IST 700: Locating and Drawing the Boundaries of Research

A few things struck me from the reading, in particular the messy boundaries (and lack thereof) between online and offline and the difficulty of mapping and bounding digital projects. These pose significant implications for conducting online research. For now, I was mainly thinking about how some of these readings are impacting how I look at my own research project.

A map of the Internet by Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly, image via Brain Pickings.
A map of the Internet by Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly, image via Brain Pickings.

I think the Rogers piece gets at the difficulty of definition-defined sites for research, in which a priori considerations of what constitutes a “national web” may limit what people actually consider a national web. Though having certain parameters starting off can help bound a project, they have to be the right sort of parameters–and flexibility remains important throughout the research project.

This flexibility connects to Hine, who also recommends a certain flexibility when it comes to ethnographic work. However, this flexibility creates an added burden on the researcher. As she writes, “commitment to ongoing methodological flexibility and to the adaptation of methods to the circumstances in which researchers find themselves produces a particular consciousness that research design is an ongoing concern and that what counts as data has constantly to be re-evaluated” (6). The researcher must constantly navigate the and self-critique the process.

I’ve noticed this similar advice and caveat in Annette Markham and Elizabeth Buchanan’s “Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research,” Heidi A. McKee and James E. Porter’s “The Ethics of Conducting Writing Research on the Internet,” and in Brian McNely and Christa Teston’s “Tactical and Strategic: Qualitative Methodologies in the Digital Humanities.”

I think McNely and Teston do a particularly good job breaking down this distinction between a broader “strategy” of research, referring to what one hopes to gain and the general methodologies and sites best-suited for this, and “tactics,” the daily approaches and methods used in pursuit of that strategy.

Though some research, like ethnography, may be particularly messy both online and offline, Internet research seems particularly messy and challenging in this regard more generally. Part of this is the online/offline “divide” that Orgad complicates, but the ranging modalities, practices, literacies, networks, and access points that comprise the Internet is complicated in itself.

For my own project, I wanted to start with a broader sampling of fanfiction, so I collected about 30 fanfictions, which I archived as rtf, doc, and pdf files. Following the example of Kennedy and Long in “The Trees within the Forest” I also took screen shots of the document, in case the original digital text got altered.

My goal was to look at (1) how writers were using other texts in these texts (intertextuality), and (2) how those were being framed in author notes and textual representations, like quotations. I wanted to do this because this intertextuality or “poaching” and “remixing” of source material in these fictions has traditionally been read by academics as “resistant.” The author note also plays a role in this. But, amid criticism of this in more recent scholarship, I wanted to get a more concrete sense of how this practice was taking place and how fans were representing it.

Proud of my little pilot archive, I set to work comparing documents using plagiarism software, Comparator, and Microsoft Word. I also did some light coding of author notes and folksonomies, using Saldaña as a bit of a guide. It was a clunky, kludgy process, and I realized that I was seeing some patterns but missing others. Since then, day-to-day work and other pressures have kept my research minimal.

But I’ve still been thinking about it. Particularly with this reading. Working with Spinuzzi for his workshop and talking to another PhD candidate working with fan texts, I increasingly see other methods and scales becoming relevant. Perhaps a more detailed, networked reading of a few texts? Perhaps more expansive coding? Content or discourse analysis? Perhaps a network map? Interviews with writers? Should I broaden my sites of analysis to include things like author pages and Tumblr pages? What role do fan comments serve?

And all of these questions come amid questions of material constraints, i.e. what can I realistically do given my current time frame and work  load?

I think the next step for now is to hunker down this weekend for some time and write out possible answers, revisiting my goals, refining my strategy and re-directing my tactics.

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4 thoughts on “IST 700: Locating and Drawing the Boundaries of Research

  1. Li Chen

    Wow. I am fascinated by the map you posted. Especially interesting is that how the artist placed different “internet sites” as various sizes and locations. And I enjoyed your writing so much…

    Sometimes I am not very sure about the relationship between the authors and their works. At the first glance, it seems like interviewing these authors will give a researcher more insights. However, do we as researchers really need that? The authors’ opinions about their own works might have a tendency to dominate the research. Maybe this is the moment when self-reflexive thinking works. 🙂

    1. bekeegan

      Thanks for the comment, Li Chen! Yes, I love this little map and was thinking about it throughout the Rogers piece. And I like that insight, as it’s something I didn’t think of in that way, yet really does make a difference. I suppose it depends on what one wants, but you’re right, the author’s though on their process and work may overshadow the reality of the work itself.

  2. Jenny Stromer-Galley

    The challenge with research is often that there are many dimensions that can be pursued. The trick is finding what to pursue now as a dissertation project. Keep interrogating yourself about why you find fan fiction intriguing and what is the problem there that is worth spending a year or two on that would be intriguing to your community of scholars. Figuring that out is hard work. I am very glad to be past that stage :).

    1. bekeegan

      I know, that searching stage is difficult! I remember one of my professors gave some advice when I was getting my M.A. to always consider what questions drove me, beyond the particular data or theory I was working with at the time. I feel like I often come back to that frame.

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