Fuzzy Boundaries & Online Settings

Reading over Knights review of face-to-face methods has given me a lot to think about regarding my research interest. He emphasizes throughout the chapter that the distinction between face-to-face and other methods is fuzzy. Since my project has to do with online communities, I think this “fuzzy” boundary is important to keep in mind when trying to determine the type of method(s) to use.

On the one hand, it is possible to remain a lurker and simply observe the activities on message boards and the like. On the other, however, the anonymity that is possible with the internet could provide an interesting avenue for the researcher to engage in participation without the full effects that come with visibility in the physical world. No matter what method is used, I’ve realized that a certain amount of reflexivity on the part of the researcher is not only prudent, but also quite necessary. I’m now intrigued to see what next week’s reading on other methods will have to say about researching in an online setting.

focusing on my bias

Focus groups. Okay. The main thing that came into my mind when I started reading Lunt’s article was Solomon Asch and his studies on conformity. Basically he would put a participant in a room with a bunch of confederates, and ask them all which of the three lines displayed is the longest (and other questions of that sort). The confederates would start off answering correctly, then would start all answering incorrectly – sometimes very obviously incorrectly. Over 33% of the participants changed their answers to match consensus, even if they knew it was the wrong answer! Peer pressure can be very strong, and I was skeptical about the usefulness of getting a bunch of people together to say what they think. Out loud! In front of each other!

It’s clear to me now that I was thinking from a place of quantitative bias. I really enjoyed Lunt’s explanation of focus groups from a more ethnographic view, I guess. They got way more interesting and less problematic for me when I started thinking about focus groups not only as a way to gather information, but a way to watch how people form their opinions. Being able to see how people react to something, and then how they decide what they think about it based on what other people are saying about it, that’s the cool part. When it comes to people’s opinions, it is impossible to avoid bias. Sure, you can ask individual people about something before they get a chance to discuss it with anyone else, but that’s not going to be very helpful because nobody forms an opinion without discussing it first. What I think about different movies and tv shows is based on my conversations about them with my friends. What I think about various products is informed by what strangers are saying about it on amazon.com. It seems obvious now that incorporating this formation process into the study of what people think about whatever you want them to think about is really useful, and the insight gleaned about the factors people do use to form their opinions is very important.

Week 4: A failure of empathy

I know we agreed to discuss our sample SSHRC applications in this week’s blog, but the Seiter article made me so angry I had to write about it instead. In his discussion of qualitative methods, Knight emphasizes the importance of empathy and self-awareness in conducting face-to-face interviews, and Seiter seems to me to present a case study of an approach lacking either of these vital tools. She describes the way that many of her television-watching interview subjects feel superior to everyone else who watches television, but doesn’t examine the way she herself seems to feel superior to those subjects by virtue of being an academic. She claims to be interested in the way class differences affect studies of television audiences, but doesn’t attempt (in this particular interview, in any case) to empathize with her subjects or hide her obvious contempt for them. Yes, Mr. Dobois and Mr. Howe say some offensive things, but her discussion of the two men is also offensive, and I can’t imagine that they were unaware of her feelings. No wonder Mr. Howe attempted to impress her with his “self-taught” knowledge (which she found inexplicably blameworthy, comparing reading library books about topics of interest to attempting to practise law or medicine without a licence). Her “case study of a troubling interview” would have been much more valuable had she examined her own role in the communication breakdown that she documents.

– Andrea

The Diversity Dilemma

Lunt’s article argues that “considerable diversity exists in the conduct and analysis of focus groups, a diversity that increases as the use of the method increases” (p. 80), but aren’t there many kinds of diversity?  I guess what I’m getting at here is that even if you are able to accurately represent ethnic diversity in a focus group, you’re still only representing one kind of person; namely, the kind of person who is willing to actively participate in focus groups.  I’m an introvert, I don’t like talking to strangers without a stiff drink in hand, and I know a whole slew of others like me who would rather walk the plank than participate in a moderated focus group (even if I knew the others involved, as a private person I hate the idea of a moderator listening to and recording my conversation and opinions).  Therefore, how can a focus group be called ‘diverse’ if an entire portion of the population is never represented?  Doesn’t that skew the results?  Why does ethnic diversity trump personality diversity when arguing for the validity of a research method?  Bueller?  Bueller?

What I learned about research from Chilly Gonzales

OK, so I swear I’m not going to flood the blog with my own posts, but since I’m a week behind all of you,  I thought I’d add another quick one (it’s also slightly for my own benefit, to help me remember a recent experience). 

I forgot to mention something that recently occurred to me while I was sitting in the audience of a Chilly Gonzales concert in Montréal. (He’s a rapper, pianist, producer, songwriter, Canadian extraordinaire).

As he transitioned between songs, “Chilly” was talking about his love for rap music and of rapping as an exercise that ties him to the present. He was discussing how he even tries to approach his piano compositions as a rapper.

