I will be presenting a methodological paper in the pre-conference called ‘In the Game’, that will be held on october the 15th in Denmark, as part of the AoIR conference. It is organized by Anne Beaulieu, TL Taylor and Marinka Copier. Here is the abstract in which I discuss a few methodological topics that arise from engaging whit the blog in my fieldwork. It is based at length in the discussions and work with Anne Beaulieu.
Blogging as fieldwork
Constructing relations in the field through a blog
How to research the Blogosphere? Or more precisely, the blogging identity of a group of intensive bloggers located in Spain, a group of A-list bloggers, some of the most visible and strongly involved people in the construction of the Blogosphere. The partial answer to this question took the form of a blog, or more precisely, of a continuous blogging practice for the most part of my 18 months ethnography.
The question I want to address in this paper is how the incorporation of a blog in my fieldwork has strongly shaped both my research practice and my identity in the field. First, I will reflect on how blogging has shaped the substantive practice of my fieldwork (what I do: writing a blog, taking photos in events, etc.) and its temporal organization (blogging and reading blogs in the morning, from Monday to Friday, etc.); and second, I will address the question of how the blog unexpectedly performs me in different contexts and for different people as a blogging researcher (a researcher that blogs) or as a blogger researching (blogger that is researching). Two shifting and blurring identities that get interwoven in my blogging practice, mixing in a problematic way my fieldwork and my academic context and forcing me to try to draw boundaries between both identities.
I opened my blog at the beginning of my fieldwork; however, a few months went by before I really started to blog. Blogging meant writing almost everyday early in the morning. After arriving to my office, I read a group of blogs and wrote in mine, many times linking to what others had written in the last days. But blogging was not only about writing, it was about taking photos when attending with my informants to public events too. I took photos and recorded videos following this widespread practice among them. I opened an account in a photo service on the Internet and published some of these images.
As fieldwork progressed, blogging turned into a fundamental strategy for establishing and maintaining relationships in the field and for building rapport. This was one of the reasons that lead to introduce the blog in my research design. The blog was involved in any case in most of the relations with my closest correspondents in the field. Sometimes, somebody I had met face to face decided to leave a comment in my blog the day after we met, or decided to link it a few days later; sometimes I introduced myself just by linking to somebody’s blog and time later we met face to face. The blog was a way to permanently declare my presence in the field, to make bloggers being aware of my presence as a researcher -another argument in favour of using the blog from the begging-. As the fieldwork progressed, I could verify that people I met in different contexts were aware of my researcher identity because they knew about my blog, “are you the one making a research on blogs?” I was asked sometimes.
Blogs has been used by researchers with different functions in their ethnographies, it has been used for annotating the topics of the research and as a repository for academic publishing (Mortensen & Elvira, 2002) or as field diaries. Drawing in the concept of mediation as proposed by Bruno Latour, I will discuss that far from being just a methodological strategy or a tool to get access to the field, the incorporation of a blog into my research practice has completely shaped my fieldwork. According to Latour, “action is not a property of humans but of an association of actants” that exchange competences, offering one another new possibilities, new goals, and new functions. The question that I formulated at the beginning can be understood if we conceived the blog not as a passive and silence intermediary, but as a mediator, another actor that takes part in the research process, shaping it as it offers new possibilities, goals and functions to the ethnographer.
Blogging intensively during my fieldwork I performed myself as a blogger: “you are a blogger”, I was usually told by one of my correspondents. Blogging was my particular way for being in the field and it involved incorporating the blog as part of my fieldwork. And the blog became a space of tension between shifting identities (blogger/researcher) and practices (blogging/researching).
Blogging means in my fieldwork delegating in the blog the responsibility for representing me in the field. But once done, I lose in part control over my identity: the blog can be linked by any other blogger, can be quoted, it appears in search engines linked to different words and I become visible and exposed. I can not control who visits my blog and who comments on it. The blog becomes then not just a representation of ‘my’ researcher identity, but an actor that takes part in the performance of my identity, making of me something more than a researcher, and something slightly different than a blogger. My identity in the field results from my relation to the blog.
Two different events illustrate the tension between my identities in the field. Some researchers I already met read my blog, commented on it and discussed my articles during my fieldwork; my own PhD advisor visited and commented on my blog. I had to face the criticisms of some of these researchers that argued against my fieldwork in my own blog. It was difficult to put properly in context those controversies; for me they were academic controversies about theory and methodology that should be discussed in a different place, a workshop, a conference or whatever academic meeting, but not in the very core of my fieldwork. The danger I faced because of my blogging practice was twofold, I was taken for a blogger or a researcher in different occasions, risking my shifting identity of blogger in the field, and researcher out of the field. By questioning my fieldwork in my field, some researchers forced me to get into academic discussions and to speak as a researcher in my blog, therefore risking the always fragile identity of a fieldworker.
In other occasions, I was risking my authority as researcher exposing myself through the blog and in bloggers events where I took part. Sometimes it was not easy to demarcate my identity as a researcher. I was invited to participate as speaker in a summer course organized by the biggest university in Madrid (Universidad Complutense) because the organizer had read a quote of my blog in other blog. When I read the program of the course I figured as a ‘blogger’ and not by my affiliation to my university. I was invited not as a researcher but as blogger!
But incorporating the blogging into my fieldwork means that I am prompted to developed practices that I have not foreseen in my research design. Attending face to face events with my correspondents and following their practice of taking pictures and making video recordings lead me to make audiovisual registries (videos and photos); doing that kind of registries I perform a Blogosphere that can be photographed and not only read, a Blogosphere full of people, laptops, cameras, etc. The important point is that the use of the camera was not a methodological decision oriented to do visual registries, but the result of my blogging practice, of my blogger identity in the face to face meetings.
These events illustrate the difficulties I found to draw boundaries around my fieldwork, to keep me out of the people who were not part of my field because they were not bloggers or because they want to discuss issues that I thought should be discuss in a different context. The blog was a place full of tension between my research identity and my blogger identity, prompting contiguity between the sound and safe place of the home, where the writing task is usually undertaken, and the risky space of fieldwork.
Latour, B. (1994). On Technical Mediation – Philosophy, Sociology, Genealogy. Common Knowledge, 3(2), 29-64.
Mortensen, T., and J. Walker. 2002. Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool. Researching ICTs in context. Intermedia. Oslo, Norway, University of Oslo.