Digital Methods Workshop, 25/10/2013 (Dullest Title Ever….)

Today I attended a workshop on Digital Methods Development: Researching Social Movements in Online Environments at CRASSH.

I’m going to reproduce my very limited notes here and try and expand on them before it all goes out of my head (in about ten minutes):

  • IC as a movement? Is in discourse.
    • The session was on social movements, with the first speaker discussing her research on uprisings and activist networks – in particular how they use social media to diseminate information about events (Dr Marianne Maeckelbergh)
    • This led me to thinking about whether the Indigo Children can be called a movement.  I do tend to introduce myself as someone doing the social anthroplogy of new religious movements, but I dont often go into how the Indigo Children might be considered an NRM, certainly something I will be picked up on.  But when it comes to the movement part of the descripter the I.C. are certainly describing themselves as a movement but they are no where as organised as the uprisigns Dr Maeckelbergh was describing, although they do align themselves with them ideologically.
  • Mobile tech changes activism. Emphasis on change from activists
    • One thing I have been keen on is not falling into technological determinism when it comes to the Internet and Social Media: I see the online space as yet another space where people can be human, doing human things.  It was interesting therefore to hear Dr M recount the importance her informants placed on social media for changing how they interact and that there is a definite difference.  I still hesitate to get into transhumanism and cyborgism, but this is something to bear in mind.
  • Being there twice, physically and then online to catch up with twitter etc
    • Dr M talked about the practicalities of working with social media and doing ethnography and how she needs to spend time with the groups she is researching but also spend time on Twitter etc finding out what they said about those events. This leads to a note I made further down about worrying about not capturing EVERYTHING.
  • Contextualization
    • Social Media needs contextualising with other textual forms and offline in order to understand what is really going on, not just relying on one textual source.
  • The environment of tweeter, reader, and the limitations and structure of form used are all at work
    • To bear in mind with contextualization
  • What kinds of connections people make or dont make (I.C. only tweets)
    • I have been looking at Tweets that only say “Indigo Children” as I curious about the motivation behind them, and I’ve been messaging the author’s to see if they can explain what they intended (a shout out, a signifier of belonging…?). In a sense, these are one way connections, pure information pushing, which might incite a reciprocal connection, or it might not…
  • Love tech as horizontal and diffuse as they are. Values overlap
    • Dr M was saying that the activists she researches love social media as their core principles overlaps with the design of the media: connecting horizontally (or democratically), open and diffuse networks. Though of course this ignores the fact that the platform is often proprietary technology…
  • Diminishing returns on twitter – too much tweeting
    • She notes how impact can be watered down, so they sometimes run a shared twitter account and votes in the morning about what will be tweeted in order to reduce ‘noise’.  Compare withe vast, unorganised melee of voices in I.C.
  • Questions force them to consciously describe what they are doing.
    • Important to note how ideas and behaviour might not be analysed prior to researcher’s questions… and answer might not be fully formed.
  • The terror of missing something important
    • I have this, all the time!
  • Slippage between contextualization and narrativation (buying into the story we are being told)
    • Hard to divine true story, but best not to assume everything we are reading is the ‘truth’
    • Contextualize one tweet to another to deal with narrativation
  • Heraclites same river twice
    • Using the following Heraclites quote, Dr Ann Alexander explained that the viewer changes and the viewed changes.  Social media formats will change and develop and even static websites change over time.

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  • “Everything on the Internet is traceable,  except when you want to find it” Dr Ann Alexander
    • A version of Sod’s Law!
  • Q of ownership and control
    • Something to bear in mind (see proprietary technology) when copying material.
  • Principal of “do no harm”
    • Should underpin research. Even when not seeking consent, or dealing with implied consent, we should seek first to do no harm. Or as my supervisor says, we should try to be good humans in our dealings with research subjects.
  • Issue of magnification in social media – IC not so prevalent offline nb free listing work
    • A small piece of information, gossip or data can go viral on Social Media and be more impactful than a small piece would be in the ‘real world’.   In the case of the I.C. my free listing work at MBS fairs has so far shown a lack of knowledge about the subject.  Its easy to conflate the large number of hits from a google search with a large offline knowledge.  I’m going to do some work with Google Trends to track the relative interest in the I.C. against more established terms like New Age.

I think I’ll leave my notes there and pick up on some of the other themes we discussed in my next post.

Popular or Scholar?

I’ve been thinking a little about writing style lately, as a paper I presented at the BASR conference has been getting some attention and I’m working it into a publishable piece.  My supervisor hasnt read the expanded version yet, but he read the conference paper (as rough as it was) and his position is that it isnt scholarly enough – that its more like an after dinner discussion point (ouch!).

This of course challenges me to rework it into something suitably scholarly, but it may well be that the argument itself is just not scholarly enough.  And my supervisor, knowing that I will be applying for fellowshios and postdocs, is warning me against publishing for publishing’s sake and not getting quality work out there that committees can judge me on. I understand his concern, but there is also something very nice about being ‘popular’.

What I do, the areas I research, almost always make people say ‘Oooh, how interesting’. Last night we had a welcome back returning grads dinner in my college and I spent a fair bit of time explaining to other grads what an Indigo Child is, how many Jedi there actually ARE, and debating the merits and demerits of the Church of Scientology (I did also find out more about nano-bots, the current trends of thought in the study of Classics, and admired rather some lovely artwork, so it wasnt just me rabbiting on!

I also think however, that working on a popular subject is a little like having your religious beliefs inspired by pop-culture.  However serious you are, and how ever seriously you take the subject, the nature of the origins of what you do can trivilise what you are doing to other more serious academics (not including my supervisor in that comment, and he may well be right!).  So maybe I need to x amount more serious and scholarly than the average academic Joe to counter balance that.  But my natural inclination is towards public accessibility and communicating what is going on in these fields in an appealing way.  My presentations often have visual jokes in them, the titles to my papers are often attention grabbing or pun-ish (e.g. my new paper is called, “See Mom it is Real”: The UK Census, Jediism and the Problem of Really ‘Real’ Religion”…). 

I may have a problem…

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