Ethnography

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.

Study Questions

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.

Conclusion

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.

Bibliography

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

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/network-central/about.php?author=11

http://dr-becca.blogspot.com/2010/12/11th-hour-pre-interview-freak-out.html#comments

http://embargowatch.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/how-to-demonstrate-youre-not-about-transparency-and-piss-off-reporters-as-a-pio/#comment-1527

http://embargowatch.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/update-on-aeron-haworth-and-ed-yong-an-apology-accepted/

http://scientopia.org/blogs/drugmonkey

http://isisthescientist.com/2011/10/26/when-does-breastfeeding-become-offensive/#comments

http://physioprof.wordpress.com/about-physioprof/

http://scientopia.org/blogs/proflikesubstance/

http://www.theenlightenedpio.com/2011/02/outing-poor-press-officer-work/

http://scientopia.org/blogs/bridgeblog/2011/11/02/calaveras-2-0/

http://silent-typewriter.com/

 

 

About Grace Elliott

Working at present as an Education Advisor for Abu Dhabi Education Council.
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13 Responses to Ethnography

  1. Jen Ross says:

    hi Grace – I tried to add a link to your prezi, but it was asking me to log in – do you have a link to the version that has been shared?

  2. Jen Ross says:

    Me again! I visited your prezi before reading your blog post, and it was a fascinating way to enter the story of your chosen community – I had to figure out what it was about from the series of screenshots you provided. Really recommend to others to do it that way (though I guess if they see this comment it might be too late!).

    I really liked that you considered not just a single site, but a loose collection of sites bound together by a common identity. It felt like you went (and took us) on a journey. Your familiarity with the terrain led you to some non-obvious choices (the breastfeeding thread, for example) that I thought were well judged.

    I’m especially interested in your comment about the “voice of reason” as a value held within this community – presumably this reflects the scientific values that the group might be expected to subscribe to. Would you say that this was a way that members of the community policed its boundaries – chastising voices of “unreason” and thereby strengthening their position as insiders?

    • Grace Elliott says:

      Hi Jen,
      Thanks for your comments. And I would say that ‘voice of reason’ is how the community police its boundaries, and I believe it works particularly because of the values they hold as a scientific community. They come across as a really interesting, caring, funny, group of people and it was very enjoyable getting to know them.

      The presentation didn’t turn out exactly as I would have liked but I’m still finding my way round Prezi. See my comments to Austin on that score. Anyway, I probably spent way too much time on it and didn’t leave enough time to pull it all together in my blog.

  3. Austin Tate says:

    I did Prezi ahead of reading the report here too – but did not do it on your advice Jen or ity would definitely have been too late :-)

    Grace… really nice set of items in the Prezi presentation… almost none of it about science I note! What is al lthat about drinks, coktails and so on in a science blog? The breast feeding item and a related male activity comment was funny. And I liked the cat with fleas image at the end. I was left scratching my head after the Prezi presentation. Maybe I got it… the fleas that is.

    Your report did make a LOT more sense… great links to the readings and themes of teh course block. Helps reinforce my own attempts at understanding some of the work.

    • Grace Elliott says:

      Hi Austin,
      Thanks for your comments. I did have a few science related articles under a heading ‘Informing’ but seemed to lose them (I’m still finding my way round Prezi.) Also it took forever to upload so I couldn’t re-do them. It does seem an eclectic group of items but it was to bring in the diversity of the community, whether that’s online or real life. The cocktails… it’s Dr Becca’s ‘thing’ and gives a flavour of her personality.

  4. Carol Jane Collins says:

    Hi Grace

    I too looked at the Prezi first and your report made sense of it. However, I liked not quite knowing what was going on on first viewing – and the references to the everyday….cocktails (well they are for some of us:)), pets etc – as it seemed to be representing a community without having a preformed view through a structure (if you see what I mean!).

    It can be frustrating getting to grips with a way of presenting ideas – I had more bother with deciding on a mode of presentation than the actual content. I found it difficult to find a presentation app that would allow me pictures, video, music and enough text option. I tried several and failed so went back to ppt which had its problems uploading. I’ve looked at Prezi and it seems quite complicated so well done on what you’ve put together….the only thing with viewing Prezi is it makes me feel a little nauseous as it swing from element to element!

