Conducting online interviews: How-to guide

Posted: December 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, theory | Comments Off on Conducting online interviews: How-to guide

It goes without saying that technology-mediated communication is becoming increasingly common as both a locus and a tool for ethnographic research.  I find it exciting to observe how writers have responded by producing innovative teaching and learning materials for conducting online research. One recent addition is Online Interviews In Real Time, (2010) by Janet Salmons.  What I like about this book is that it provides a very thorough guide for thinking through the process of planning, executing, and reflecting on various types of online interviews — synchronous, asynchronous, with and without camera, one-to-one and one-to-many, interviews using Skype or Skype-like platforms, interviews in immersive environments, etc.

There are a couple of areas in which I’d like to add to the conversation.  First, how do we researchers go about preparing (or not preparing) our interviewees for meeting us on the platforms we choose for online interviews?  Second, how can we — and how should we — engage more deliberately in the process of choosing platforms for our online contact with research participants?  Any platform that we choose (whether as a subject of our studies or a means of studying our subject) will have communication affordances and constraints encoded into it.  How can we better reflect on these before, during, and after our research?

What guides do you turn to in thinking through your online research methods?

Free materials on Social Computing

Posted: December 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, theory | Comments Off on Free materials on Social Computing

As I have blogged about before, I am very interested in theories of social technology as well as research on the ways in which technology and communication are mutually constitutive.  How are technologies strategically designed to shape communication?  How can such designs be improved?  How can developers take social interactions into account as they plan, develop, and execute designs for technological interfaces?  If you’re interested in these questions, and you’d like to explore their answers from a developer’s/technologist’s viewpoint, then you’ll want to take a look at these free materials on social computing developed by Tom Erickson of IBM Research Labs. These materials are part of the growing collection being developed by, a venture driven by scholars and thinkers who seem wholly dedicated to sharing information and supporting conversations.

A glimpse into the work of corporate anthropologists

Posted: November 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books | Comments Off on A glimpse into the work of corporate anthropologists

Today’s post is a very short one as I’m swamped with work and getting ready for NCA.  I’d like to share the link to an article that was mentioned on the Media Anthropology mailing list.  The article, which was published by the BBC a few months ago, is on applied research in organizational settings. Specifically, it’s a tantalizing glimpse into the world of corporate anthropology, written up by Genevieve Bell, a researcher at Intel.

Applying the Ethnography of Communication and Speech Codes Theory to online environments

Posted: October 16th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books | 1 Comment »

If you study online learning environments, use Hymes’ Ethnography of Communication or Philipsen’s Speech Codes Theory, or if you are learning about online ethnography, then you might be interested in a book chapter of mine that has just been published by IGI Global, titled “Speech Codes Theory as a Framework for Analyzing Communication in Online Educational Settings.”  Here’s the abstract:

Knowing how best to assess and evaluate the communication that takes place in online educational settings can be a challenge, especially when the features of educational platforms continue to develop in their complexity. This chapter will discuss Speech Codes Theory, which is grounded in the Ethnography of Communication, as a theoretical and methodological framework for conducting qualitative, interpretive research. It will show how Speech Codes Theory can potentially be used to analyze and understand communication in a range of online educational settings.

The chapter can be purchased through the IGI Global website.

I’m always interested in reading more on how the Ethnography of Communication and/or Speech Codes Theory get applied to online settings, so if you have any articles, books, or other resources to recommend, do let me know.

Social technology

Posted: August 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, theory | 1 Comment »

What is the relationship between technology and social life?  How do our technologies shape us, and how do we shape them?

These questions have been hotly debated for ages, and it’s a testament to their importance and complexity that they still continue to dog researchers, scholars, and laypeople alike.  In fact, it’s safe to say that studying the relationship between technology and society will never go out of style.

So where do we start, and how do we frame, set up, and execute our studies?

My choice is to utilize a perspective called social technology.  Social technology is a “soft-line” deterministic perspective which holds that “technology has structures in its own right but that social practices moderate their effects on behavior.” (DeSanctis & Poole, 1994, p. 125)  In other words, the social technology perspective assumes a dynamic relationship between technology and society in which each shapes – and is shaped – by the other.

The social technology perspective is a logical middle ground between the extremes of technological determinism on the one hand, and social constructivism on the other.  Technological determinists believe that technologies will result in particular (social, cultural) outcomes.  In other words, technologies exert a force on us, but not vice versa. Social constructivists, on the other hand, study technologies from the perspective that they are entirely shaped by us, but not vice versa.

In contrast, social technologists believe that the ways in which people use technologies are not predetermined, but nor are they random or unshaped.  Rather, there is a constant push and pull between the technological and the social.  Social technologists believe that people create and engage deliberately with technologies and use them to reach goals, fill needs, and generally achieve things in the social world.  At the same time, social technologists are sensitive to the ways in which technologies do exert a force on us by limiting our choices, propelling us to select certain paths, and shaping our perspectives and our reasoning.

What does this mean for social technology researchers?  Three important implications come to mind.

