I’m almost five months into my research now, and starting to feel the pressure to get a real handle on what on earth it is that I’m doing, and how I’m going to do it. Finding the time to write about it here, as well as actually getting on with it, has proved more difficult than I anticipated, so I thought I’d devote this post to an update on the progress I’ve failed to write about for the past few months!
Since October last year I’ve been on a massive learning curve, and what I’ve probably learned the most about is all the new ways of approaching analysis that I’d never even heard of before, or didn’t know could be relevant to me.
So my list of interests has grown, to include ethnography, for example, which I thought was just for anthropologists immersing themselves in the life of a remote Indonesian tribe for a year. It turns out you can conduct an ethnography of sorts without even leaving your desk, when the remote community you’re interested in congregates online. I’ve also discovered a whole host of approaches to discourse analysis, and a load of cliquey acronyms to name them: MCA (membership categorisation analysis), CA (conversation analysis), and FPDA (feminist poststructuralist discourse analysis – yes, it really is a thing), to name but a few.
I’ve also been tying myself in knots with the issue of ethics. It turns out that the ethics of conducting online research is not as simple as I first imagined, which was something like this: ‘people are posting publicly… anyone can access it… so there’s no problem with me using it, I won’t even need an ethical review!’ Though there are plenty of academics who still subscribe to this view, it seems pretty naïve to me, now that I’ve started giving some thought to the actual, real people behind the data, who may not appreciate me lurking with intent, and potentially analysing the inner feelings they thought were only being shared with other like-minded mums.
I have continued to lurk, though, but with caution. In fact this week I’ve undertaken a kind of ‘pilot’ ethnography of Mumsnet, though I won’t be keeping or analysing anything I find until I’ve finalised my ethical decisions and got official clearance. This pilot is really just me making an attempt to really know my
enemy subject (see how I’m getting into the MN style? My DH thinks I’m crazy but IMHO it’s all part of being a good observer-participant 🙂 ).
The ethical conundrums have also given me a great topic for a celebratory end-of-year conference presentation, which will give me a chance to meet lots of other linguists and find out what the hot topics of research are this year.
I’ll finish with a request for your thoughts on research in (public) online communities, such as chat rooms, discussion boards and forums like the one I’m looking at on Mumsnet – especially if you use sites like this yourself (facebook doesn’t really count because your posts aren’t generally open for just anyone to see). What would your feelings be about your posts being used in social research? Are there some contexts in which you wouldn’t mind, and others in which you would? If so, what would your objections be?! Answers on a postcard please. Or you could just comment. Over and out.