    • Grace Elliott says:

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comments. The vision in my head didn’t quite transpire to ‘the page’ so to speak. Gathering the data, getting to grips with the application and the frustrations of uploading/downloading was more time-consuming than expected. I almost resorted to using powerpoint but felt this was an opportunity to try something new. I am so pleased to hear that it made sense to you and that you feel it represented a community.

      I know what you mean about Prezi, I get a little sea-sick too with it.

  5. Neil David Buchanan says:

    Hi Grace, I loved the quirkiness of the people forming this group. I think you’ve done an excellent job on illustrating how a collection of people, ostensibly brought together by one shared interest, expand into a group that discovers a myriad other connections! I think you’ve used Prezi well (like you, I’m a new user :) ) and though it can induce roller coaster tummy, you’ve made it a fun and illuminating way to hit the different spots of the group. I liked the way you’ve brought out so effectively how these groups communicate and launch into other sites and digital spaces. I don’t have my readings to hand but it was mentioned in a couple of them how these groups are concerned with flow and not merely space. You’ve shown that here, especially in the discussion regarding the press officer. And isn’t it amazing how public he has become? To describe himself as a private person and then claim he acted as he did because of alcohol is demonstrative of that perception of digital exposure; he’d never do it to a room full of group members, I think, but he tells them all online! And the breastfeeding back and fro was funny. Really enjoyed this Grace!

    • Grace Elliott says:

      Hi Neil,

      Thanks so much for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s always a bit daunting about how others will perceive it when you start out. Like you, it was a case of ‘publish and be damned’ as I was running out of time. It was an enjoyable journey and the Aeron Haworth case certainly made me stop, think and reflect on what a powerful tool online communication is. Don’t think Haworth is ever going to forget the lesson he learned. As for digital spaces, I find it fascinating that we tend to find uses that were never initially envisaged. Part of our creativity. :) And isn’t it good that humour still shines through.

  6. Me too, I really enjoyed this one.
    I read the text before the Prezi presentation and must admit that I didn’t quite get the same sense of community at first. However seeing the user posts really cemented the idea for me. I’d agree with Jen that it’s a great to see a community emerging from something that isn’t formally created as with a single site, and you have really captured that well. Also didn’t realize scientists love cocktails so much :-) Cheers!!

  7. Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    I like the way you have structured some of this around research questions, it can really help to structure and focus subsequent research writing, as well as making it clear for the reader what you are trying to achieve.

    I also like how you have specified conventions in communication as a factor that portrays community. The ‘voice of reason’ would indeed seem an appropriate mode of communication for scientists! Kozinets (2010) mentions ‘interactional formats’, rituals and customs, but also a shared language in the definitions of community and culture. Like others have commented with regards to the different ‘sites’ you have looked at, it seems as if the language (identity?) defines the community more than one particular ‘space’. This seems particularly interesting when a lot of the actual material featured in your prezi was ‘social’ rather than ‘scientific’, as Austin highlighted. Does a kind of reasoned language permeate all discussions I wonder?

    Looking at the scientific community has got me thinking about ‘paradigms’, and the specific scientific use of the term, and I wonder whether it is useful to use the analogy with communities. Communities might be said to work within the boundaries of a shared theoretical foundation (as scientists might work with Newtonian physics), where exploration and conflict are fine, as long as the theoretical foundation within which they operate is not challenged. I suppose the difference might be the explicit nature of scientific theory, whereas communities may not acknowledge, be conscious of, or actually discuss the fundamental ideas that they share…

    Your analysis of the support is interesting, and I wonder how community assistance might relate to levels of participation, from newbie to insider. Community status would seem to be an interesting angle from which to look at this group, particularly as you mentioned how members describe themselves and their field work.

  8. I started with the prezi and was amused/intrigued to follow all the minisequences and stories forming a bigger landscape. It felt a bit like pub-crawling but Rheingold did liken the virtual community to a neighbourhood pub or coffee shop, going to various hangouts and eavesdrop on the conversations, from more serious rants to idle banter (I liked the cocktail-induced quasi-limericks most!). I think you showed and then explained well the bonds that have been established between the members of this community and the transformation they underwent: from purely common interest-oriented to more social ones and possibly beyond that. They seem like a close-knit group – how easy would it be to become one of ‘them’? Would there be some strange initiation procedure?

    And I can sympathise with you re: the prezi making process! I spent hours putting mine together!

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