April 18, 2007

Lit Review: Managing Visibility, Intimacy, and Focus in Online Critical Ethnography (LeBesco)

Focus: Studying communication about fat identification (on the Internet).

Method: Downloaded posts and threads, participated in the community, made community aware of her status as researcher.

Theory: Critical ethnographic approach that sought to challenge mainstream political and social discourse about fat bodies.

Points of Consideration: Changes in embodiment allowed for by the use of technology; alternative model of personhood (observing communicative processes and social interaction, as opposed to individualistic narratives); the "cybernetic shape of information technologies" as a political arena.

Questions Raised: How are bodies and identities "policed" in internet forums? How does the design of Internet space affect deployments of power?


Many of those with whom I've discussed the political and cultural potential of the internet believe that the lack of face-to-face interaction renders individuals essentially isolated. However, is it not possible that meaning can be created irrespective of time and space? That you or I could psychically connect through the sharing of information and ideas across immense distances?

Identity projection, or "egocasting" (see Christine Rosen), allows for an enormous amount of social creativity and identity play. In this arena, the body exists apart from the mind- a condition which may be extraordinarily appealing for those who undergo consistent prejudice and discrimination instigated by their physical forms.

Facebook Play

From allusions to illusions, fakery to forgery, Facebook is an arena for social performative play. One would do well to ensure the secrecy of one's password and to log out with consistency, because you (yes you!) could be the next victim of identity appropriation and warping of the most embarassing variety.

This subject comes to mind in light of today's Facebook experiences: a high school friend of mine had suddenly become a black lesbian. Also, it was apparently her birthday, and in the hour or two it took for her to realize what had occurred, several friends had posted somewhat confused birthday greetings on her wall.

This is not the first time I have witnessed this particular form of public humiliation. You have been warned.

It could happen to you.

April 17, 2007

Lit Review: Technological Environments and the Evolution of Social Research Methods (Christians & Chen)

-From Newton --> Shannon and Weaver's The Mathematical Theory of Communication
-Carl Couch: Audio and video recording of human interactions.

Internet Research Pros:
-24-hour, instantaneous access.
-Massive sampling possibilities.
-Ability to pinpoint special interest groups
-Logs of conversations.

Issues in Internet Research:
-the bias of technology: what are the optimum qualities, and in what cases is the Internet less advantageous than other media?
-the technological imperative: tendency to allow Internet technology to monopolize other forms, yet this technology could not exist with the others.

Media of communication are vast social metaphors that not only transmit information but determine what is knowledge, that not only orient us to the world but tell us what kind of world exists.

-Marshall McLuhan

-organic communities: electronic culture dislocats us from space and history. Lacking acoustical symbols, assured markers of identity, and its dependence on the offline world, the online "world" cannot be one of its own making, per se.


I would argue that online environments can indeed be historically situated, and that we are in the midst of crafting a virtual world that will come to allow for extensive and imaginative identity play. However, what is often observed online is not the creation but rather the extension of real-world phenomena. In what ways are new forms of communication and community-building being created in virtual environments (cultural appropriation, network-bridging, etc;)?

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.


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.