Thursday, April 14

Anne Beaulieu on blogging


[reference] Another tool, the ‘blog’[1] has been used by a number of researchers to constitute various aspects of their ethnographies. The form has been flexibly used, for a range of purposes that traditionally were pursued in different media and which addressed clearly differentiated audiences. For example, two researchers who pursued different projects both found the uses of blogging multiplying:

“The weblogs were originally used as a way to keep our focus while online, serving as constant little reminders of the topics were supposed to write about. They soon developed beyond being digital ethnographer’s journals and into a hybrid between journal, academic publishing, storage space for links and site for academic discourse.“ (Mortensen and Walker 2002)

Their blogs served not only as an annotated set of bookmarks, but also served to document the research process, and demonstrate the way the ethnographer goes about “choosing the items that interest her or that are relevant to her chosen topic, commenting upon them, demonstrating connections between then and analysing them (250)(Mortensen and Walker 2002).” Blogs become a workspace for the ethnographer.

The blog also plays a specific dialogical role for one of the researchers:

“…Torill deliberately used her weblog as an introduction to explain the research to players of games—potential informants—and let them follow the development of the thesis itself. This eliminated some of the mystery and tension related to research, and has on several occasions made it easier to cooperate with online role players: the weblog establishes an accepted online presence which proves that the researcher is real to the digital space and not just a visitor with no knowledge. An [sic] personal online presence legitimates the online researcher much more efficiently than academic affiliation, flesh-world addresses or hone numbers. To skilled online players, it’s easier to fake flesh-world personae than to maintain a consistent long-term online presence.” (Mortensen and Walker 2002, page 2501)

Like many of the other accounts of objectification described in this article, the form of communication and the use of the technology are aligned to the cultural phenomena being investigated (the blog and the phenomena studied “live” in the same sphere). The internet best speaks for itself and is best addressed via the blog, which becomes the ideal instruments for knowing about it. Such alignments are formative moves in the production of knowledge about the internet as object. The researchers argue that the value of the blog is in the exposure, to arguably a wider public, of the process of doing research: the blog’s diversions, asides, and connections show the complexity, creativity and difficulty of the research process. Blogs both help these ethnographers create the object, and make visible the subjectivity of the researcher. The blog is therefore felt to be a context and a mode of communication, a hybrid tool for making, presenting and reflecting on the object that is furthermore exposed in a new way. The alignment of the field and of (some of) the ethnographic writing, however, challenges the practices of leaving the field as the beginning of writing up (Clifford, 1997). The blurring of this boundary may have consequences for ethnographic analysis as well as for field relations, as informants might stay close throughout, and as ‘leaving the field’ will either be reinvented (ending list memberships?) or else ethnography will develop a new mode, with a more ongoing character.

The informality of this mode of writing, researching and communicating has been the object of backlash in some academic circles (though none, as far as I could tell, were ethnographic), and some scholars have reported that their blogging activities were considered too ‘journalistic’ by their peers (Glenn 2003). These protests may be signs of changing values in the wake of novel forms of scientific communication.

[1] Blog is a contraction of ‘web log’, a newish genre of web page that is usually regularly updated, written in a very personal tone and containing many hyperlinks.


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