Friday, October 31, 2003

Another post.... Elizabeth Bishop from Qualidata at the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) visited the Sociology department on Wednesday. Qualidata archives qualitative research data given to it by researchers (though not all) who are funded by the ESRC.
Someone raised the issue of anonymity when researching vulnerable groups, say the homeless, those from minority religions, and the 'underclass'. This person said that some research participants would not want data about them to be archived when others could use the data. Elizabeth reported that anonymity must be assured and guaranteed. However, this does not attend to how much social research is 'political'. For example there are some social researchers from the neo-liberal right who may use someone's research in ways that are harmful to the whole group that was researched. Anonymity of say those from the 'underclass' who were researched may be assured, but subsequent analysis of that research may not benefit to the whole group.
One might respond that the original researcher has a veto over each release of that data, but can that researcher always know how that research is going to be used? I don't think so.
On another point, at the moment PhD researchers funded by the ESRC are not bound to pass their qualitiative data to the archive. But in the pursuit of short term 'value for money', I wonder at what point PhD students will be bound to pass their data? Funding is extremely difficult; I can't imagine many candiates refusing to pass on their data and so not starting their PhD. Of course, I can imagine many saying they will, but then don't, but the point remains pertinent.
Hi, this is my first post to the blog. I'm Steve, one of the PhD researchers at INCITE. I'm researching how people 'do' digital photography, in particular, 'branded' digital photography. Digital photography and brands come (largely) already configured by designers, marketers, advertisers and other producers and mediators, but what happens when they get into the worlds of consumers? (I don't think I've ever been so concise in describing my research....:)
Anway, I just wanted to pick up on something Sian said on Friday 24 Oct. She says that using mobile phones may make us 'less mobile' in the sense that the world comes to us. But I'm thinking of a 'rule of virtuality' picked up on by Steven Woolgar (2002): "the more virtual, the more real", which means that the use of virtual technologies can actually stimulate more real (non electronically mediated) activities. So what non electronically mediated activities do mobile phones stimulate? The world may come to us, but do mobile phones also stimulate more of us 'going to the world'? For example, when I interviewed gay men a couple of years ago, I found out that some of them had been given mobile numbers of people they hadn't met, by friends. They text messaged them, which sometimes led to meetings.

Monday, October 27, 2003

As Sian already pointed out, last week we had James Crabtree coming to talk to us about his Voxpolitics project. I was particularly intrigued by his desire to think through the potential relationships between new media technology and politics, and the whole notion of developing 'civic software'. Also I recommend you look out for the occasional debates organsied by Voxpolitics on these issues.
Steven Shaviro has an article in the October Artforum about moblogs. In fact, here it is.

Friday, October 24, 2003

22nd Oct – the writing of Geoff Cooper even makes sense now – key thing I’ve taken away is that mobile phones could make us less mobile as in a sense the world comes to us – so we don’t have to move off our backsides, and the mobile can stop woman feeling threatened in a public place because they feel that they are not alone (not that that saved the life of the Finnish student who received a call from her mother whilst she was being murdered in east London). Feel free to add anything else I missed.

Enjoyed meeting James Crabtree (The Work Foundation) – he’s an engaging communicator and it’s interesting to see that the BBC are not the only ones who’ve cottoned on to the importance of the ethnographic approach. If I use my intuition guided by research to develop a programme idea though no one’s disadvantaged and hopefully some people are informed, and entertained. If public policy is influenced by ideas that haven’t been rigorously researched or tested however then frankly it’s no wonder we’re in such a mess.
Amazed to see that others are reading these blogs and not dismissing me out of hand (academics can be a scary lot you know) – will I look back on them and feel naive?

23rd Oct Consuming technologies (Ed by Roger Silverstone and Eric Hirsch) takes me back to familiar ground. In it Colin Campbell looks at the desire for the new and how it fits into theories for fashion and Consumerism. What’s interesting is how he presents compelling arguments, then finds the flaw. I will now think of new is 3 ways (unsoiled, improved or (key to me) novel to the consumer). And I think I have a better understanding of why and how understanding people’s inner dreams and values might be key to selling (or getting them to watch) something

24th Oct – about to go out and do my first study of a family (my neighbours have kindly volunteered to be guineapigs) Adam and kris watch this space!

17th Oct – Bryman’s social research methods certainly makes the anthropological approach seem very appealing.

19th Oct – Kris has made it his mission to get me to not only understand but actually appreciate two papers written for sociologists rather than a popular audience. Urban Errands by Sarah Jain and The mutable Mobile by Geoff Cooper I’ve printed them both out, sat down with a dictionary and read them aloud so that I can’t nod off in the process.

20th Oct - oh er the papers make no sense what so ever but I did enjoy Sarah Lochlann Jain’s tale of the two woman and their lives. Bit surprised by the “choices” of Taz the New Yorker who seemed to spend all her life out and about buying drinks rather than ordering them by phone (reminds me of Nina’s story of engineers in the field telling researchers that the subjects of the study weren’t supposed to use the technology the way they did, and couldn’t the researcher’s explain that to them!).

