Reasons for my choice
This story starts with the reason I have chosen the science bloggers group for this ethnography. I am not a joiner of groups, in fact the only membership I have is with TES, so I did some searching and head-scratching to find one. It was on reading Jen’s comments on the Holyrood Hub that this task should be enjoyable that I finally made my decision. I enjoy reading science blogs and have an RSS feed from the Female Science Professor to my Lifestream. When reading the FSPs blog I would see interesting links to bloggers she follows. This in turn would lead me to follow links to bloggers they follow and so on.
The ethnography will be formed from observation and exploring ‘…the social spaces of the Internet’ (Hine 2000); participating ‘covertly in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions’ (Hammersley and Atkinson quoted in Hine). Data has been collected from various blogs over a short period of time so at best the results will give a snapshot of life in the science bloggers’ community. The information used in this research is available publicly from bloggers sites; there has been no violation of trust. Each blogger gives a brief description of themselves and their field of work, though not in any great detail. The fields range from physiology, pharmacology, biomedical research, neurosciences and teaching to science journalism. This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Could science bloggers be said to belong to an online community? Shared interest may seem a tenuous connection to base this ethnography, bearing in mind the diverse fields of science.
My study questions are:
- Are Science Bloggers a community?
- Do users support each other?
- How do users relate to each other?
Are Science Bloggers a community?
No membership is required to join this group. Participants are world-wide and either work in a science related field or have a general interest in science. One blogger actually asked readers to say who they are, if they have a background in science and what draws them to the blog. At last count, there were 47 responses. There are no written rules, participants tend to follow the social code of good manners. No ‘one’ person is in charge but the voice of reason tends to rein in transgressors. For example, a blog about attending meetings whilst on maternity leave resulted in a few ‘husband bashing’ responses which were quelled by postings pointing out that this was not helpful. The group discuss various topics, newsworthy articles and critique work. Bell (2011) states “communities are imagined and held together by shared cultural practice”. In this respect then Science Bloggers can be termed a community.
Do users support each other?
Kozinets poses the question, “How deep, long-lasting, meaningful, and intense are those relationships?” This group are very supportive, give very good advice and follow career paths wit interest. A blogger asking for advice on writing a CV and tips on questions to ask, or that may be asked, at interviews, received a number of responses. Advice requested is usually met with quick responses. Helping raise funds for schools shows they have a sense of responsibility which transpires the group. A blog about an exchange between the blogger and a Press Officer who advised, “I think you have all you need for a blog” received a lot of responses and tweets. Support for the blogger showed a strong sense of loyalty from the community. In fact, the way they dealt with this they could be described as a ‘Bund’ (Bell). As in any community, some members form closer attachments than others.
How do users relate to each other?
The group takes a personal as well as personal interest in their community. They share thoughts and ideas; tell stories about their pets; share stories of trips and concerts; give cooking tips, menu ideas, cocktail recipes also book recommendations.. They talk about moving house, changing jobs, concerns at work – they share their lives. There is an obvious sense of friendship, and humour, as evidenced by the calaveras. Some blogs and responses are serious and some are tongue in cheek; read Colin’s response to breastfeeding in public.
Knowing the personality of an individual helps to understand the person and so to it is with understanding of a community. The culture of the science blogger community can be termed as a ‘barn raising’ community. This virtual community “ ..chat and argue, engage in intellectual intercourse.. exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans..“ (Rheingold quoted in Hine).
“An online community is a community if participants imagine themselves as a community” (Baym quoted in Bell). This group definitely see themselves as a community and I do too.
*Please also see Prezi presentation.
Bell, David (2001) Community and cyberculture, chapter 5 of An introduction to cybercultures. Abingdon: Routledge. pp92-112.
Gatson, Sarah N. and Zweerink, Amanda, (2004) Qualitative “Ethnography Online: ‘Natives’ Practising and Inscribing Community” Research 2004; 4; 179
Hine, Christine (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66
Kozinets, Robert V., (2010) “Understanding Culture Online” from Kozinets, Robert V., Netnography : doing ethnographic research online pp.21-40, London: Sage
Some Web addresses