Enjoying “Internet Inquiry” February 26, 2009Posted by Malene Charlotte Larsen in Academic, Internet Research, Methodology.
I am reading Nancy Baym and Annette Markham‘s edited book Internet Inquiry at the moment and I am enjoying it very much. It is composed of six sections with six different questions, each of them answered by a main author and two responding authors. The book is “based on the premise that there is no recipe to getting it right, instead there are smart ways of thinking through key questions“, as Baym writes about the book on her blog.
Especially, I was intrigued by Lori Kendall‘s rather personal discussion of gender, sexuality and power relations in ethnographic studies in chapter four. Based on personal experiences, Kendall points out that “both gender and sexuality affect and are affected by our sense of self and our experience of fieldwork. These aspects of identity also interact and jointly affect people’s relationships with each other, including relationships between researchers and the people they study” (p. 116). I think this is an important point in relation to the (perceived) role of the researcher in the field and it made me think about some of my own experiences during my ethnography of Arto in 2005:
Some boys sent me ‘dirty messages’, called for webcam sex or commented on my looks. I also received some of those rather offensive sexual comments that the female users of Arto get from time to time. […] I found my gender to play a role in the ethnographic investigation and I agree with Lindlof and Shatzer that embodiment is a big part of an ethnography and one must content with ones body and looks being part of the investigation. Drawing on Warren (1988) the authors point out the fact that also in computer mediated communication the bodies of woman ethnographers affect the way they are perceived in the field and the roles and motives that are attributed to them (Lindlof and Shatzer 1998). In most cases my role and motive was perceived as the one of a researcher, but for some I was a future good online friend, a big sister, a possible girlfriend or flirt (some boys actually stated that they liked ‘older women’) or simply as an adult who would listen to them. (Larsen, 2007)
I also really enjoyed Malin Sveningsson Elm‘s thoughts on research ethics in her answer to the third question about how notions of privacy influence research choices. In her section Elm stresses the fact that public/private should not be seen as a dichotomy, but rather as a continuum. She proposes that we look at different online environments as:
- public (like open chat rooms)
- semi-public (like social network sites)
- semi-private (like intranets) or
- private (like online photo albums or private chat rooms)
when deciding to study them with or without getting informed consent. (But she does point out that some online environments (such as social network sites) do not fit neatly into just one category!) Elm goes on to discuss the imposing difficulty of dealing with ethical issues in practice and her text certainly gave me ideas for the discussion of research ethics in my PhD dissertation.
By the way, let me take this opportunity to announce that Malin Sveningsson Elm will be a keynote speaker at the PhD course on Social Media that I am involved in planning.