In your flânography, how should we conceive the ‘field?’

Whilst discussing online ethnography in my thesis, I made reference to ‘the field’ on a number of occasions, and devoted a couple of paragraphs to outlining how it might be conceived. In this post from the series discussing potential viva questions, I want to return to that notion.

Ethnography offers the means through which to explore an interesting phenomenon or issue. For me, flânography was the approach which allowed me to explore teachers’ professional practices on Twitter. In classical anthropology, the field was the location you went to in order to learn about the ‘Other,’ by becoming immersed in their culture and practices. There was a sense of difference, of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of ‘the field’ and home. Notionally the field was a tightly bounded geographic space, but more recently this has been called into question (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). Researchers such as Marcus (2012) noted how studying aspects of life often involved being mobile and making connections across multiple sites as people and things move around. This multi-sited field did not precede the study, but emerged through ethnographic exploration; it is the outcome of ethnographic engagement, not some predetermined construct which preceded the research.Read More »

“Flânography? Isn’t it just an ethnography?”

For this post on potential viva questions, I want to pick up a question one of my supervisors rather provocatively posed during one of our meetings. Although I might not be asked this in such a direct manner, I do have to have a defence prepared which is able to articulate how flânography is different from ethnography. I began to thrash this out in an earlier post, but I now need to prepare a more succinct response.

Firstly I need to acknowledge their similarity: both can be process and product; both involve immersion within a culture; both involve careful observation and chronicling; both might involve following actors and action; and both will attend to materiality. As a consequence, I don’t offer flânography as a completely different methodology, but instead as a form of ethnography. I suggest that there are subtle differences which allow me to do that:

  • Immersion for the flânographer is different from that for ethnographer. It’s less about prolonged and intense experience and more about accumulated encounters over a period of time and through a range of activities.
  • Mobility and movement are different for the flânographer. It’s conducted at a casual leisurely pace involving strolling or wandering, though not aimlessly in the way of flâneurs of old, but with purpose. Careful scrolling through a timeline and following leads which arise, similar to the way a flâneur might turn down a side-street or into an arcade.
  • The flânographer has the capacity to move not only through space, but also through time. Scrolling through the timeline is just that, as is viewing retweets, reading older blog posts or conducting an asynchronous exchange over several days.
  • Flânography for me was very much about mapping my activity and tracing out pathways of experience through the use of visualisations. Sometimes this was manually and sometimes using applications. Although producing visualisations could be used to re-present those pathways, it was more as a thinking tool to help understand and appreciate the nature of that activity.
  • Visibility, or rather invisibility, is somewhat different for the flânographer. Whilst an ethnographer might be present amongst a group of people, but be notionally invisible if she has not declared her status as a researcher, the flânographer as a lurker could remain completely hidden from participants.
  • Finally, the principles of flânography – of purposeful strolling, noticing and chronicling – are applied consistently throughout the study during data gathering, analysis and in the summative text.

Although I’ve briefly mentioned my proposal of flânography during a couple of conference presentations, my thesis will be the first time it’s been opened to robust scrutiny. My slight concern is that my lack of experience with ethnography might mean I’m making false assumptions about how flânography is different.

Where did you make ‘the cut?’

Although it’s unlikely to be phrased in precisely this way, in this third post on potential viva questions, I’m going to pick up the baton offered in my last post and discuss ‘making the cut.’  This references the work of Karen Barad amongst others, and the need to make choices about what should and shouldn’t be included in our research studies. That might be during field work when deciding which actors to follow and which to leave behind. It could be during data analysis where some data are attended to more closely than others, or in presenting some findings whilst discarding others. In ‘After Method,’ Law (2004)  describes method assemblage as

the process of crafting and enacting the necessary boundaries between presence, manifest absence and Otherness.

Within my study then there will be that which is present (whether through the choices I made during observation, analysis or in the thesis), that which is manifestly absent (which I was aware of, chose not to include, but didn’t hide), and that which I Othered by being unaware of the part it played.Read More »

Can you summarise your findings in a few sentences?

In this second in the series of responses to potential viva questions, I’m going to take a look at the findings. It’s quite possible the examiners might want to delve more deeply into particular aspects, but it’s also likely that at some stage, whether in the viva or not, I’ll need to concisely summarise my findings. At the end of each of the three ‘findings’ chapters I called ‘Gatherings,’ I offered a summary. I suspect at around 1500 words, they’re going to need distilling in order to answer this question. On the other hand, the couple of sentences in the abstract is hardly likely to be enough, so here I’m looking for some middle ground.

I need to start, as I did in my thesis, by first stating how unsettling it was providing a summary at all. There is an understandable wish to filter, concentrate and distill data when presenting findings; you can’t after all present them all. Obviously I had been selective in which data I drew on to include in my flânographic narrative, but it felt important that I didn’t summarise to the point where the richly complex and messy nature of Twitter PD was lost. That was one of the reasons for the somewhat extensive Gatherings summaries and also for providing two different versions of a summary in the ‘Retracing my steps’ chapter. Perhaps the most efficient and sensible way to respond to this question, should it be asked, is to refer back to my research questions, so taking each in turn …Read More »

Why did you undertake this study?

