Dissertation done

It struck me that this news might be worth reviving my slumbering blog for: I have finished my dissertation and handed it in November 1! The dissertation is based on four papers published in different contexts and includes a long-ish introductory part reflecting on the main themes of the project. A short summary can be found on the “PhD project” page on this site.

It was and is a strange feeling – I’m happy that I got this far in the process, but at the same time I sort of miss the bubble-like self-centeredness and immersion of especially the last six months. Writing the thing was actually a good experience and I hope to be able to find that kind of focus again amidst all the other responsibilities of life in academia (well… life in general).

Back to work

I am in the intellectually and emotionally demanding process of bursting the bubble of maternity leave and seeing my little daughter off to daycare in order to start thinking about my PhD project in a serious and productive way. Luckily, I do not start teaching until mid-October, so I now have some time to collect my thoughts and make preparations. Aside from teaching, one of my tasks is now to carry out and write about my study for this year’s Internet Research conference (see previous post). I am planning to focus especially on the methodological issues mentioned in end of the abstract, as this is something that I have been thinking about – in a more general way – lately.

During my time off, I have been pondering about my own place in the research landscape – which field should I primarily speak and refer to, what do I take with me from my background in literary studies, what does it mean to me to be a humanist scholar in an emergent, cross-disciplinary research environment? These are questions that I want to write about and hopefully discuss in the coming months.

Accepted for IR11

In October, I am planning to go Internet Research 11.0 – Sustainability, Participation, Action as part of a panel on mutual surveillance in social media. My contribution to the ongoing academic debate about issues of privacy, surveillance and identity (particularly on Facebook) is anticipated in the following abstract:

“When Avatars Go On Facebook”

In this paper, I explore what happens when virtual communities expand their avatar-based internal relations to the context of the online social networking of Facebook. This is based on an empirical study of two different online communities in which members have expanded, or in some cases, moved their relationships from being relatively anonymous in the context of the community to presenting more of their offline lives in the context of Facebook.

I focus specifically on the communicative strategies which members of these communities employ in order to distinguish between both online and offline selves and between their avatar/alter ego in the community and the offline person they present themselves as on Facebook. How does the communication between members as well as the communication of personal identity differ in these two contexts, and how are the boundaries of informativity managed?

The broader discussion that this study leads to involve questions such as: What does “private identity” mean in the context of the various possibilities of self-representation on the web? And what consequences does this have for the researcher as a participant observer who must respect the anonymity of her object of study?

I am really looking forward to participating in my fourth Internet Research conference. It is usually a vibrant, relaxed and inspiring experience, and I learn something new every time.

On maternity leave

I have been neglecting my blog for some time now, but this is not the time to start posting again. I am now on maternity leave, expecting my second child any day now, and will most likely not be active here until after Summer 2010. But I do plan to start posting more frequently with notes and thoughts relating to my project after being on leave, when I will return to the third and last year of my PhD scholarship!

Notes from Internet Research 9.0 (Part I)

I have now attended two of the conferences arranged by the Association of Internet Researchers, and both have been great fun and inspiring. I will attempt to pick out some of the more coherent and comprehensible notes I took during the IR9 conference at ITU in October 2008:

Mimi Ito gave a keynote talk about “Hanging out, messing around and geeking out: Youth participation in networked publics” – presenting her own research and other findings from the Digital Youth Project at Berkeley. Her main point was that youth participate in networked publics through many different genres of participation, dependent on the situation, and focused on two general genres: The friendship-driven participation, which reproduces existing social relations and relates to the dominant mode of “hanging out”, and the interest-driven participation, which has gotten more attention from researchers, maybe because we see fans’ and other interest groups’ activities as pointing towards the possibilities of creativity and amateur production afforded by new media. Ito had looked especially at “fan-subbing” – anime fans in non-Japanese speaking environments doing their own translations of works. In this type of interest-driven networks, the recognition in the community for their own work is the highest form of validation participants look for. Ito concluded that it’s important to recognize the diversity in genres of youth participation online, and that in the peer-based learning, participation and reputation building, what constitutes a “peer” changes due to a different structure of validation in the online environment.

I attended a session on fan communities, and especially found Natasha Whiteman‘s presentation interesting. She has done research on online media fandom, and has structured her study of Angel and Silent Hill fan communities around events occuring in relation to the product, especially crisis events such as the Angel, the tv show, getting cancelled. The fans’ reactions to these events afforded an opportunity to study how community and identity are negotiated on the fan forums, and what structures and self-regulations the community imposes on “being a fan”. While also observing ethnographically in these fan communities, Whiteman conducted text analysis of forum postings as a primary method. This approach is close to what I am planning to do in my own PhD research, so I am curious about other research of this type. In this session, Trevor Harvey presented his work on online communities around music composition, especially the online music community iCompositions. It was new to get a look inside a creative online community of amateur music-making that I did not know of, and Harvey’s research on the sociomusical construction of community and place was also interesting to me, as he looked at how narratives of place reaffirm cultural values that operate within that shared space (referring to the work of anthropologist Michael Jackson, I think).

There was of course also quite a few sessions on games and game culture. I will post some notes on those in part II, coming later :)

DREAM notes

Suddenly it’s been half a year since I last posted on my blog! I have been thinking about (and procrastinating on) posting some notes from the two conferences I attended in the fall: the DREAM conference at SDU in Odense i September 2008, and the big Internet Research 9.0 conference (confusingly also known as IR9, AoIR, AIR…) at ITU in October 2008. Anyway, the time has come – and I will begin with a few notes from the DREAM conference (seems that the conference website is down right now):

My most substantial notes are from one of the keynote talks at the conference. I found Roger Säljö‘s talk very inspiring – although I am not very familiar with the fields of activity theory and educational psychology, where the concepts presented here are based. What I am conveying here is the part of the talk that was most interesting to me :)

The title of the talk was “Representational technologies, imaginative minds and the social memory”, and as part of this subject, Säljö gave a historical account of the role of media and media comunication in human development. The basic idea is that human beings have always objectified/externalized their experiences, and Säljö looks at how these objectifications are constitutive of cultural transformations and of the development of social memory, and how they shape meaning-making practices. Social memory means, in other words, how we learn to represent our experiences and how we become shaped by these representations.

Representations/documentations rely on sign-making through inscriptions on artefacts (images, symbols, words, narratives etc.). The ability to document and represent our actions is an important part of the history of human development, and all these documentations depend of an interpretive community to give it meaning. Moreover, these interpretive practices and communities entail processes of reification and fixation of meaning, in other words, representations can be seen as reified human experience.

I think that these issues are quite interesting to think about some more in the context of my own research on storytelling in online gaming communities.

There and back again

I’m home again after participating in the Internet Research 9.0 conference. It was fun and interesting, and I have returned with new knowledge and ideas for my project. I don’t have time to write out my notes right now, so I will start with a link to the paper that I presented at the conference: “Gamers Telling Stories“.