Interview Tactics

Much like Yuliya, I also found it difficult to address the “So what?” Obviously it's an issue that I feel matters, and since then I have thought about clarifying certain aspects of my larger question.
I am trying to tie the subject of ethnographic approach to my own interview approach. I admit that I'm a fan of the interview method- as Luker points out, I believe that resurfacing patterns of opinion amongst a substantial number of individual interviewees lends a lot of credence to research and suggests broader social implications. I was initially considering conducting an epic mixed method approach, complete with hundreds of interviews and thousands of surveys. Wouldn't that have been awesome?
Interestingly enough, I'm conducting an interview today for another class I'm taking! My main concerns are 1) to make the interviewee as much at ease as possible 2) to ask appropriately open-ended questions, and 3) to document the findings as quickly as possible (as Luker urges us to do). I am also considering using Luker's reverse-psychology tactic of asking intentionally leading question in order to illicit clarification – although I would have to justify this method to the professor. Shaffir notes that the idea of removing political views of the researcher is a “facade.” As such, in my own interview I will attempt to remain as receptive as possible, and then follow-up with a reflexive approach.

I'm an ethnographer and I didn't even know it!

Ethnography. I've gone from never really hearing the word before to it permeating my weekly readings and discussions. This word has popped up in all four of my classes, it must be important. I come from a humanities background, where personal research was not forgrounded or necessary to get one's degree (in my personal experience). Ethnography was a method reserved for those in anthropology or social sciences, those studying actual people...where as I felt I was just investigating the artifacts or output created by people. Now I see that this was kind of a silly distinction that I made up in my head. I saw studying belief and studying action as divorced from each other. However, as Luker points out, that when belief and action are combined we get 'pratices' and this is what good ethnography studies.

In December of 2006 I began on my own ethnographic study...without even knowing it. Like many fresh graduates from university, I was unsure what to do, so I moved to Asia. I situated myself in a small town named Hualien in Taiwan to be an English teacher. Admittedly, I was very much overwhelmed at first. Reading Luker's explanation of living in a different culture actually made me laugh out loud, because it was so true. Everything was a puzzle, I couldn't read, write, speak or listen. I never ended up getting a bank account, because it was too confusing. I had local friends, but I still lived completely on the periphery and was recognized as an outsider just by how I looked. Obviously, I was not aware that I was doing an ethnographic study so I didn't keep field notes, but I did keep a sketch book and a journal where I recorded my thoughts about my life there. After living there for almost a year, being 'let in' to the culture to a certain degree, I believe that I can say I know a very minute bit about the Taiwanese small-town practices. In retrospect I wish I would have paid closer attention instead of just being in awe. It would have been interesting to study more of the subtle practices, rather then just the big obvious ones. For instance, I was the only foreigner working at my school, it was unclear to me how authority worked there. I was told in a very round-about way if I was doing something incorrectly. Using ethnography to study power structures would have been really neat (and probably have helped me out, as I was confused most of the time).

Using ethnography to study library and information science seems like an odd fit at first glance. But if you look at both libraries and information as the products of practices or entities in which particular practices happen, ethnography seems like a logical method of study to use.

Playing digital games after writing a SSHRC proposal

A perspective on the SSHRC proposal: I am afraid that in my proposal I didn’t answer the question “So what?” for the reader. Things discussed in it seem so obvious and connected, flowing from each other: (i) computer games are fun, (ii) work usually lacks this property (not that people don’t like their jobs; simply tasks they may have to conduct at the computer are not always exciting, engaging or providing possibility for personal growth), (iii) games have specific mechanics that are considered to be reasons of fun, and fun at work that doesn’t exclude work itself is a benefit for employees and consequently for organizations, (iv) why not to apply those game mechanics to work and observe fruitful results of work becoming fun? It is simply saying and it is all their but I am not sure that these ideas in proposal are fully interconnected to justify a proposed research, mainly because I somehow focused more on games than on work: was it the right focus for two pages or not?.. Also I now intend to reexamine my methodology and add more studying of context, documents, history of the organization or department (considering where to put boundaries will be a tough job, I guess). It is all under the influence of INF1003 course materials on interpretational research; I only have to figure out how to apply it to small scale research without luxury of several years to conduct it.

