I’ll be missing my last Nonfiction lab this week to head to a research masterclass run by DERC and Young and Well. One of the sessions will be run by Crystal Abidin, a visiting research fellow at RMIT currently under the mentorship of Associate Professor Heather Horst (whose work I have also written about here).
I’m very excited about this, especially after reading Abidin’s work on Singaporean blogshops this morning. The paper discusses Abidin’s research practice while looking into the online and offline behaviours of an interesting community. What pricks up my ears is what she says about the way she was able to achieve insight:
In order to access and be socialised into the blog community, I had to ‘live’ within their shared social space and ‘perform’ as they would. This included adopting communication and behavioral norms just as any anthropologist entering a physical field site would. Conversations with readers and customers during my pre-field preparation informed my ‘performance’ as a participating ‘insider’. These included a repertoire of cyber lingo and localised blogosphere jargon, as well as an extensive background knowledge and social context of the local commercial blog scene. (8)
Through this precursor, I too have adopted behaviours I’ve observed as normative in the community I’m studying- particularly in relation to hashtag use, emoji selection and text posts. I love the idea of entering into a ‘physical site’ and adopting the behaviours of a tribe which seem foreign at first. My thesis uses Mary Douglas’s anthropological notion of Purity and Danger to interrogate the hashtags thinspiration, fitspiration and clean eating. Douglas’s theory is the result of many years fieldwork in primitive tribes of the Belgian Congo circa the 50s and 60s. I like to imagine myself doing similar sort of fieldwork with foreign groups of the future- teenage girls.
Abidin actually did create a Facebook presence to interact with her chosen community as part of her dissertation.
Since commercial bloggers convey their personas and interact with others through social media accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Formspring, and Foursquare, these platforms become the ‘objects’ through which they ‘think with’ and exist in their digital community. In a bid to embed myself into the commercial blog community, I set up a new Facebook account to interact with fellow community members and a blog to host the more intimate insights into my life. On this Facebook account, I ‘added’ informants as ‘friends’ and subscribed to their Fan Pages for live feeds. I shaped the blog as a chronicle of my research journey and experiences as a graduate student so that informants could keep up-to-date with the progress of my research and keep in touch through a medium less formal than email correspondence. (9)
It’s always exciting to find someone who speaks your language! Looking forward to meeting her at the masterclass.
Abidin, Crystal. “‘Cya IRL’: Researching digital communities online and offline.” Limina Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies (2013): 1-17. Print.