I’ve been accepted to give a short presentation at the upcoming PGRA Annual Conference at Christ Church University. I’ve decided to focus on methodology as an anchor for discussing my research with other postgraduates. I’ll basically present my experimental methodological toolkit for studying online and offline concerns in the field as developed from my experiences in Catalonia (2007-2009). It’s only a short presentation, so I’ll just be scratching the surface. I’m not exceedingly happy with the abstract now that I read it again, because I wrote it to meet the deadline before actually piecing the presentation fragments together or preparing my PowerPoint. (I’m on a pretty tight schedule with the final two chapters of my thesis now underway, but there is some crossover between this and what I’m writing at the moment. Or at least that’s how I justified making more work for myself.)
Presenting to a wide and disciplinarily varied audience is a daunting task: How to steer clear of anthropological jargon; how to make the subject universally relevant and engaging; how to usefully unpack all the internet and social media “stuff” that I increasingly take for granted. Luckily, my topic is not really so obscure. The idea of “real” vs. “virtual” resonates with most people and we each have our chosen web habits (or distastes). Teasing out the bases of my argument in light of this will hopefully be straightforward. And anyway, these necessary presentation skills are worth the challenge. I’m certain that I’ll be looking forward to it once I’ve finished the presentation notes.
Here is the abstract such as it is. PowerPoint to follow shortly.
An anthropological approach to locating the web: methods for studying the impact of new media on- and off-line
Anthropological approaches to the Internet and new technologies are rapidly expanding areas of inquiry within the social sciences. While the existence of desktop hardware and wireless devices is self-evident, the elusive placelessness of the web has caused profound practical and analytical issues. In popular science, the study of virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft makes headlines for challenging what we know about place-based society. Such arguments have prompted field researchers to fundamentally rethink the methodologies that have traditionally been applied to ethnographic fieldwork in order to explore virtual networks and online communities on their own terms. However, online concerns are not separate or detached from offline realities. New technologies are thoroughly embedded in our everyday lives. My research adventure has therefore been to locate the Internet. I embraced traditional on-the-ground methods to bypass virtuality in making sense of the “placeless cloud” that we take for granted. How do we situate websites, Facebook, email and texting within a communicative framework that is continually evolving in crosscutting trajectories with other forms of paper, wired and wireless media? Are “Web 2.0” and “social media” anything new? Is the Internet a social tool or an ego-centric, individualizing entity? Is it bounded by traditional categories of social stratification like class, gender and geography, or does it efface and transgress them? My doctoral research, based on 15 months of intensive participant observation in a Catalan city, tackled these issues head-on with a multifaceted approach to understanding the social impact of new media in a contemporary urban setting. I present here a critical review of my methods for Internet research wherein I explored technology as a continuous aspect of physical geography and reveal key findings which proved these methods to be worthwhile.