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PhD — Mathemagenic


This is page about my PhD research titled “Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers”. I change it once in a while, so don’t be surprised.


How to find your way around all my PhD stuff

Abstract (this is the short one; longer summary in English and Dutch)

As other social media weblogs hold the promise to change the way in which work is done. In this dissertation early adopters of weblogs are studied to provide insights relevant to introducing blogging in knowledge-intensive environments. The research focuses on describing blogging practices of knowledge workers and challenges that arise when weblogs are used in relation to work. It includes studies that combine an analysis of weblog text and links with participant observation, interviews and blogging about work-in-progress.

The findings suggest that while in some cases weblogs are used to perform one’s core tasks, the open-ended and public nature of blogging makes it more valuable for enabling work indirectly through supporting sense-making conversations, developing ideas over time and being able to tap into one’s network when needed. By describing the practices of knowledge workers who blog, this research provides a view into the changing nature of work that becomes increasingly digital, nomadic and networked. It shows the power of individual knowledge workers, who bypass existing authorities and use their networks to stay informed and to get things done. It documents the blurred boundaries between what is personal and what is professional, as well as the growing need to know how to deal with transparency and fragmentation of one’s work.

An overview

This research focuses on describing blogging practices of knowledge workers in respect to specific parts of the framework that provides a view on what knowledge work entails.

Knowledge work framework

The knowledge work framework portrays various components of knowledge work and indicates many potential contextual forces that influence it. To deal with this complexity each of the studies included in the dissertation focuses on one or more parts of the framework, rather than the framework as a whole (see the table below). These studies are complementary, rather than comparative; aiming to portray a spectrum of possibilities of blogging with respect to knowledge work, rather than identifying specific conditions behind certain practices.

Studies Parts of the framework addressed An overview
Blogging PhD ideas
Carried out in March-September 2008
A reconstruction and analysis of my personal blogging practices with respect to developing PhD ideas; focused on identifying uses of the weblog as a knowledge base, blogging practices in relation to working on a PhD dissertation as a specific task, and challenges that arise around those uses.
Actionable Sense conversation
Carried out in spring 2004 together with Aldo de Moor
Conversations A qualitative analysis of a weblog-mediated conversation in KM blogger community, focused on patterns of participating in a conversation (activity, media choice, linking) to identify conversational practices.
Conversations with self and others
Carried out in autumn 2007 and spring 2008 together with Anjo Anjewierden and Robert de Hoog
Conversations An analysis of linking patterns between and within posts of 34 weblogs written by KM bloggers in the year 2004, focused on blogging practices in respect of conversations with self and others, as well as personal differences between bloggers.
Networking between KM bloggers
Carried out in June-November 2008
A study aimed at understanding how weblogs are used by KM bloggers for networking purposes, focusing on weblog uses for developing, maintaining and activating connections with others, and the place of blogging in an ecosystem of networking/communication tools.
Employee blogging at Microsoft
Carried out in July-September 2005 together with Jonathan Grudin
Study of weblog adoption at Microsoft, focused on identifying personal blogging practices in an organisational context and tensions that arise when this personal medium is used in relation to work.

The studies combine, in different proportions, an analysis of weblog artefacts (text, links, tags) with participant observation and interviews. I position my research as ethnographically informed, as I use some conceptual distinctions and research instruments from ethnography, while only partially adopting the ethnographic writing mode.

Dissertation structure

Chapter 1 introduces the research. It presents the insights on blogging and knowledge work that shape the work, introduces the knowledge work framework and provides an overview of the research.

Chapter 2 describes the research approach in detail. It positions the work as interpretive qualitative research; introduces conceptual categories of blogging artefacts and practices; discusses choices in respect to the research methods, participation, writing and ethics; and proposes evaluation criteria for the research.

Chapters 3-6 report the results of the studies, focusing primarily on a particular sector of the knowledge work framework.

  • Chapter 3 describes the study of my own blogging practices with respect to developing ideas for the PhD dissertation as well as challenges that arise around those;
  • Chapter 4 combines two studies that look at conversations between KM bloggers;
  • Chapter 5 focuses on the networking practices of KM bloggers and challenges that arise around those;
  • Chapter 6 reports the results of a study of employee blogging at Microsoft, taking the framework as a whole to look at their blogging practices and the tensions between personal and organisational perspectives around blogging.

These chapters are organised in a similar way. They start with an introduction of relevant literature and the research approach, which includes a discussion of the specific case, methods, quality criteria and writing conventions. Presentation of the results is then followed by the discussion of them in relation to the knowledge work framework and existing research, as well as an outline for further research.

Chapter 7 integrates the results. There I present the findings across studies, discuss theoretical contributions of the research, as well as practical implications of it, and reflect on the work.

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