week 6 – summary

This week was a shift in direction from previous weeks, with preparing for the task of deciding on a topic for a virtual ethnography. I looked at a number of examples and also finally managed (being inspired) to refresh the look of my blog.

I cast the net far and wide (excuse the pun) and researched all sorts of potential ideas: a graffiti blog, an American Indian blog, an art website,  a 1980s band… but in the end I settled for the idea I have had for quite some time: looking at You Tube.

As a case study the artist Mark Rothko has been a fascinating subject for me. I would like to look at how Rothko, or rather, his paintings have been represented online. [The underlying question for me is to what extent do we experience art online? Can online art  spaces (and how we interact with these) contribute to an aesthetic experience? The representation of space in YouTube is mostly a recording of real life space. Can online discussions about viewing a TV documentary extend into an online art space?]

There are many websites that offer information on Rothko: some have a commercial interest (selling posters or prints), others are run by museums and galleries (the Tate is a fine example). Not long ago Rothko was in the news when one of his painting in the Tate Modern was de-faced. This act sparked a lot of of internet topical news activity. I even came across an extreme right wing internet forum, illustrating that internet opinion can be diverse and shocking.

For most of the week I used search engines to build up a picture of where Rothko can be found. (I even wondered how Google in a nitty-gritty sense actually works?) There are many social media platforms such as Flick’r, Vimeo, Twitter, Pinterest, even Google Maps and indeed of course YouTube which all offer a dynamic ‘Rothko’ view: pages are retrieved and aggregated, unlike the static articles that are published on various websites, including newspapers, galleries and in an academic  context.

I started a new Pinterest board to keep track of some of these websites.

The readings of Hine, Clari and Kozinets gave a better idea of the context of what I will be doing in the next 2 weeks.

I checked the ethical considerations and looked at Timetoast as a timeline (but I don’t expect to use the latter one)

On the eve of the anniversary of Rothko’s death (25/2/1970) I feel I am ready to find out how the BBC programme by Simon Schama, opinion on Rothko and YouTube contextualisation will mix.


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Proposed ethnography

I have been researching the online environment looking for a suitable topic for my internet ethnography and decided on a YouTube media artifact entitled  ’Simon Shama’s Power of Art – Rothko (part 1-7).

I hope the study will give me a foundation for considering my future dissertation on the topic of aesthetic experiences in online spaces, as well a better understanding of the scope of virtual ethnography.

I have checked the potential ethical considerations involved and I am satisfied that there are no special issues involved.

I have not yet decided on the platform for presenting the ethnography, nor the time line.

My draft proposal for the ethnography is as follows:

I will draw observations with regards to

  1. the technical aspects of how the YouTube platform is accessed
  2. issues around the identity of the users
  3. the range of topics they are addressing
  4. the reflection on Rothko as an artist
  5. reflections on any topics other than Rothko as an artist
  6. the level of online community or subculture development

I will

  1. research a suitable platform for presenting my findings.
  2. consider how to present the ‘work in progress’  in a timeline



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Ethical considerations

1)     What ethical expectations are established by the venue?
YouTube guidelines for visiting the site are being followed. The comments are public and viewers do not need to have signed up to YouTube with a personal account to read any of the comments made.

2)     Who are the subjects’ posters / authors / creators of the material and/or inter/actions under study?
In order to post comments one has to have a YouTube account and existing comments made have been approved by the account holder of the videos.

The names of the posters are mostly pseudonyms, this includes the uploader of the videos, although the programme was initially made by the BBC and has been split in 7 parts. The programme was uploaded in September 2008.

3)     What are the initial ethical expectations/assumptions of the authors/subjects being studied?
You Tube comments are public. Those that are posting comments are aware of this via their initial sign up policy.

More info is available via YouTube support pages

4) What ethically significant risks does the research entail for the subject(s)?
It is unlikely that using examples of any of the comments posted publicly and made available as part of this research would harm the individual who made the original post nor the uploader of the videos.

It is unlikely that comments are made by children. Individuals who explicitly show signs of a mental illness may visit the YouTube site but in view of this concise study it is unlikely there will be any reference nor use of their comments which may make them identifiable.

As the programme is made by the BBC there is a possibility that the BBC will take action to have it barred from viewing due to potential licensing issues.

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What is internet research?

Internet research encompasses inquiry that:

(a) utilizes the internet to collect data or information, e.g., through online interviews, surveys,

archiving, or automated means of data scraping;

(b) studies how people use and access the internet, e.g., through collecting and observing

activities or participating on social network sites, listservs, web sites, blogs, games, virtual

worlds, or other online environments or contexts;

(c) utilizes or engages in data processing, analysis, or storage of datasets, databanks, and/or

repositories available via the.

(d) studies software, code, and internet technologies

(e) examines the design or structures of systems, interfaces, pages, and

(f)  employs visual and textual analysis, semiotic analysis, content analysis, or other methods

of analysis to study the web and/or internet-facilitated images, writings, and media forms.

(g) studies large scale production, use, and regulation of the internet by governments,

industries, corporations, and military forces.


Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Version 2.0

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When information and communication technology is cast into the world, and moist life breathed into its brittle, dry circuitry, it turns out that it is used to manifest culture and build community.
Robert V. Kozinets (2010)
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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 7

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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 6

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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 5

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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 4

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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 3

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Looking for Mark Rothko – part 2

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Hine’s paradox

Folding back ideas about the constructed nature of knowledge on to ethnography itself poses an interesting paradox: ethnographic knowledge too might be a cultural construct. (C. Hine, 2000, p. 55)

I find this argument odd. How can ethnography not be a cultural object. How can ethnography be an objective and factual portrayal?


How dealing with this?

  1. compare member understandings of culture alongside the ethnograpgher’s
  2. focus on the ethnographer’s perspective, giving differences in interpretations
  3. epistemological correctness… it’s all constructed anyway….
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Looking for Mark Rothko part 1

























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The ethnographer is not simply a voyeur or a disengaged observer, but is also to some extent a participant,sharing some of the concerns, emotions and commitments of the research subjects (C. Hine, 2000, p47)
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I spent quite some time looking at the previous course participants’  ethnographies and was amazed at the diversity of the topics.

It also made me think how to refurbish this WordPress blog, hoping to get a more appealing style. Experimenting did not give too many results I haste to say….I am still working on it….

I signed up for Timetoast, took me an hour or so to get the intuition for it. Seems fine, although a little forced at times. I am not entirely sure it is a tool I would use often though it may be useful in a classroom set up. I have always kept diaries, yet I don’t get the same concept, perhaps as you cannot get an overall view. The potential ‘looking back’ however may offer a sense of achievement. I like to toggle between views, still not too exciting.


I thought the icon was odd too…

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Part of my ethnography will be looking at artworks. Experiencing artworks online is potentially a media event available every moment of the day. Online space versus the museum space has offered increased  prospects in terms of accessibility and education.

We expect that these images are ‘true’, true to the original.

We also accept that there may be a different qualities involved with technical reproduction affecting our enjoyment.

Clari mentions in her chapter:

it might be interesting to find out how the experience affects the participants’ perception of the original photograph, how the physical object now stands in the minds of the online participants; as I said earlier, interestingly, nowhere in the discussion has the question of real versus virtual copy arisen. Equally, it would be interesting to get the participants’ sense of the role of the original ‘place’, the Library of Congress, which for many years has been the custodian of the original photograph, as well as the latter’s take on the experience.

Similar to the pun of the Maxwell audio tapes advert (below- with the lyrics)  we may see images of artworks which will bear little/some/great/high definition resemblance to the original image. Different meanings ensue….

Will the perception of museum spaces be affected by our experience of online spaces?


YouTube Preview Image

Maxwell advert: ‘my ears are alight’

YouTube Preview Image

Desmond Dekker ‘Israelites’ compare original lyrics

I get up in the morning slaving for bread sir
so that every mouth can be fed — poor me Israelites

I get up in the morning slaving for bread sir
so that every mouth can be fed — poor me Israelites
my wife and my kids they pack up and a-leave me
darling she said I was yours to be seen — poor me Israelites

Shocked then I tear up chose as I go
I don’t want to end up like Bonny and Clyde — poor me Israelites
after a storm there must be a calming
you catch me in your farm you sound your alarm — poor me Israelites

By the way, this another great homage – by Google!

YouTube Preview Image
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Michela Clari (a Flick’r ethnography)

I was particularly taken by Michela’s chapter and how she approached her ethnography (Library of Congress’ collection of Abraham Lincoln portraits)

In particular, her questions with regards to my potential study are worth considering in the task ahead:

1. Is this a good place to study given the overall cultural themes we are tackling?
2. Can the individuals we see interacting here be described as a culture-sharing group?
3. What might be the main themes emerging from the investigation of this group and how does one go about identifying them?
4. What level of involvement is to be justifiably expected of the researcher? How will the participants’ perspective be given an appropriate voice? What are the ethical
issues at stake?
5. How does the personal experience of the researcher come to bear on the analysis and the proposed interpretation?
6. How transferable to different sites is an approach which might work here?

In addition:

As a passing visitor after the (media) event, all areas of ‘activity’ struck me as useful –i.e. exchanges about the picture, about the tools, about the purpose of it all – and gave me pause for thought as I found myself looking at the picture in different ways, sharing in some of the notes-related irritation, and reflecting on rights and duties of participants (to conclude, for my part, that no one should really tell others ‘how to do thing’). Interestingly, Rose (2007, p 23) suggests that the social is perhaps the most important modality for understanding the audiencing of images: the ‘meta-discussion’ on the purpose of the place, on ways of making things work better and on what participants do or not do, definitely heightens the experience of coming into contact with the photograph. For sure, the experience here feels very different from one of staring at a picture on a museum wall, or just admiring it on the Library website: something else is happening, something that engages all concerned, observers like me included, and prompts the asking of new and different questions.

in addition, Clari  mentions the ‘metaphor of the stage’:

Returning to the theatrical metaphor I touched on earlier, this environment strikes me as fitting in well with the idea of a stage: like a stage this place very much exists and can be traced through an address – its url; like a stage, however, it is also an invention, and as such potentially temporary, created by a designer to enable a performance: as Hine says, the production of a web page ‘is made meaningful primarily through the imagining of an audience and the seeking of recognition from that audience’ (2000, p 136).

I believe the conditions surrounding creating dialogue (textual and visual), as well as the role of metaphors will play an important part in how we perceive aesthetic expereinces.

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