Introducing the Gatherings

“gathering” flickr photo by mRio https://flickr.com/photos/64738468@N00/95087651 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A common way to present analysis of data in a thesis or other report is by allocating chapters to emerging themes. In the last post I explained why I declined to undertake a thematic analysis leading to generalisable conclusions, so in the chapters which follow, I present an account of my analysis of the data. I call these chapters ‘Gatherings,’ drawing on the work of a number of authors, but predominantly Law (2004a: 160), for whom Gathering is:

[…] a metaphor like that of bundling in the broader definition of method assemblage. It connotes the process of bringing together, relating, picking, meeting, building up, or flowing together. It is used to find a way of talking about relations without locating these with respect to the normative logics implied in (in)coherence or (in)consistency.

Or put more concisely, Gatherings are ‘Forms of craftings. Processes of weaving.’ In an earlier post, I discussed assemblage, not as a noun, a settled and fixed entity, but an ongoing active process of entanglement. So too with the Gatherings I offer. Whereas Law proposed Gatherings as method assemblage, I offer Gatherings crafted and bundled from data, and to some extent, the literatures. They are of course obliged to be fixed at least temporarily within this thesis; ‘a local and momentary gathering or accomplishment, rather than something that stays in place’ (Law, 2004a, p.129).

Some might see this wilful avoidance of arranging findings into neatly defined packages as abrogating one’s responsibilities as researcher. One reason I present my analysis as Gatherings is that it is consistent with flânography, and how teachers experience Twitter professional development (TPD) which is often messy, not laid out as structured, planned CPD sessions might be. Although this presents challenges for analysis, the techniques of ‘plugging in’ and ‘reading data through data’ described in the previous post become important strategies. Insights which consider the implications of the data and speculate on possible consequences are woven through the Gatherings, but drawn together at the end of each.

In presenting the Gatherings, I have assembled a variety of actors and data, and through sociomaterial description, followed Decuypere and Simons (2016) in producing ‘an adequate account.’

[…] it is an account (not a neutral rendering of facts) that is aimed at being adequate (that is, that makes a description of the actors gathered in such a way that these actors can ‘speak for themselves’, instead of being ‘spoken about’).

To that end, the Gatherings in the thesis are rich with data in the form of tweets, quotes from blog posts and quotes from interviews. (In the following blog posts however, in keeping with the previous posts, I’ll be summarising rather than presenting the data in full). In Interviewing the nonhumans, I outlined five of Adams’ and Thompson’s (2016) heuristics; one of these was ‘gathering anecdotes.’ Gatherings as the means to present those anecdotes seems coherent therefore. The heuristics not only ‘help researchers attend to the role of thingly gatherings of research practices’ (Thompson & Adams, 2013) but in my case, encouraged me to produce thingly Gatherings. As such, my thingly Gatherings are ‘important actors, complicit in co-creating the happenings of the world’ (Thompson, 2016) and are of course, partial accounts of those happenings.

There are of course a multitude of other Gatherings which I could have assembled. In addition to presenting the same findings through alternative Gatherings, there were inevitably completely different Gatherings which could also have been offered. The doctoral research process imposes certain constraints; there is only so much time and space. I chose to present these three Gatherings to confirm the findings of previous research, but also to build upon and extend it. Furthermore, within these Gatherings, I offer new insights not revealed by previous research.

Each Gathering uses a tweet or quote as a point of departure. In the same way a flâneur might assemble and recount a trail through the city, I once more followed the actors to weave, present and rationalise what was gathered along each path through the data. As Skees (2010) notes, during a stroll through the Arcades, the flâneur becomes ‘a collector of social knowledge.’ The Gatherings which result are neither uniform, nor share similar structures and formats; this reflects my experience as flâneur and researcher, and arguably, teacher learners on Twitter. The Gatherings retain the ‘messy lumpishness’ that Fenwick and Edwards (2010) warn can be lost by ‘well-intentioned efforts to know [the interesting complications of the world] and make things clear.’