In the preceding posts I provided summaries of the chapters in my thesis. The next task I set myself when I started thinking about viva prep was to think about answers to some of the possible questions examiners might ask. In the next few posts I’ll attempt to map out some of the points I think might go into my responses. Like many job interviews, from the advice available across the web, the first question is often intended to settle the candidate and ease them into the discussion. It is common to ask how the study came about or what inspired it, so that’s where I’ll start.

What inspired you to undertake this study?

That’s a story of curiosity and three nudges. I can pick out the key moments which resulted in me being able to discuss this thesis. The first was at 18:33 on the 19th February 2009 when a fellow student on the TELIC Masters programme here at Sheffield Hallam suggested I ought to give Twitter a try and that I might find it interesting. Since I trusted Geoff’s opinion, despite the fact that I had no experience with social media, other than social bookmarking using ‘Delicious.’ So I signed up, then found and followed a few educators I ‘knew’ through Delicious that I thought might also be on Twitter. Right from the start, Twitter was only ever about supporting me in my professional work and it soon became plain the difference it was making in that regard.Read More »

Chapter 9: Concluding

 

Chapter 9 introductory graphic

The professional development that teachers undertake on and through Twitter resists easy, simple description. Despite my efforts, it cannot easily be condensed into a single list of characteristics, set of features or tight-knit package of outcomes. Where one teacher finds no more than a place to keep abreast of current educational developments, another might be seeking a virtual staffroom to unwind and either celebrate or pick apart the challenges they are facing in the classroom. Someone else might relish an opportunity to debate received wisdom within a broader educational arena, whilst another wishes to become part of a committed group of fellow practitioners seeking to extend and enhance their classroom practice and capabilities. People don’t appear to set out on Twitter with the above as objectives they’re keen to achieve, but instead develop a range of practices which address their needs and provide the benefits appropriate to them.Read More »

Ethics revisited

Throughout this study I aimed to maintain an ethical sensibility which responded to issues as they arose. Within the thesis, I highlighted those areas which triggered <#ethics> concerns and now return to summarise them. Here I’ll set out some of those observations and the way I responded.

One complex arena which tested my ethical sensibility was in the degrees of subtlety required when conducting online interactions. Simply asking a question, whether on Twitter or through a blog, obliged me to communicate my status as a researcher. Taking a cue from the norms of Twitter, I chose to include the hashtag #4MyResearch in each encounter, as described in an earlier post. It was later that I realised this could be a double-edged sword. Hashtags are of course searchable, so #4MyResearch could be one mechanism – albeit somewhat blunt – through which to bring one strand of my research together. Anyone could then check through the hashtag and view the way I had previously interacted with other people. That of course then makes each encounter more public than it otherwise might be, something of which a respondent might not initially be aware if they lose sight of potential audience in what Marwick and boyd (2010) term ‘context collapse.’Read More »

Chapter 8: Retracing my steps

Chapter 8 introductory graphic

Rather than a conventional summary or distillation of ideas, as I sometimes did within the Gatherings (and felt unsettled doing so), in this section I offered two parallel accounts; one tidily arranged as an emerging theme (‘More than…’), the other a meandering pathway of experience more closely aligned with a flâneur’s account. Both of these accounts attempted to summarise the Gatherings. The ‘messy’ account presented a summary which follows the original trails. The ‘tidy’ account drew out some of the salient themes from across those trails. As I read through the ‘messy’ account, I am minded by Law’s (2007) observation ‘If this is an awful mess … then would something less messy make a mess of describing it?’ Then I look across to the tidy account and notice how ordered, much clearer, and easier to comprehend. Of course in smoothing out the mess some details were discarded and thereby become absented.Read More »

Chapter 7: Gathering: It’s personal…

Chapter 7 introductory graphic

One of the factors prompting this study was the number of people who tweeted how important Twitter was in supporting their professional learning. The following tweet provides a reminder of the kind of sentiment expressed:

During participant observation I curated a corpus of educators’ tweets which referred in some way to both professional learning and Twitter. Analysing this corpus revealed that educators frame Twitter PD in different ways. The capacity to be able to choose the routes you take, the content you see, the time and duration of your involvement and the location from which you participate are important to many. However Twitter is perceived, one can find or be exposed to a wide range of resources, ideas, advice, research, inspiration, support, and answers to questions.Read More »

Chapter 6: Gathering: Assembling actors, maintaining relationships

 

Chapter 6 introductory graphicA single tweet and the hashtag with which it participates provide a point of departure in this Gathering. I first explored the exchange which unfolded from the tweet below and the interrelations between the human participants. This exchange and the #teamenglish hashtag which helped to bring it together, brought me to a second, longer series of interactions assembled by and around a nonhuman actor, the ‘crib sheet.’ Finally I followed the hashtag to the #teamenglish ‘community’ it assembles, then compared and contrasted that with a similarly enacted sister community, #mfltwitterati.

Making a request by way of a tweet is a common practice amongst educators on Twitter. Levels of response vary, but can be assisted by Twitter. Where a hashtag or a mention is included, reach and therefore the likelihood of response are increased. What unfolds subsequently is much harder to predict.Read More »