From doubts and intentions to pleasant thoughts. I was intrigued to hear a discussion at the lecture about digital games (it isn’t hard to guess why, if you’ve seen a glimpse of my proposal above). I have to admit that I’ve never reviewed literature on game violence research and found it insightful to learn about biases and politics involved that are especially distinct in observation: if games can aid in learning and teach good things, why simultaneously they will be considered absolutely neutral in regard to teaching bad things. My new, general, and probably greatly biased thoughts on this account are as follows.

I am conscious of the nature of skepticism in that observation, but can remember only very-very few games that actually “teach” bad things, meaning encourage them. If violence is present in games but is punished or regarded as a disgusting act (what is mostly the case; even if you chose “bad” path in the game, you don’t get attractive results or tapping on the shoulder; if you find destruction and tears, and pure power attractive, isn’t it your nature? if the game gave you a choice, isn’t it your choice? but I digress...), than game can mostly teach things about punishment and violence’s disgusting nature. At the same time people put a great effort in designing good teaching tools, and research, and debate a lot on how to do it; so, if we consider that violent game teaches violence, we can, with every reason, reward its game designers with PhDs of psychology and education. ...And on the other hand we have “susceptible” child’s psyche (“bad” path is easier, I always follow it in games, let me try it in the real life) and factor of getting used to things (there are so much violence on the screen, I can easily stand one more case in the real life) that are themselves full of contradictions. On the grounds of my opinion (sounds even too academically :) ) I would suggest that maybe researchers don’t need to learn so diligently from each other — those who study games as violence promoters and those who study teaching tools in the form of games — but rather apply their research methods to see how games do as right-things promoters and games as a form of having fun, respectfully. In my view, these studies differ greatly and the term “teaching” has to be used cautiously, that is why in one of the cases I chose to use “promotion”.

Last-minute observations

My initial crisis with the SSHRC proposal was that I felt it covered too broad a topic. It also seemed to me that a large-scale, mixed method approach (while ideal in my opinion) would be completely unrealistic for small-scale research. To remedy the situation, I reduced the scope of my research to a relatively small, specialized population.
I felt that a semi-structured interview was the most “suitable” for the kind of qualitative research I was thinking of. However, as a result, I feel that I'm in a position where my potential findings could be interpreted as “lacking generalizability” or, as Luker puts it, “spurious!” For a long time I was questioning whether or not it would be a struggle to draw greater implications from the potential research results, but I think addressing significance and specifying questions helped to alleviate that fear.
For me, the theme of the Kline article seemed to be that research is interpreted differently depending on the audience, and can be rendered subjectively insubstantial through this process. It seemed quite relevant to the concerns I had about my SSHRC proposal, because my topic also deals with legal battles around media freedom!

(Re)shaping the question

My primary area of interest – other than archival studies – is English literature, and in particular Shakespeare and the English Renaissance. When writing my research proposal, the greatest difficulty that I found was how to articulate my interests, which are literary (and therefore belong more to the ‘humanities’ school) in nature, within the framework of the social sciences. In particular, the methodology section was confusing, as I am used to thinking of ‘the method’ as simply reading a text, thinking about what the work says, researching the criticism that has been written about the work, and then attempting to contribute to the scholarly tradition with my own analysis. I thus found myself having to think of how the project, originally entirely theoretical, might have some practical applications which could be researched and established through a more ‘sociological’ approach.

Overall, however, I found the experience of writing a SSHRC proposal extremely rewarding. In particular, it helped me to refine my interests and general objective. I will try to use this approach again (if I am ever put again in the position), when I write literary criticism. By thinking of how my analysis can be applied to practical, real-world questions, I should be able to present my work in a more convincing shape.

Interpretive research

In reading (most) of the Kline article, I was reminded of my undergrad that I did in theatre and film studies. Audience research was often referenced, but I remember profs complaining that there was never enough audience research and it was never conclusive.
Then I was reminded of my research proposal that I had just completed. It is essentially a bastardized (can I say that?) version of an audience research study. I'm looking to see how internet usage affects the identities of 36 women, comparing digital natives with non-digital natives.

