper one. This always happens to me when teachers give reading lists, which have some bibliographic info, but not all. Anytime I reproduce the format given on the reading list in my bibliography I get the big red mark.

Sometimes I get the feeling it is done on purpose. Keep all bibliographic information in some format that needs to be reworked every time you use it.

Zotero is a fantastic tool for pulling bibliographic information from online databases. Its also open source, and it works with most databases i’ve come across. Other great aspects are: it runs inside firefox, so you click on a simple button when you are on the page (say an anthrosource article). Zotero will copy the bibliographic info, let you attach notes and even files,.

Check it out at: