Archaeology and ethnography in weblog research
Yesterday I watched Ray Mears' Bushcraft: Aboriginal Britain. At a certain moment Ray Mears was looking at different flint tools and said something about understanding a culture via understanding tool people use. I immediately thought about a parallel with my PhD research (a hungry person sees food in everything :)
I study personal knoweldge management, but since it's often invisible (implicit, embedded or locked in personal spaces) I study it via tools (weblogs to be more specific ;).
For an archaeologist studying tools is pretty logical - there could be thousands years after a culture has dissappeared, so artefact (tools, buildings, art, etc.) is all what is left for today's researcher. In my case (studying today's "culture") "archaeology" is a good way to start, but I also try to complement it with "ethnography".
And, then I write this, I get two more associations. The first one is with the comment of Tom Erickson on Jones' Virtual settlement paper during our discussion on weblog communities at HICSS. (Jones argues against equating virtual communities with the cyber-places (e.g. IRC channel or web-based forum) they inhabit. He compares virtual community research to archaeology and suggests studying a community through artefacts of its virtual settlement.) Tom's remark was about limitations of choosing archaeology to study online communities if they are pretty much alive.
The second one is about Elijah Wright's note on BROG anniversary (Happy birthday, BROG!):
Our project, starting from humble beginnings, has been audaciously successful. We've done well at stirring up debate and discussion, particularly where qualitative researchers are concerned. [They typically don't really appreciate content analytic methodologies, it seems -- which is kind of crazy. We're reporting *what's there*, not what we *think* is there.]
I'd classify content analysis as archaeology, so my "concerns" in this specific case would be similar to Tom's comment on a general case of online communities - "archaeology" has its limitations. To be a bit more specific:
Interpreting the meaning of artefacts (e.g. inferring that link in a blogrol indicates a relation) requires understanding of a culture where artefacts are produced and there are many different blogging cultures. So, I wonder about specific interpretations of artefacts "behind" any quantitative analysis, conclusions made based on those interpretations and potential for generalising the results.
It doesn't mean that content analysis is not valuable (and BROG researchers make great contributions to the field :), but it would be nice to see reasons for choosing "archaeology" in a case of studying live culture and limitations of this choice articulated more explicitly.
And - note to myself - see also experimental archaeology
This post also appears on channel weblog research