April 15, 2007

Lit Review: "Seeing and Sensing" Online Interaction: An Interpretive Interactionist Approach to USENET Support Group Research (Walstrom)

A third-person observation cannot uncover the invisible bonds of connection that motivate people to interact with and feel responsible toward one another, particularly in sensitive cases in which anonymity can provide the comfort needed to become uninhibited with others, such as support groups. Traditional ethnographic methods may work for some online groups, but an interpretive interactive approach of forming an emotional connection to the participant may be essential to understanding her processes of sense-making.

In this study, the researcher was obliged to also have undergone the experiences of those in specific support groups, allowing both a third- and second-person position (analyst and participant-experiencer). Her own participation in an eating disorders support group yielded three central tenets: the formation of a public, group narrative to serve as a collective resource, discursive practices such as politeness to serve as protection of individual/group face, and the co-construction of eating disorder identities.

Social Constructionism: "the self-other dimension of interaction"- all cultural meanings are co-constructed.

Rhetorical-responsive Approach: Seeking understandings of "living utterances"

Interpretive Interactionism: Attending to the everyday experiences (feelings, actions, meanings) of interacting individuals.
-Researchers must make interpretive processes as public as they can, as well as the multiple methods employed.
-Micro-level: Local meanings to illuminate the inner lives of partipcipants.
-Macro-level: Connecting these micro-lvel findings to the poicies or institutions that can affect them.
-Rejects generalizations, positivism

In this study, the mainstream discourse of objectifying, pathologizing, and trivializing the experience of those suffering from eating disorders is problematized by fully representing the visceral experiences, competencies, and emotions through an interpretive interactionist approach. The approach was also feminist in nature, contesting the scientific discourse for its inability to recognize the authority of women in describing their own experiences. This merging of methodological approaches enhances the rigor by expanding the scope of inquiry into shared experiences.

Grounded Theory: Locating a core category for organizing the vast numbers of responses generated by a group and coding the actions and experiences in written accounts. For example- a category used in this study was the frequent and systematic tendency to personify the eating disorders ("the monster within"). This tendency can be invoked in a variety of situations, which were also coded (eg; introduction, ephiphany, cry for help). Can reveal much about the co-construction of identity.

Conversational Analysis: Noting what is displayed as salient in the structure of one's talk. Some things that are examined are the rules governing turn-taking, normative responses, use of genre (public narrative)

Discourse Analysis: Includes critical discourse analysis- critique of the hegemonic and institutional forces at work in local interactions. Also self-other positionings, responses to emotionally-charged displays.

Online Interpretive Interactionist Approach
-Self-presentation at introduction of link to group, sharing the dilemma/discourse.
-A feminist communitarian approach reflects the researcher's shared emotionality with paritcipants, research that will make a difference.
-Benefits: 1. representing participants' own voices validated their perspective, 2. thick description of shared problematic experiences enhances self-understandings, 3. critique of dominant discourses that affect the participants' potential for change.

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Unlike this study, I am not seeking to uncover particularly sensitive issues. I am interested, however, in the formation of relationships with participants in order to understand more empathically, as well as challenge dominant discourses (such as predator threats, grand delusions of privacy, inability for computer-mediated communication to evoke tangible responses/form true social bonds, meeting of strangers, etc;). It will be important to examine the priority that individuals themselves place on online interactions, thus the first segment of my methodology will involve asking participants to articulate their own experiences in written accounts (through internet-based surveys). The accumulation of a large quantity of written data will serve my aim in categorizing experiences through the lens of public narratives and shared emotional displays.

Also, rather than "recruiting" subjects, I will be posting information about the study, as well as a link to the online survey(s) on public message forums, through which individuals will be self-motivated to participate. In addition, I will be evoking an interactionist approach through engagement with others in public dialogue spaces, such as message boards and group forums.

2 comments:

Janaina Minelli de Oliveira said...

Hi Jenny! You have a very interesting project. I'm beggining to work on online interaction, researching expert/lay identity construction in blogs about the sea urchin. When I began looking for information, I realized online interaction was a new world... As a web visitor you don't imagine there is so much literature about this theme. Well, I felt overwellmed, but then I began studying and I'm now trying to live this world in first person, as you said in the review. Hope to be in touch with you.

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