Ethnographic inquiries often open with a description of the research setting (Oliver, 2008) – the backdrop or context within which action occurs. However, Law (2004b, p.22) cautions that for the researcher:

[…] there is no distinction between the individual and the environment. There are no natural, pre-given boundaries. Instead there is blurring. Everything is connected and contained within everything else. There are, indeed, no limits. [original emphasis]

Nevertheless, for the first Gathering I elected to present what might normally be considered the context, although for me, was about introducing some of the principal nonhuman actors associated with Twitter. I did this for two reasons: to strive to ensure that the nonhumans weren’t relegated to merely providing the background, and secondly, to help provide a degree of orientation for readers who might be less familiar with Twitter. These introductions were more about what these actors do, rather than what they are, especially in relation to TPD. Special attention is given to the ‘profile’ and how that plays a part in encouraging connections. The tweet which opened this Gathering pointed to other significant actors like the hashtag, and in following that I then discussed how it enables and marshals hashtag chats – regular, time-limited, topic-driven discussions. I conclude this Gathering by exploring how many of these actors coalesce within a complex, rich activity called EduTweetOz. This Gathering moves from TPD as simple, one-click acts, through more involved actions involving more actors, through to complex activities.

In taking a tweet as an initial prompt, the second Gathering begins in a similar way to the previous one, but then opts for a different course. With no need for further introductions, this single tweet leads to three different aspects of TPD: what mentoring looks like when performed through Twitter; how resource sharing is much more involved than a simple exchange of resources; and how Twitter participates in self-proclaimed communities assembling and holding together.

The third Gatherings uses a breakdown (Twitter changing Favorite to Like) to unravel how significant the act of Liking can be, both from participants’ perspectives, but also from that of researcher. By ‘Liking’ tweets as a form of bookmarking, I was able to gather a corpus of tweets in which educators mentioned Twitter in the context of their learning or development. The remainder of this Gathering explores the breadth of the issues raised by these tweets (and elsewhere), including the importance of being able to personalise the experience, but especially the ambivalences which emerged. Although participants like those in Figure 2 seem to portray Twitter in a largely positive light, given the space downsides also emerge.

The Gatherings are similar only in the way each traces a path through the data to illustrate different aspects of TPD. A flâneur could take a visitor on tours of the city which emphasise architecture, history or commerce. Alternately, he could wander more freely, illustrating highlights or significant features. It is this latter approach I adopted for the Gatherings, rather than perhaps attempting to address each research question or emerging theme with its own Gathering. I feel this is more coherent with the way teachers enact TPD and also more consistent with how data are gathered by the flâneur.

 

Adams, C., & Thompson, T. L. (2016). Researching a posthuman world : Interviews with digital objects. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fenwick, T., & Edwards, R. (2010). Actor-network theory in education. London: Routledge.
Law, J. (2004a). After method: Mess in social science research Routledge.
Law, J. (2004b). And if the global were small and noncoherent? Method, complexity, and the baroque. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22(1), 13-26. doi:10.1068/d316t
Oliver, P. (2008). Writing your thesis (2nd ed.) Sage.
Skees, M. (2010). Digital flânerie: Illustrative seeing in the digital age. Critical Horizons, 11(2), 265-287. doi:10.1558/crit.v11i2.265
Thompson, T. L. (2016). Digital doings: Curating work-learning practices and ecologies. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(3), 480-500. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1064957
Thompson, T. L., & Adams, C. (2013). Speaking with things: Encoded researchers, social data, and other posthuman concoctions. Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 14(3), 342-361. doi:10.1080/1600910X.2013.838182

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3 thoughts on “Introducing the Gatherings

  1. Aaron Davis: Ian Guest gathers together the actors associated with my post (and subsequent tweet) reflecting upon my experiences with EduTweetOz.

    The Retweet is a repeater and amplifier, causing the original message to appear and then reappear in Twitter timelines; a nudge here, a prod there. This is more than creating or extending a network of practice or personal learning network, it is networking.

    He provides a useful take on some of the human and non-human players involved in Twitter and Twitter Chats, with a particular focus on the place of the hashtag.

    Hashtags cooperate with other actors, repeat themselves and become more insistent. In collaborating with other human and nonhuman actors they do work by forging connections and facilitating communication exchanges. Hashtags don’t simply work for teachers in this regard, but work with them, sometimes coaxing, sometimes cajoling and sometimes compelling.

    via collect.readwriterespond.com

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