I don’t have the exact quote, but he then said something like, “People should approach everything like rappers.” 

I don’t know if he was just trying to poke fun at himself, but that statement turned on the proverbial lightbulb inside my head. 

I started thinking, “what if I approached my research like a rapper? What would that look like?” 

Or better yet, “what would it look like to approach a master’s thesis as a rapper?”

I haven’t really thought it through yet, but a few preliminary ideas: 

–rappers (or rap artists, if you prefer) pick out and follow patterns in their work (both within their songs in their “flow” and on a larger basis throughout entire albums and between albums)

–rappers often take old songs/lyrics and “remix” them, combining them with their own thoughts to create something new

–rappers often let their own experiences act as allegories for a larger issue they’re commenting on

I’m not really sure what all of this means, but it is really interesting to think about it as I begin to question myself about my own interests and research topic. 

Also, the whole experience really make me think of Luker’s advice at the very beginning of Salsa Dancing about getting out — outside academia ( i.e. going salsa dancing)  as a method of “untangling knotty research problems in the social sciences,”(page 2 on my Kindle). 

I feel like Chilly’s concert actually illuminated something for me about my own research style. 

My next task is to find out what exactly, that was. 

You can check out an NPR piece where Chilly discusses rap as his “only modern love” here

Ahoy Research Mateys!!!!

Ok — can I just say, I was SO hoping I’d be put in “Research, ahoy!” !!

Fantastic title folks. 

With this blog post, I’m playing catch up — trying to roll two blog posts into one, since I only just got registered in the course.

Let me start by introducing myself.

I’m Averie. I’m a journalist. I’m also now a grad student.

I’m a part of a new department called HSSSJE (don’t ask me what it stands for) in OISE, Ontario’s  Education Institute (yes, we’re also part of UofT). 

My blog posts always include tons of phrases and tangents in parentheses. 

It was a real challenge getting into this class because a) it was already “full” b) there was a waiting list and c) because I’m from another school within UofT, I need a bunch of signatures for my enrollment to be approved. 

But I perservered, because for me, this class is crucial. I want (and badly need) a grounding in academic research methods so that my thesis project (which I am to spend most of 2013-14 on) will not be a flop!

My desire to enrol was affirmed after I spent both legs of a road-trip to Montreal this weekend catching up on the Luker readings.

Can I just say that I kind of want to be friends with Kristin Luker? She sounds awesome!

As a recent undergrad, fresh out of journalism school, with little theory background in Sociology (which is now supposed to be my specialization), I’ve been pretty terrified about almost every aspect of the task (degree) ahead of me.

So far, all I’ve had to go on is a gut feeling pulling me towards my research interest, and an often annoying amount of curiosity (a source of constant delight for my close friends and family).

Surprise! Turns out that, according to Luker, that’s OK! I love how she addresses, especially in the first few chapters that it’s OK to be scared, and have no idea what step goes where – as long as you’re committed to your project.

I’m also really happy that we’ll be blogging along the way. I’ve been blogging for a few years (though never in a research context) and somehow every time I write a post, I end up discovering something new about my subject – or how I’m feeling about something.

Here’s hoping this blog leads to some discovery, perhaps to the tune of a research question??

Well, a salsa-dancing journalist/sociologist/research ”noob” can dream!

 Hope to meet you all in class sometime, 


Advanced States of Play

To my chagrin (or, admittedly, strategic planning), I have yet to conduct a research paper outside the comforts of the analytical and thesis driven arguments familiar to the humanities. On a similar confessional note, this degree has forced me to use different citation styles ulterior to my beloved MLA, resulting in all kinds of anxiety sprung from having to employ the likes of APA, fearing all the while that I might be struck down by the plagiarism gods for having misplaced a comma with a period, or another inexcusable offense unbeknownst to me in foreign citation-style land. Alas, I digress; however, the point remains that, in wanting to follow the “library and information science path,” I find myself here in Research Methods, with an arm extended, inviting me to strap on a pair of stilettos on my two left feet and become a salsa dancing social scientist. As expressed below by many of my blogging-colleagues (bloggeagues?), I find this task of formulating a research question rather daunting. While I was preparing myself to wander outside on my balcony, and call out into the abyss of my abysmal research interests, “wherefore ar[en’]t thou, research question?”, I decided that it was too cold, returned to Luker, and stumbled across this passage (which I will throw caution and word limits to the wind, and cite in its entirety):

“The truth is that you do in fact need a research question, that you should put it as a high priority on your ‘to do’ list, but you should ignore the taken-for-granted assumption that is comes first. Actually, the research question often reveals itself at the end, or close to the end, of the research (this is, after all, a voyage of discovery)—but you must never forget that you need it, or you will fall into the Damnation of the Ten Thousand Index Cards” (p. 61).


To do:

  1. Formulate persuasive research question
  2. Read
  3. Read
  4. Read
  5. Michelangelo is an alien