I know that internet usage is exponentially more interactive than passively taking in a film or tv show, but there is still individual meaning-making going on. My aim, to look at the diversity of reponses of two particular groups to one cultural artifact...the internet, is similar to that of audience analysis. And I'm using a survey, focus groups and interviews with participants to inform my research, which are all methods of audience analysis.
Some of the complaints against these methods are that they are overly 'interpretive', and...well...they are. But how else can you measure feelings and responses? Some things just aren't easily quantifiable, that's why the 'media effects' debate that Kline investigates is still raging, it's impossible to directly link personal meaning-making with generalized causal effects.

So how can I make my study seem more substantial than me just asking 36 women about their feelings? Luker comes to the rescue, as she often does, with the suggestion that we can choose a sample "in such a way that logically, if not statistically we can generalize to some larger population" (pg. 125). While my particular study will not yield results applicable to the world as a whole, it would not be unsubstantiated to say that it may be generalizable to technologically active women in Toronto, Canada, maybe even North America. There is no reason not to believe that the 36 women chosen at random from around Toronto are not typical of the rest of the country. This puts the onus on the critic to disprove that logic...which comforts me.

Visual Research

On last Friday, I had attended Visualization Workshop organised by Eleonore and Jennette which was based on Gauntlett’s visual sociology methods. We built clay models of our research idea and explore with each other. This exercise facilitates more abstract thinking and more direct communication. Our research work is to develop a system for clay modeling supporting ways of interaction that are easy, intuitive and pleasant. Clay modelling helps to express our response and exchange of verbal information. It was interesting to see different approaches used to specify the visual research. This led to attempts to clarify, reframe and explore the research.

Visual Research is a wide variety of technical and creative expertise.Visual Research features a powerful blend of talented people and the latest technology allowing us to bring a compelling visual style to each project while maintaining the highest levels of reliability and security.Visual Research has been researching Internet traffic virtually from the beginning. The tools available for analysis today are very advanced and can be customized to detail every movement.

Online Research Methods

My research idea prompts me to conduct a considerable amount of my research work via the internet. Therefore keeping with the various discussions going on regarding various methods I decided to write about this special but increasingly important and interesting form of researching.

Internet has facilitated and arguably stimulated a trend towards research by ‘ordinary’ citizens (though there remains the need of learning social research methodology); just like it has made possible expressing individual ideas, developing new software, creating a new culture and so on by the masses. Online research methods are gaining popularity by the day even for professional researchers and it surrounds the process of researching in, on, and through the internet. “One of the striking things about online research methods is their versatility and their range. Researchers from many disciplines, with varying methodological preferences, deploy a wide range of online research methods to an impressive variety of research problems” (Lee However, a research design has to be constructed that would help in generating reliable and valid data. There are various kinds of Internet or online surveys like web surveys and email. Virtual ethnography concerns applying ethnographic approaches and sensibilities to the study of online environments looking especially into the economic, social and political contexts within which online activity takes place. Blogs, networking sites, online interviews and focus groups can all provide channels to looking into such multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The internet also happens to preserve and provide an access to a large amount of data being archived in data sources of a size and complexity impossible for any one researcher to assemble on their own. Digital traces left behind by our electronic interactions are just one of the ways in which data is being created and it is very much an ongoing process. The huge archival resources of information on the net are not fixed, time-bound, geographically limited; are contributed/distributed by multi-user; and valuable to researchers from a wide variety of disciplines and interests. There exists a large volume of software today for developing, conducting and analyzing the data in the semantic web, for mapping networks and examining network properties, for data warehousing and data mining and other technologies, techniques and procedures. Keeping in mind the ethical implications of technological change especially privacy and confidentiality the internet with its ever growing repository of information and data has emerged as having a singular potential for ongoing social research.

Adapted from “The Internet as a Research Medium” by Raymond M. Lee, Nigel Fielding, Grant Blank.