Session 2 – Innovative methods in the study of Digital Communities


Claire Förster

Title:

Sensing the Digital.

Abstract:

What does it mean to be touched…moved…affected…by something one cannot put one’s finger on; be it a proverbial one?

The presentation herewith proposed problematises a potential marriage of Digital -/ and Sensory Ethnography, with a specific focus on methodological and conceptual research implications. It is enquired how emplacement, embodiment and sensory meaning-making processes can be researched and might play out in ‘digital spaces’. As suggested by Pink and others, a phenomenological and more-than-representational approach frames this research-endeavour.

Since such propositions have been articulated before, what is to be specifically reflected might broadly be classified as ‘self-representation practices’. More concretely, the suggestion of interactive, relational, contingent ‘knowing’-practices that constitute and coincide with embodied, emplaced, sensory experience is invoked to elucidate how internet-users experience and express emotion(s). Both practices are conceptualised as culture-specific; simultaneously collective and individual, as well as intimately bound up with one’s perception and interpretation of: one’s ‘Self’, the environment in and with which one interacts, as well as the assumed perception and interpretations ‘others’ have of oneself.

Whilst it is suggested that the multi-scalar, multi-dimensional embodiment and emplacement of internet-users – that are simultaneously non-virtual, acting, emotional beings-in-the-world – offers multiple gateways to people’s (sensory; emotional) experiences through SE, it is also proposed to see the interlinkage of virtual and non-virtual spaces through an ‘affect-/‘ or ‘emotion-lens’. Interactions of digital and non-digital bodies therefore require ethnographic scrutiny for their sensory qualities, as well as discursive and affective capacities or potential they comprise. Their correspondence with identification-categories like Gender will be critically considered attributable to an understanding of ‘bodies’ e.g. through their relationship(-formation capacitie)s. Questions are raised as well about the affective potential of all to be ‘perceived’: colours of the cyberspaces; appearing bodies therein that extend beyond but include the discursive; interfac(e-interaction)s; emotional reactions to data(-absence).

Bio:

Since this is not a platform to make myself look appealing to woo you, but simultaneously not a bone-dry account of my trajectories through time and space, I will try to keep it short and simple – the bare basics, which will still leave enough gaps in the narrative for you to ask substantial questions, if desired. My country of origin is Germany. As a matter of fact, I am of the rare breed of born Berliners, who actually survived over 23 years in the city to witness its changing faces and facets. Despite my love for the German language and (self-acclaimed) proper grammar-abidance, I’ve always been a keen Anglophile. This probably influenced my decision to go on an ERASMUS exchange to London in my second year of studying ‘Social and Cultural Anthropology (major) and Political Sciences (minor)’ at Berlin’s Freie Universität. In all honesty: I had chosen my subject of study, because the title looked fancy and I just really wanted to study. As an anthropology student at Brunel University, though, I totally found and reaffirmed my passion for stubbing my nose in other’s people’s business. So, on I went. My BA in SCA had topical foci on Gender Studies, Muslim Communities, Conflict studies and Political Anthropology. ‘Consequently’, I opted for a master-level programme in Aberdeen, called “MSc Sex, Gender and Violence”, before applying for my PhD in Human Geography in Swansea. I am still an anthropologist at heart, though – very intrigued by notions of subjectivity, subjectification, knowledge-production, power-dynamics – especially related to language – (confessing Foucault-invoker in random conversations), bodies and the eternal ‘structure versus agency’-debate. What else is important? My favourite colour is teal.


Jane Harris

Title:

Ethical dilemmas: examining the role professional YouTubers play in young people’s health behaviour and identity in the UK.

Abstract:

Background: Social media is an increasingly important source of health advice for young people but their ability to evaluate the quality of this advice varies and is socially complex. Professional YouTubers are one such source of health advice. There are 147 YouTubers in the UK with >1 million subscribers who are free to share health related content with a large audience of young people. YouTubers could be a relatable source of health advice for young people as a magnified version of their own networked public lives. Currently, there is little research on the health information contained within these videos or the influence this has on young people’s health behaviours.

Methods: This mixed methods PhD combines three stages: questionnaire with young people, a netnographic study of YouTube and follow up focus groups, and semi-structured interviews with professional YouTubers.