  1. We never look at technologies in isolation, because doing so will never give us a complete understanding of their use and significance, or anything close to it.  Rather, we need to look at the social contexts of which technologies are a part.
  2. We accept that neither social life nor any technology is ever static, but always a work in progress.  Because of this, we have to pay attention to the ways in which both technologies and societies evolve and (more often) co-evolve.  In this way, we must look at the historical/social development of technologies over time.
  3. We recognize that while technology exerts a force on social life, it is only one of the many other influences, including institutional structure, member knowledge, social hierarchies, social rules and traditions, and others.

What social technology studies are you currently conducting?  What social technology studies inspire you?

Works Cited

  • DeSanctis, G., & Poole, M. S. (1994). Capturing the complexity in advanced technology use: Adaptive structuration theory. Organization Science, 5(2), 121-147.

Additional Sources

  • Barley, S. R. (1986). Technology as an occasion for structuring:  Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31(1), 78-108.
  • Latour, B. (1991). Technology is society made durable. In J. Law (Ed.), A sociology of monsters:  Essays on power, technology, and domination (pp. 103-131). London: Routledge.
  • Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation:  Philosophy, sociology, genealogy. Common Knowledge, 3, 39-64.
  • Neff, G., & Stark, D. (2004). Permanently beta:  Responsive organization in the Internet Era. In P. Howard & S. Jones (Eds.), Society online:  The Internet in context (pp. 173-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Orlikowski, W. J., & Yates, J. (1994). Genre repertoire: The structuring of communicative practices in organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 39(4), 541-574.
  • Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. (1989). Institutional ecology, “translations” and boundary objects:  Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19(3), 387-420.
  • Yates, J. (1989). Control through Communication:  The rise of system in American management. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Free software alternatives for researchers (and students)

Posted: May 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, research tools | Comments Off on Free software alternatives for researchers (and students)

I recently found an excellent article written by Nicholas Buchanan, a grad student at MIT, on free software alternatives for students and (other) researchers.  You can read his article here.  In it he lists and describes various tools for a range of tasks, including data analysis.  He also mentions TAMS and Zotero.

Nicholas writes:

“From operating systems to qualitative mark up and analysis, there are almost always free alternatives that are equivalent in function and quality to their proprietary counterparts. In fact, some free software is now the industry standard…”

If you are looking for such open source tools, or trying to decide between them, I recommend reading through this article.  Thanks, Nicholas!

PARC blog posts on ethnography in industry

Posted: December 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books | Comments Off on PARC blog posts on ethnography in industry

Here are two interesting and thought-provoking blog posts on ethnography in industry from the folks over at PARC.

The first one speaks to some of the ways in which private industry can utilize and benefit from ethnographic research.  The second one provides an overview of some of the methods that ethnographers use to collect data.

Transcription made easier?

Posted: July 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books, research tools, transcribing | 1 Comment »

Anyone in the business of analyzing talk knows that with every interview, focus group, or interaction comes the laborious task of transcribing it.  When I’m really speedy I can transcribe 15 minutes of talk in about one hour, but that’s only a rough cut that doesn’t include Jeffersonian notations.  When I’m adding those in, it nearly doubles the transcription time.

(Note:  The Jeffersonian Notation system, developed by the late Gail Jefferson, who was an acclaimed Conversation Analyst, is a set of notations/markers that can be used to preserve phatic and other paralinguistic qualities of speech.  See this Glossary of Transcript Symbols by Gail Jefferson herself.)

Is there anything to make transcription easier, short of paying someone else to do it for you?  This week in the NY Times, David Pogue wrote an enthusiastic review of  Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is a newly revamped and (according to Pogue) much improved voice recognition software package.  I don’t have a copy of it myself, but it sounds like it might be a great tool for generating good (not perfect) rough cuts of recorded talk.  Even better, the professional, premium, and home packages all have multiple language capabilities, including English, Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish.  The downside is that Dragon NaturallySpeaking is only available for PC.  However, Nuance, the company behind Dragon NaturallySpeaking, does offer a software package called MacSpeech Dicate for us Mackies.

If I paid the $100-200 for the home or premium versions and had my transcription time greatly reduced, I’d think it well worth the price.

Any insight on this?

Gender and ethnographic research

Posted: June 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: articles & books | Comments Off on Gender and ethnographic research

Warren, C.A.B. and Hackney, J.K.  (2000). Gender Issues In Ethnography.  Thousand Oaks, CA.  Sage.

Warren and Hackney’s interesting book treats how gender influences, shapes, affects, and is part of ethnographic data collection, especially a researcher’s experiences in the field.  Below are some of my notes on Warren & Hackney’s key ideas & concepts.

