Netnography and international / cross institutional research


This post was inspired by the post written by Maha Bali (this morning I her time) – Revisiting Impostor Syndrome. It is rather serendipitous that Maha chose this moment to write about her idea of a website here, as I was reading all about doing ethnographic research on the web and recommendations for creating a research website.

As part of my preparations for going back to school in January, I’m reading the recently released edition of Netnography: Redefined by Robert V Kozinets. I had been overly critical of his earlier book because it was so out of date. However, as I progressed through my PhD studies, I found myself going back to his work for ethical guidance on various projects. And so, I’m reading the new edition of the book in hopes of gleaning a few more ideas around the ethics of doing ethnographic (and perhaps pathographic) research involving internet-based communities.

Interestingly enough, last night I was reading the section on data collection that talked about having an “Interactive Research Website”.

The site provides opportunities to use your research interests to contribute something of value to people. Moreover, these sites are an ethical way to collect transnational and international interactional and social online data by gaining people’s full and informed consent for participation in the research in a fully honest and open way, directly tied to our legitimacy as university professors and students. ~ Kozinets (2015, p. 184)

In some ways, doing impostor syndrome research by storytelling through blog posts might actually be easier done because it is done in the public / open space. The space itself is only open to an extent. Since we are a group of people who span institutions and countries (I guess I technical span institutions and countries myself), the ethics of doing research in non-open forum is complicated. Making things open simplified things, but also silences voices. I think any approach will have its pros and cons. The silencing that might happen because we are telling our stories in the open is a concern. We can address part of that concern by allowing authors to create alternate identities. In many cases, the specific identity of the person isn’t as relevant as the story and the context of the story. However, the context of the story may be traced back to the person. There is also the need (in some cases, not all) to be credited for the work (service) that is being done by sharing the stories.

On the flip side, by telling our stories directly on the internet as a series of blog posts, our message is getting out immediately. We are immediately disseminating our auto-ethnographic data collection. I am reminded here about whether we are trying to write about “lived experience” or “living experience”? In this case, I think it is mostly about “lived experience”. We are re-telling past stories because they are stories that need to be told. There are people who will benefit from hearing our stories.

We would need a really strong policy about the types of comments we do and do not accept. We would want to allow space for conflicting ideas, but not space for personal attacks. In light of gamergate and other stories of women being digitally harassed, we know that personal attacks that can occur. We would need ensure that our policy clearly states that anyone whose comments are perceived as a personal attack on an other will be marked as “spam” and their future comments automatically deleted. This is an extreme approach, but one that I think it really important. It is really easy to allow attacks to take way more mental energy then they deserve.

One of the biggest reasons I’m in favor of the idea of creating a multi-authored blog to support this project is that it is likely the only way we will create something concrete out of our work. I’m not convinced that it is something that would turn into anything publishable in the academic sense, but it is definitely self-publishable. It will also have larger impact as a blog then likely as a book. At a later date, we could always take excerpts from the blog and turn them into an anthology.

I’ve had some experience with multi-authored blogs through Virtually Connecting. I’ve considered spawning others – but have run into the challenge of getting people to commit to writing / providing content. It is easy to say “I like the idea”, and a whole different thing to committing to contributing to the labor that makes it a success. Virtually Connecting works because we have a growing number of people who are willing to continually engage. When things get quiet for too long, we gently nudge it and it continues to grow.

We would some how need to figure out how to do that with our new site. If the 30 or so people who initially signed up committed to writing two posts – which we staggered release of so that we had new content being published on a regular basis, but also so that we were not flooding people with too much in one day. But those logistics take time and energy. Someone needs to coordinate. That role is often largely invisible, and yet crucial to the success of the site. It is something that is so much easier when it is a pet project of one or two people, and a whole different thing when it is intended to be a collaborative effort by many. Are there too many followers and no leaders in the group? How do we recognize the efforts of the leader and logistics folks, as they are likely to be publishing less on the site itself – the time they dedicate to the project is in the background?

How do we move forward?

NaBloPoMo November 2015

2 responses

  1. Rebecca Avatar

    I’m reading more about ethics and netnography now … so I’ll have another post out soon … but I’m really liking the idea of a multi-authored blog as a way to talk about this … we should try and figure out how to have a conversation about it so that all the authors can pipe in on what the site would look like … I have room for one or two more on my reclaim site … although I’ll need to reserve one domain for my dissertation project …

  2. Maha Bali Avatar

    U got exactly what i was trying to get at – and yes re alternate identities option! If we are all admin to the sote and have an extra author called “anonymous” any of us could create an anonymous post any time. It could be our own text or someone else who trusted us to do it. Sorry it took me so long to make time to read this post and respond

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