#durbbu mini ethnography

Here is my mini ethnography on the twitter feed for the Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2013. I decided to use Storify as I was intrigued by the approbation of narrative style in ethnographies both in Hine (2000, p. 44) and in a chance email quoting Carolyn Ellis (The Ethnographic I, 2004) regarding autoethnography. Not to mention that it seemed to handle tweets well within a ‘story’ context!

One of the reasons that I chose this community was that it ticked all the boxes for an ethical analysis:

1) What ethical expectations are established by the venue?
Twitter is considered to be a very public forum. I have first determined that each tweet I quote was available without logging into twitter (e.g. via twubs or a search engine) before posting it.

2) Who are the subjects posters / authors / creators of the material and/or inter/actions under study?
All contributors were adults attending a professional event.

3) What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?
Participants were not told that the twitter feed was private, nor were they cajoled into using it. Participants could set their own twitter preferences, or refrain from tweeting all together. Participants may not have been aware that the tweets at this hashtag were being aggregated on another site (twubs); this aggregation had been applied to the hashtag by a third party for at least two years before the event in question. However, for the purposes of this ethnography I only used tweets which appeared both in this public space and publicly on twitter.

4) What ethically significant risks does the research entail for the subject(s)?
The possible harm here is minimal. It is possible that a participant who did not understand how twitter works could have posted tweets that they did not wish to be public. However, this study does not significantly add to this risk, as the tweets were already public.



9 Responses to “#durbbu mini ethnography”

  1. sbayne March 6, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

    I found this a compelling read Candace. I really like the way you approached this, and I thought the way you had begun to ‘cluster’ tweeters, and tweets, was a nicely-executed way of starting to make sense of them.

    I wished this hadn’t been a ‘micro-ethnography’ in a way, because there were so many areas of it where I wanted to keep reading: the arrival stories were one (loved this!). Another was the sponsor issue. On this latter, I wondered if there were other examples similar to this one? In particular, how apparent engagement from the sponsor (who was actually tweeting as a simple participant) actually appeared to function to shut down debate. Some really interesting potential directions for thinking about how power in these communities operates through the (albeit pared down) discourse of the tweet…

    I thought you situated yourself really well here too: the voicing of the ethnography from the position of slightly-peripheral-yet-confident-almost-insider worked really well!

  2. Phil Devine March 6, 2013 at 8:58 pm #

    Hi Candace – Love the idea of getting behind how twitter is used from a marketing perspective by institutions. On a bigger scale I’m sure this would provide valuable and useful information on how users interact with organisers – wanted to read more :)

  3. Giraf87 March 7, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I loved reading this Candace, like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It gave such a close-up view, almost like I had been at the conference and walked around with a handheld camera. I organise research conferences in a different discipline and the sight of a #sign for my group of academics would be similar to a rabbit caught by my car’s headlights!

  4. Giraf87 March 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    great read Candace, like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. It gave such a close-up view, almost like I had been at the conference and walked around with a handheld camera. I organise research conferences in a different discipline and the sight of a #sign for my group of academics would be similar to a rabbit caught by my car’s headlights!

  5. Giraf87 March 7, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    oops, seemed to have double vision here,that’s why it would not let me post the second time…

  6. Anabel Drought March 9, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi Candace, I really enjoyed this analysis and especially like the categorisation of the community members, It made me think about my own twitter accounts and the different styles of posting I adopt in each account which is based upon the community I am linked too which is kind of reflecting on the audience , however I sometime / often get this wrong “the tweets, while all positive, were sometimes ambiguous in their audience:”

    I also enjoyed Hine’s arrival stories put together – iThese tweets are a way of feeling part of the community, an introduction so when we arrive we don’t feel so “new” we are already part because of this prior engagement

    Very interesting, great work!

  7. Steph Carr March 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi Candace, I thought you painted a very colourful picture of the event; I loved the story telling and I could almost visualise the conference suite and the participants.

    I was really interested in the way you described different ‘communities’ bleeding into each other. I felt there was a sense of uncertainty and perhaps even discomfort where there was potential cross over into a physical meeting/viewing. (But I may well be reading this wrongly by projecting how I would feel in this situation.) I think that the bringing together of different groups, or having them forced together can be destabilising because one’s way of behaviour, status, etc. can be different in each one and trying to navigate a neutral path through a mix of them can be tricky. Adding in a different mode of interaction (i.e. RL instead of virtual) could perhaps make this even more unsettling? Especially if you don’t even have an official ‘introduction’ and could, like your boss, be chatting to someone that you actually know, but don’t know that you know!!!

  8. cmeckenstock March 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Hi Candance, the ethnographer’s construct or narrative worked really well in Storify. The way you have broken it up with the tweets, and what you were thinking, and then grouping the tweets into different groups, followed by analysis, reflects the immersive experience well. It provides a good sense of being in a conference, and the use of tweeter, and the sense of community, though it probably will fizzle out after a week or two. But certainly, you were able to capture the feelings of the conference community in relation to the sponsors and prevailing theme of the conference. I had often wondered how I would categorise or describe the nature of the tweets when I see them. I like your groupings, it seems to have worked very well.

    I am also very intrigued by the autoethnography aspect and the first part of my own ethnography talks about how I have gained or negotiated access, the arrival and also being there. I thought the reflexive strategy is really quite an interesting one to be used in the narrative. And you have done this really well.

  9. Nikki Bourke March 10, 2013 at 10:49 pm #

    Hi Candance,

    This was a great read – it felt like a journey in itself. With a beginning, middle and end! It was really interesting to see the mechanics of the community classified into subcategories. Cheers for sharing this. Very enjoyable. :)