16th Oct – What really surprises me about INCITE is how different everyone’s approach is. Many project leaders recruit people in their own image but Nina obviously hasn’t.
Sat down with Adam today for an intro to ethnography chat. (Correct me if I wrong at any point Adam) There is only one methodology in anthropology which was really first explicitly written down in the 1950’s in a historically fascinating book called Argonaunts of the Western Pacific. Genevive Bell calls it “deep hanging out” which sounds like a great way to earn a living. Wanted to see Adam in action to try and understand his approach but due to the nature of his relationship with his subjects he’s not keen. Instead he suggested I do a couple of interviews myself and he (and kris) critique them. He suggested areas and questions and in some regard it reminded me of a TV research trawl – I think I’ll be rather good at that. However the part that still eludes me is how the data will be distilled down into insights into others lives. I spent 2 and a half years living and working in the Galapagos Islands and I didn’t leave with much of a sense that I had any meaningful insights into the Ecuadorian modus opernadi.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

I see The Guardian has just announced the start of a weblog dedicated to following and discussing the US elections. As well as hearing from their US correspondents, the blog will invite discussion and debate from its readers. Should be interesting.

Monday, October 20, 2003

The Letter is a film showing at the London Film Festival which seems to be both about text messaging and to employ text messages as a narrative device. You can find details of time and venue in the above link. The festival website describes the plot: "A schoolkid splits from his classmates and heads home for the evening. Around 9pm, feeling ‘somehow lonely’, he sends a neutral text-message to a friend. From this point, The Letter shows nothing but the boy’s phone, either sitting in its recharger or brought into close-up so that we can read incoming messages and watch the writing (sometimes rewriting) of messages to be sent." Nice.

Monday, October 13, 2003

I have also had the pleasure of Attending Mary [Ebeling]’s talk outlining the results of her initial interview[s] which will form part of her PhD thesis. (Democratic Spaces, Delayed Utopia: Political Exile and Online Discourse) It’s a very different approach to the one I’m used to.... I’m a bit unclear about how [INCITE folk or sociologists in general] are able to get beyond someone’s agenda to a “purer truth” (not a term I can see any self respecting sociologist using but it’s the only one I can think of to explain) and I’m sure observing [INCITE folk] in the field will be illuminating.
Creating Breakthrough Ideas by Sue Squires and Bryan Byrne is all about why I’m here and plenty of food for thought on the BBC current change programme Making It Happen. It’s hardly easy going but plenty of food for thought on why relations between different cultures (creative Vs researchers) breakdown although I haven’t got to the bit where it tells me what the answer is yet!
Slim’s table (Mitchell Duneier) was a less easy read and I’m ready to engage you all in a discussion of why white American students seem so fascinated in studying Black Americans. ...the penultimate chapter was certainly enlightening on my approach to the world as a storyteller. I’m generally not interested in the average or normal people I look for special people, breakthroughs, extremes of human behaviour to tell stories – something that’s different and so – in my opinion- more likely to engage. I’d argue that I do attempt to get a diverse range of people on screen (female engineers, black physicists, etc) when it’s possible but Slim’s table made me think more about how I might be reinforcing stereotypes?
[As Sian foolishly or unfoolishly takes on our suggestions for what to read and what to do, in order to learn about our work at INCITE, she'll occasionally post reports here. These should provide an interesting perspective on our work, penned from the inside by an outsider who is soon to be an insider. -kris]

So far I’ve skipped my way through Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich which I found well written and insightful (Thanks Nina – it was a really good first book to give me) . Especially her “explanation” of why low paid workers often “choose” options which to the middle class seem wasteful and inefficient e.g. living in motels not cheaper flats. (Barbara points out the cheaper option often requires a downpayment or a deposit that poor people don’t have.) I guess the UK equivalent is the poor's use of pay as you go phones, which I think relates to some of Kris’ research in the West London woman’s housing centre.
For those of you who haven’t yet met me, my name’s Sian and I joined [INCITE] last Wednesday [01/10/03] with the aim of learning all about how ethnography might be relevant to TV programme makers and the programme commissioning process.

I’m a Director/Producer of Factual programmes at the BBC and (thanks to a BBC training scheme called SkillsXchange) I’ve got 6 months salary covered so I’m freed up to spend time outside my department garnering information and different approaches to take back (I’ll also be going to Mustoes advertising agency and to work on Making It Happen – Greg Dyke’s cultural change programme).

It’s been a busy [first] 3 days and a complete culture shock – I started out being proud that I’d not only heard of, but actually read, one of the books on my “reading list” – the Tipping Point. And yes I enjoyed it too – I guess the test of my time with you all will be what I think of it in 3 months time – apparently it’s an example of how not to do things.
-Sian Griffiths