Gender DOES influence ethnography and the fieldwork experience

  • “Gender is built into the social structure of…social orders, across time and space, permeating other hierarchies of race or status.  Living within a society or visiting one as a fieldworker presupposes gendered performances, interactions, conversations, and interpretations on the part of both the researcher and respondents.” (1)
  • “…gender shapes the interactions in our settings; it shapes entrée, trust, research roles and relationships…”  (3)  It shapes the fieldwork experience as well as the knowledge produced in the fieldwork setting.
  • Ethnography has stages, including: “entrée into the setting, finding a place, fieldwork roles and relationships, research bargains, trust and rapport, and leaving the field.  Gender both frames these stages…” (3)
  • As ethnographers, how we enter a fieldsite and how we are received/perceived by people in that fieldsite is affected by gender, as well as:  “marital status, age, physical appearance, presence and number of children, social class, and ethnic racial or national differences…” (5)
  • In terms of access, the authors differentiate between physical access and access to actual meanings (see p. 6) and note that gender will affect both of these factors.
  • When we enter a culture, be essentially become part of its “landscape of contemporary life” (11) and who we are is established in part through the “existing cultural stock of knowledge and action available” (12) in that context.  This includes the cultural-historical attitudes towards and beliefs about gender, of course.
  • Your place in the fieldsite probably won’t be static.  These authors believe that our “roles and relationships” in the fieldsite are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated – we shouldn’t take them for granted or assume that they won’t change.  (14)
  • Gender (yours, informants’) will affect interviews in some way, whether in what people wish to disclose to you, or in how they communicate with you, or how they view you, etc.
  • Even if you connect with informants through shared gender, your rapport/connection will be further affected by perceptions of/evaluations of other factors like “education, marital status, and social class” (39)

Practical Considerations for ethnographers, especially female ethnographers

  • Marital status/Parental status:  What is a “legitimate” woman in the cultural context where you are collecting data?  These authors note that marriage and motherhood are fuller, more legitimate social members in some societies than single or childless women.  Factors like this can affect how you are viewed and treated by informants. (see p.8-11)  Shared characteristics (marriage, parenthood, others) can possibly help you to establish a connection with your informants.  How might differences affect your connections with informants?
  • Clothes: “Sometimes the research task is facilitated by wearing clothes that are the same as one’s hosts, sometimes not.” (22)  Dress and hairstyles:  “may be adopted to fit into the culture’s gender roles, to disassociate oneself from those roles for some particular purpose, or to satisfy other demands based on age or social class.”  (23) What are you expected to wear, based on your identity, or your preferred identity in that setting?
  • Body norms:  “researchers own conformity or nonconformity with [body norms] [has] research consequences.”  (25)
  • Consider etiquette, boundaries, norms, meanings, etc. related to gender in that cultural context.  What are the expectations about your behavior as a (female) ethnographer?  What are the rules in regards to talking with informants?

Other reflective questions

See excerpt from Krieger on p. 58:  How do informants expect us to behave?  How do informants expect each other to behave?  What ideas are we bringing with us into the site?  What gender-related expectations are flexible, breakable vs. inflexible, required?  How can gender hinder or assist us in the data collection?

Other interesting concepts

  • Fictive kin (14-15) – as stranger/ethnographer establishing your place in a fieldsite, you might be adopted as a family’s child, or people’s sister, etc.
  • Cross-gender behavior (15-) to what extent are you permitted to flout or cross gender lines as a stranger/ethnographer in the fieldsite?
  • Permitted deviance:  “ways in which norms differ from behavior or norms for foreigners differ from norms for natives.”  (58)

My comments/questions

  • Assumptions about and expectations related to gender will vary from culture to culture.  How do our assumptions as a research team, or our personal assumptions, compare to those of our informants, or to those of the informants’ cultures-at-large?  We should be aware of this as we conduct our fieldwork.
  • We should always have some background information on gender norms in the settings we study, and be aware of how they compare to gender norms in our home settings.
  • One message of this book is to consider what aspects of informants’ worlds you are/are not seeing as an ethnographer.  What percentage of those worlds do you actually have access to?  Be aware of the limits of the information that you are collecting.
  • What roles are we as researchers being “cast in” (35) because of gender (ours, our informants’)?  What control do we have over that?  How can we negotiate that?
  • In writing up fieldwork for articles, conferences, etc. what do researchers put in/leave out in regards to gender in their methodology sections?  To what extent should their gender and the gender of their informants be treated, discussed?  How much of the gender element is necessary/important to expound on to explain findings, to make sense of the study?  (see p. 39 onwards)
  • As discussed by these authors (see p. 49 onwards) fieldnotes are not neutral, timeless documents, but are definitely rooted in the socio-cultural attitudes of the time/place/period in which they are written.  Furthermore, they are rooted in our individual characters, beliefs, assumptions, etc.  Our fieldnotes say as much about us – the writers – and our times as they do about the people we observe and interview.  How do you deal with this fact in analyzing and writing up your fieldwork?
  • Perhaps we should incorporate an ecological analysis into our work to be more aware of the different contextual layers that influence meaning, meaning making, and our own roles as ethnographers in the fieldsite?  For example, include some cultural-historical analysis as macro and micro levels?
  • To what extent do we modify our behavior to fit in with the gender norms/expectations where we collect data?  Our attitudes, plans, results vis-à-vis modifying our behavior should be documented, discussed.
  • How does gender (as well as other gender-related characteristics covered in this book) make it easier or difficult to gain trust, to establish rapport, to get deep information?  How do these characteristics influence our interviews, our observations, our interactions?