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The beauty of an online conference: night and day, my pace

On Monday 26th April the Online Conference on Networks and Communities
organised by students of the Department of Internet Studies, Curtin University of Technology and Australian Open Universities started off and will be held until 16th May. 4 Streams with currently about 100 papers and an increasing number of comments centre on Communities and Web 2.0, Social Networks and Identity in Communities and Networks, plus a further still very skinny stream called Early Virtual Communities. The organisers have also set up a blog which lists all previews/ essay abstracts with links to the comments, full papers and the authors.

Briefly, a few key concepts which are discussed in the streams:
Trust, Self, ability, virtual bodies – dis/-embodiment, social marketing, virtual realities, control and privacy, gender, romance and dating, flaming, bullying, hacking, friending, socialising, addiction, activism, community, political impacts, education, collaboration, equity.

A few basic rules are in place which aim at maintaining a respectful and supportive spirit while critiquing those papers and commenting on each others comments. The related hashtag on Twitter is #netconf2010 and the event has also been listed on Facebook. The conference is open to the public, free of charge and a login is not required.

I haven’t been able to locate a Call for Papers nor has the panel of reviewers been made public. The ground covered in the papers I skimmed through and read in more detail is not based on empirical research but literature reviews. The conference blog unites all streams and comments, listed is a brief abstract and a link to the full post with word count as well as an estimated reading time – very handy. This is a fast way to search for keywords or authors within the entire online conference, alternatively there is also the more limited tagcloud.

Apart from the considerable amount of work that must have been spent on preparing and setting this up, the papers submitted all show a level of passion and writing skill that speaks for itself. From a university perspective, this conference is certainly a way to showcase student work but also a way to demonstrate the dedication and support lecturers and tutors have provided to their students. It is an excellent way to attract new students and foster networking within the student community. Moreover, it may – hopefully – inspire other universities to follow suit.

I certainly enjoy the length of the conference, the flexibility and the wealth of papers. What I truly miss, though, is the interaction that makes a real life conference so special: the coffee breaks, the sounds of a conference and the dynamics of space. Delegates rushing around, technology failing, tension and nervous gestures, relief and proud smiles when the presentation was received well. On the other hand, many conferences are marked by such a density of presentations and a very limited timeframe so that a hierarchy of questioning individuals inevitably evolves. In contrast, at this online conference I am looking at a name, just a name – no image, no CV, no bio, no list of publications.

The papers I have found particularly interesting so far and which I commented on are A Virtual Collision: When your private and professional worlds clash by Kaye England and Working Through Personal Identity Issues Using Virtual Communities and Networks by Stephen Harris. While the references provided, the author’s individual style and the structure of the article as well as the argument built, are the usual indicators for quality and credibility, I thought it would help to know a bit more about the authors. For instance their undergraduate degree or majors would be useful, even a simple line providing the research/ study interests would provide me with an idea of the broader background and author has and that would facilitate the structuring of my own comments.

But then, perhaps it’s just me who tends to stick to the usual thinking when I skim through a conference programme, looking for names, affiliations, keywords, key theorists quoted. Good to be challenged. I am curious whether attending an online conference (pop-in and out mode) will make me remember the papers differently – and whether I will meet some of those who have submitted and commented in a future RL conference.

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Don’t miss: sustainability and IR11 – call for papers

Internet Research 11.0 – Sustainability, Participation, Action

The 11th Annual International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR)

October 21-23, 2010 University of Gothenburg/Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden

The challenge of this conference is to find multiple avenues for participation and action towards a sustainable future. In a society increasingly aware of social and ecological imbalance, many people now see information and communication technologies as key technologies for solving problems associated with an unsustainable future. However, while information technology may solve some problems, it can magnify others. As pointed out by world forums such as the United Nations and the European Commission, use of ICTs contributes to the unsustainable consumption of energy and resources. Similarly, unequal access and exploitative practices remind us that IT is not a utopian answer to complex social problems. A sustainable future is not only about greening processes and products at any cost, but also entails social responsibility, cultural protection and economic growth. Therefore the conference has a multi-dimensional focus, where the Internet is seen as a possible liberating, empowering and greening tool.

The conference will focus on how the Internet can function as a conduit for the development of greater global equality and understanding, a training ground for participation in debates and cross-cultural projects and a tool for mutual action; in short a technology of empowerment. The flip-side of the internet as a tool for empowerment is the issue of exploitation. Exploitation of resources and people is what has led to the current crisis, and issues of exploitation are highly relevant online, from abuse of the commons to censorship, fraud and loss of privacy and the protection of the rights of the individual.

Sustainability, Participation, Action invites scholars to consider issues concerning empowerment and/or exploitation in relation to the Internet. We ask scholars to specifically consider issues concerning integrity, knowledge production, and ethics in relation to the Internet and sustainable development. How do we, as Internet researchers, regard our work in relation to the unsustainable current situation and the possibilities of a sustainable future? How far can we take the Internet, and with it, people, individuals, groups and societies in order to create an arena for participation and action, all key elements in imagining a sustainable future? How can we apply previous knowledge to serve future solutions?

To this end, we call for papers, panel proposals, and presentations from any discipline, methodology, and community, and from conjunctions of multiple disciplines, methodologies and academic communities that address the conference themes, including papers that intersect and/or interconnect the following:

  • Internet and an equal and balanced society
  • Internet as an arena for participation
  • Internet as a tool and arena for action
  • Internet and an informed knowledge society
  • Internet and a green society
  • Internet and e‐commerce, dematerialization and transportation
  • Internet and security, integrity and surveillance
  • Internet and a healthy society
  • Internet as an arena for cultural expressions, and source of a culture of its own.