Findings: This presentation will discuss the preliminary findings of a survey with ~950 school pupils aged 13-18. The findings explore YouTubers’ role in the communication of health messages and their influence on health behaviours. In addition, it will consider some of the ethical dilemmas encountered in the research design including: seeking consent from young people recruited online, verbatim quotes versus paraphrasing and the public/private nature of data collected from YouTube.

Implications: Across all research disciplines, researchers are increasingly turning to online methods. However, existing methodological frameworks do not always easily translate across online platforms and YouTube, in particular, remains under-researched from a health perspective. In addition, ethical decision making in online research is complex and not always given sufficient attention. This presentation aims to present some critical reflections on these methodological and ethical challenges.

Bio:

Jane is a first year PhD student at the Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University. Her PhD explores the role that professional YouTubers play in influencing young people’s health behaviours and identities in the UK. It is a mixed methods study which combines questionnaires, netnography with follow up focus groups and semi-structured interviews. Prior to starting her PhD, Jane worked as a researcher in public health and has worked on a number of health related research projects with young people focusing on sexual health, alcohol use, substance use, mental health and wellbeing.


Sandra Hoelbling-Inzko

Title:

Researching digital communities with sequential-analytic methods: Strengths and challenges.

Abstract:

In my doctoral dissertation, I am researching how the construction and transfer of knowledge is achieved interactionally on a Q&A-website. The study focuses on data from the bilingual Q&A German Language (part of the Stack Exchange network; https://german.stackexchange.com/) and applies a genre-analytic approach that uses mainly conversation-analytic methods.

Quite different from the MUDs and MOOs that have been studied in the early days of virtual commu¬nity research, most of today’s online communities use social media with sophisticated technological possibilities which challenge how we think of and apply research methods. German Language basically looks like a forum: It consists of threads that start with a question followed by answers and optional comments. But every user can edit (or at least suggest edits to) every other user’s post. This fact im-mensely complicates the reconstruction of the interactions’ sequentiality which is one of the main aims of conversation-analytic approaches. It also complicates the reconstruction of who the authors of a post are. Another phenomenon that exacerbates the interpretation of the interaction on German Lan-guage is gamification. It occurs in the form of points (‘reputation’) and ‘badges’ and it is quite clear from previous studies that the accumulation of points is an incentive for participation in this and similar communities.

So far, I have been able to find out what the editing does interactionally, how humor is applied or what role time and temporality play. Q&As are used by many as a knowledge resource. Therefore, it is nec-essary to understand how users make themselves accountable as experts or knowledge seekers in these environments and what skills users need to have. Considering the complex socio-technical infra-structure, it is equally necessary to construct research frameworks that allow the integration of ideas that go beyond defined methodological convictions.

Bio:

Sandra Hoelbling-Inzko studied paedagogy and cultural science at the University of Klagenfurt where she now works as a Pre-Doc Researcher at the Department of Cultural Analysis. In her dissertation, she is asking how the communication of knowledge is organised in a Q&A-website. Her main research interests focus on online communication, the sociology of knowledge and qualitative research methods.


Dave Riley

Title:

@SouthAsia71: Engaging a Digital Community and Collecting Data.

Abstract:

The twitter account @SouthAsia71 is a public engagement project that posts a combination of raw archival documents, self-made info graphics and referenced material from secondary sources to tweet about the events that led to the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. Since beginning in December 2014, the account has used material collected over the course of a PhD to attract over 4,000 highly engaged followers. During five days in March 2017, the account received 1,700 retweets, 1,300 likes and over 10,000 profile visits. Individual tweets have repeatedly reached more than 20,000 unique twitter users. Replies to tweets include range from strongly partisan proclamations, interesting and insightful thought, to contributions and suggestions for future tweets, to expressions of disbelief in the data presented. @SouthAsia71’s tweets have also often sparked debates/arguments between other twitter users. Geographically the community of followers comprises 40% from India, 20% from Pakistan and 5% from Bangladesh, with the remainder coming from other countries, notably the UK and the US. All of this data is collected via google analytics, and is potentially available to study. As a researcher that disseminates work using digital technology rather one that studies it, I would like to begin dialogues with those studying “the digital” and explore avenues to future interdisciplinary collaboration.

Bio:

Dave recently completed his thesis at UK-US Relations and the South Asian Crisis of 1971 at Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics. He has written about his twitter account @SouthAsia71 for leading open access journal E-IR, and travelled the country speaking about the project. He is currently working on Project Twitter, an initiative run by the Law Lab research centre designed to allow academics to easily share their work.