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  Wednesday, April 13, 2005

  Notes on my PhD methodology: reflexive ethnography

In the core of my PhD research approach is active participation, which brings me somewhere between ethnography and action research. I'm still working on positioning what I do between existing approaches, but some elements and connections are getting clear.

I study my own people. This is something that would fall into auto-ethnography category.

The shared similarities among auto-ethnographies are that, in each case, the researchers posses the qualities of other permanent self-identification with a group and full internal membership, as recognised by themselves and the people of whom they are part. [Hayano, 1979:100]

I study my own people by being engaged in something that I found called thick participation, which

implies apprenticeship and practice, natural conversation and observation, lived experience and sensuous research. [Spittler, 2001: 1]

My study is heavily informed by reflecting on my personal experiences of "participating in the life of my tribe", so calling is reflexive ethnography is another option.

In reflexive ethnographies, the researcher's personal experience becomes important primarily in how it illuminates the culture under study. Reflexive ethnographies range along a continuum from starting research from one's own experience to ethnographies where the researcher's experience is actually studies along with other participants, to confessional tales where the researcher's experience of doing the study become the focus of investigation. [Ellis&Bochner, 2000:740]

One day I'll explain properly why those elements are important, but the short answer is that the focus of my PhD calls for it.

My PhD is focused on understanding personal knowledge management through studying blogging practices. For both personal knowledge management and blogging practices there are a few of things I consider important:

  • "actor" perspective and holistic view I'm interested how different practices are connected at individual level
  • invisible and implicit nature some elements of practices I'm studying either invisible for an outsider or, even worse, implicit

In this respect my PhD is about articulating the invisible from personal perspective, so personal engagement and reflection make a good starting point. Living between others who share similar practices and sometimes even share my research questions provides a space for learning from observing their practices, reflecting on differences, testing emergent interpretations and feedback on my results.

[To be continued. I also promise to be a good girl and add proper references]

  Notes on my PhD methodology: introduction

The way I do my PhD research in unconventional and complicated. Not because I designed it that way. It just came to be. I had done some conscious choices, but most what I have today is a result of taking chances of opportunities and being passionate about my work (and my passions take me into things I would avoid if I would be good enough to make conscious research choices).

I wonder if writing this now will complicate my life in the future. I know that often working on scientific publication is constructing a view on research where actions, findings and arguments are logically connected to be defendable, while the real process is full of uncertainties, taking opportunities and building on serendipitous connections (something similar to what Dave Snowden calls retrospective coherence). So I wonder if writing this now would bite me back when I present retrospectively coherent view on my research in my dissertation.

Anyway, the jinni is out of the bottle. My blog already documents many of my methodological sins, so I'd rather go ahead and confess :)

Continued in:

More on: methodology PhD 

  Thick participation

I was pretty excited when I read this a few days ago (via pointer from one of Andrea Handl pages, but lost where exactly):

The central method, or bundle of methods, of this project is 'thick participation' (Spittler 2001), the radicalized form of 'participant observation' as brought to anthropology by Rivers (????) and Malinowski (1922, 1926).

According to Gerd Spittler 'thick participation' " implies apprenticeship and practice, natural conversation and observation, lived experience and sensuous research. Because this powerful method is time consuming it is less threatened by its critics than by bureaucratic grant restriction." (2001:1)

The project is 'open research' in several dimensions. My website and weblog simultaneously serve multiple purposes: they are my notebook, writing desk and multimedia online filing system, they maintain world/webwide communication about the ongoing project with fellow scientists, they present my project to a wider public, and -- above all -- both constitute a part of the communication and interaction with the members of "my cyberian tribe". Website and weblog accompanying the project constitute a fusion between spheres, which normally are well seperated in anthropological research: field-data, informal scientific discussion, public-relations work, and a part of the field itself. This diverse groups have access to the same dynamic and interactive material, which contains some risks: What appears perfectly sound to e.g. a game-modder may seem awkward to a scientist and vice versa. My reputation in the modding-community as well as in the scientific community may be at stake -- a fellow-modder jokingly already named me "teh intellectuale" (int. missp. for "THE Intellectual").

This is maxmode-work-in-progress by Alexander Knorr aka zephyrin_xirdal (weblog). See also list of references (re: online ethnography and things around).

Few things:

  • Nice to see that I'm not alone in bridging separated spheres :) 
  • Thick participation is something I'm going to look at. Unfortunately the reference seems to be in German.
  • It's great example of writing online. Wonder if I can find tools that would work for me - PhD wiki is a very tempting idea, but I'm not sure it would fit well between work in progress hypertext of weblog and linear documents I need for publications. I still write and edit bigger pieces in Word, not sure if wiki would be a nice addition...

  PhD invasion

Recently I try to schedule a day or two each week to work at home - on my PhD research. This is the only way to get something done: at home I feel less pressure to work on all other things (btw, it's funny how changing location changes my mind :)

As a result there are signs of "PhD invasion" everywhere in the house. Papers and books are everywehere: on the dining table where I sit with my laptop, on the desk in the study next to the desktop's big screen, on the table in the living room where I read and even "there is life next to work" bedroom books have to tolerate thick Research Methods in Anthropology that I picked up last week browsing through a second-hand bookstore.

More on: PhD 

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