Week 3 Monday reads

This week was a harder task, especially as we’re starting to look at how things that we observe around us fit both with commercial data (audience ratings and so on) and with theoretical frameworks from research methods literature.

This can be daunting, so I want to kick off this week with a quote I found helpful, from a qualitative researcher in a different discipline.

None of us can have all the skills, or the interest, necessary to conduct all forms of research. (Laura Beres, “Critical Reflection as Inquiry”)

OK, onto this week’s blogs that I’ve found really helpful. First up, Ivan Ng suggests that ethnographic research is a good way to question what people actually do with media, as opposed to what they report or what their devices say that they’re doing. Specifically, Ivan looks at the practice of leaving the TV on “to shadow the fact that no one else is at home.” I read this and only now realised that my whole family does this, whereas I think I was raised to turn devices off like lights when I leave the room.

Eryn Sharp raised an issue that is most difficult for me at the moment. Who benefits from adding ethnographic research to quantitative data? This is very important because of the way that ethnographic (and collaborative ethnographic) research typically takes place inside the home. At the very least, it’s an encroachment on privacy.

Companies interested primarily in quantitative data could gain valuable information from such ethnographic research. Understanding the impact of media upon experiences, interactions and identities, could benefit broadcasters and advertising/marketing agencies.

Check out Eryn’s blog, as there’s a great image in there that really captures some of the conundrum of this. Who’s researching us, and what happens when we collaborate to research our own family life?

Amelia Murphy took a good look at Lassiter as a source and suggests that collaboration is as critical as ethnography here, looking at Lasseter’s example of collaboration with an informant with addiction experience. Lassiter suggests that this is of benefit to both parties, and I think this takes us back to Eryn’s issue: what makes media space research useful to the people who collaborate with researchers? How can we design research to do that, or at least check up on it?

I think Dana Said goes part way towards this, looking at the same bit of Lassiter, when she suggests that one part of the process involves really thinking about ourselves, and how we would feel to be researched in this way:

When conducting the interview, I reflected on this information and how my patterns of media use could not just be achieved through ratings or what I am viewing. Just because I use multiple media platforms and devices, does this mean I actually enjoy the content I am using? Do I associate good memories with certain shows like I discovered in my interview? How can this data only be measured with ethnographic research?

But I think we’re still not quite there with a way of thinking about why ethnographic collaborators might want to do this kind of work. This is partly because traditional anthropology or ethnography never asked these questions, but instead treated humans as research objects, even when asking them questions. Lassiter’s point, I think, is that to collaborate fully is also to collaborate in having some shared purpose for doing the research. That’s useful for us to think about.

To sum up, I think we’re clear on what collaboration with research subjects adds for researchers, especially in providing details that quantitative research tends to skim over (I’ve just read another useful post by Alison Mitreviski here that’s very clear on the kind of data that is missing a dimension if we don’t know why people do what they do). But I really want to know if we can find a way to argue for a more collaborative approach, not a researcher-driven approach. In today’s lecture, I’ll be looking at some of the things that are concerning me about the incorporation of ethnography as a tool for big tech companies.

This reflection on being a research subject as a form of data was on my mind when I read Tess Baldwin’s really left-field post on live tweeted TV shows as a form of collaborative ethnographic practice. That’s a challenge. What do others think?

Looking forward to reading more this week, and really enjoying the later TV memories posts coming in. Thank you all, this is a hard subject and we’re stepping up the pace. Don’t panic, and if you feel yourself slipping behind, just talk to your tutors, or to me or Sue. We’re all here to help, and we all know what it’s like to fall behind.

Finally, thanks to Travis, this graphic for writers:



3 thoughts on “Week 3 Monday reads

  1. Really interesting idea about live tweeted TV shows as a form of collaborative ethnographic practice. There’s definitely a shared purpose here – researchers are getting data about media use and audiences get a sense of community, opportunity to share ideas/opinions and maybe even influence the direction of a conversation happening across the country. Would this be considered an ethical research practice if you haven’t specifically sought permission from the live tweeters to use their tweets/data in research?


    • Great question! Many researchers see tweets, grams, etc, as public data just like TV shows or newspaper articles – they’re all just media to be counted as data, right? But others recognise difficulties with this approach. From an article by Highfield and Leaver (http://travish.co/1LeI3og):
      “By highlighting examples, or surfacing particular notable users from data not necessarily visible to everyday users, there is potential to alter the experience of privacy for an Instagram user (while not altering privacy at a technical level).”

      From personal experience, the University of Wollongong expects researchers to apply for approval to access and use even Tweets and Facebook posts made by governments, let alone individual users.

      Liked by 1 person

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