IST 700: Using Ethnography to think through my own project

The main thing I took away from these ethnography readings in light of my own project(s) centered around fanfiction is my positionality as a researcher and the role that ethics plays in that. I guess I can largely think on this along three main lines: access, position, and representation.

Access

If my research goals center around looking at intertextuality and authorship, more specifically how an author uses texts and then frames the use of those texts, my main source should probably be the texts themselves and the relevant paratext–mostly the author notes. But increasingly, I also see the role of other materials, primarily, a firmer sense of the author’s profile, interviews, and comment sections.

Most of these are publicly available texts–except the interviews–but a bit like Sander’s CMC community, fanfiction tends to be a somewhat sensitive, closed community, though not nearly as sensitive and at-risk as hers. In particular, there is the searchable quality of the textual data, which was published with a particular population in mind that may not have envisioned researchers.

When it comes to the interviews, I think snowballing may be a good way to move forward, though I think I may move forward through current fanfiction friends, seeing who they know. In this way, I’m more “bonafide,” to draw from Sanders again. On the negative side, this may also limit the potential scope, the randomness, etc., limiting me to a convenience sample.  But for this particular pilot study, it may be good enough as a way to test methods and form new research questions. For some researchers–like Rebecca Black–the gathering of the data took a much more ethnographic direction, with her joining  the community. But I have a different position, leading to my next point.

Position

My position is one of the more difficult elements of the research project, and something I reflect on particularly in light of the ethnography readings. Unlike Rutter and Smith, who somewhat “joined” the community, or Martey and Stromer-Galley, who lightly participated, I’ve thus far been more of a lurker. While I’m fascinated by fanfiction, I don’t write any because I’m bad at it–and beyond research purposes, I don’t read much.

This places me at in odd position, as I am not a “fan” in any grand measure. I’m more of a researcher, a writer interested in teaching and researching writing, particularly interested in this subject and how it connects to larger ideals in my particular field. This is something I’ve still been thinking over–and likely will continue thinking over, particularly when it comes to representation.

Representation

With my position and the sort of data I am interested in, I’m still considering how to position. Unlike an ethnographer, I’m more interested in the texts themselves, rather than what systems or communities the documents point to. However, I don’t think that excludes this larger ecology, especially when it comes to the way that these textual features get understood or framed by the community and how textual elements circulate. Thus, my texts are artifacts trying to represent practices and values.

When it comes to my positionality as an “outsider” and the searchable nature of this material, I’m still thinking about how much to use quotes, how much to check in with the authors themselves, getting their permission as some researchers do, etc.

While I’m still at the designing and gathering part of the project, I think the representation should also be considered, especially in this sort of project.

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