Sessions at the conference will be established that specifically address the conference themes, and we welcome innovative, exciting, and unexpected takes on those themes. We also welcome submissions on topics that address social, cultural, political, legal, aesthetic, economic, and/or philosophical aspects of the Internet beyond the conference themes. In all cases, we welcome disciplinary and interdisciplinary submissions as well as international collaborations from both AoIR and non‐AoIR members.

SUBMISSIONS
We seek proposals for several different kinds of contributions. We welcome proposals for traditional academic conference PAPERS and we also welcome proposals for ROUNDTABLE SESSIONS that will focus on discussion and interaction among conference delegates, as well as organized PANEL PROPOSALS that present a coherent group of papers on a single theme.

DEADLINES
Call for Papers Released: 24 November 2009
Submissions Due: 21 February 2010
Notification: 21 April 2010
Full papers due: 21 August 2010

Further details on http://aoir.org/

Sustainability is becoming an ever broader notion, and rightly so, I think. In line with this week’s United Nation Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen here also the link to CNN’s debate on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/cop15 and the leaked document available on Scribd, also known as Danish Text, that caused some stir http://www.scribd.com/doc/23859562/copenhagen-danish-text. (The Adoption of the Copenhagen Agreement Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Related sites: Copenhagen Climate Council and the Cop15 conference site which allows you to forward your message.

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Workshop: Using Creative Methods in Social Research, Dec 2009

This week, I saw David Gauntlett ‘s status update on Facebook linking to the announcement of a 2-day Course on the Use of Creative Methods in Social Research, to be held on 10th and 11th December 2009 at City University in London, supported by the ESRC.

There is a low fee for post-graduate students and a good chance this will turn into a rather interdisciplinary event. I have attended a few workshops and conferences held or organised by David and they have all been not just very valuable but also great fun – so highly recommended to email the form and secure a place, all further details are here.

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Conference: Affective fabrics of digital cultures, June 2010

The very interesting looking conference Affective fabrics of digital cultures: feelings,technologies, politics is going to take place on 3-4 June 2010 at the University of Manchester. Plenary speakers are Una Chung (Sarah Lawrence College), Patricia Clough (Queens College, CUNY), Anne-Marie Fortier (Lancaster University), Melissa Gregg (The University of Sydney), Athina Karatzogianni (The University of Hull) and Luciana Parisi (Goldsmith, University of London). Organiser is – adored friend of mine – Adi Kuntsman (RICC, The University of Manchester). Details of the international 2-day conference are available here and below:
Bringing together contributions from the fields of sociology, media and cultural studies, arts, politics and science and technology studies, the conference will engage with the following Qs:

  • How does affect work in on-line networks and digital assemblages? What are the affective regimes of on-line sociality?
  • What kind of perceptions, sensations, affective movements and public feelings emerge in our highly mediated and digitalised environments?
  • What is the cybertouch of war, violence, terror?
  • What are the structures of feeling that operate in the digitalised everyday and computerised ordinary?
  • How can we theorise psycho-political formations of nation, race, empire, population and generation in the age of digital reproduction, mediated visions and globalised communication technologies?
  • How do digital cultures shape our political horizons of fear, anxiety, mourning, hate, hope?

Submission of abstracts for individual papers or round tables are invited, alternative presentation formats are welcome. Abstracts (300 words for individual papers, 500 words for round tables) are due by 1st Feb 2010, candidate notification by 15 Mar 2010. Selected papers will be considered for post-conference publication.

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IR10: Multidisciplinary Internet Research

This year’s annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Internet Research 10.0– Internet: Critical will be held 7-10 October 2009 in Milwaukee, WI, USA. I will be attending the preconference workshop on Multidisciplinary Internet Research which participants were asked to prepare for. The preparation covered a list of [early-stage] research questions, theoretical and methodological frameworks and key literature drawn upon in the reflection on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research design.

The workshop organisers have set up an already quite comprehensive wiki which is available on sociotech.net and contains my summary that is also available on Slideshare where you will be able to find a transcript of the 2-pages PDF. The wiki will be updated in due course, so keep watching if that field interests you.

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The presentation of self in everyday digital life

Today’s preconference at the University of Westminster, London, brought together a range of highly inspiring scholars who had re-evaluated Erving Goffman’s work in the setting of the everyday in digital life.

Heather Pleasants, University of Alabama, presented findings related to her digital storytelling project. Her illustrations of digital forms of communication were powerful stories posted on Stories for change and the paper was based on ethnographic observations framed by the works of Michael Wesch(2008), Erving Goffman (1963), Georg Simmel (1950), G.H. Mead (1934) et al. Particular audiences, for instance in education and health care, harness the possibilities provided by digital media, in authentically co-/presenting self and other. Trust, patience and respect in these spaces depend on self-representations and are constituted by the degree of authenticity. Here is another powerful example Life N Rhyme by Relixstylz linked by the Berkeley Language Center in California.

Mark E. Nelson’s (University of Oslo, Norway) presentation focused on the Space2cre8.com project and raised interesting questions. The data analysis had been based on semiotics and appeared to be reductionist in so far as user profiles produced in South Africa had been presented to users in Singapore which were interpreted from within the a certain cultural context. In more or less global networks, though, the idea to refer to one and the same system of symbols and meanings appeared to produce results limited in validity. The social, psychological and cultural embeddedness would need to be acknowledged. Also, representations and narratives may need to be accepted as ambiguously understood. In this sense, understanding would also require the dialogue between producer and audience who, in order to ensure predictive devices such as expressive gestures are understood as intended, will need to negotiate the clues given off in a non-intentional manner.

Sonia Livingstone, LSE, applied Goffman’s concept of the participation framework, production format and participant status to new social media. Goffman’s notion of modes of participations such as co-presence, bystanding, eavesdropping etc. appear to be applicable to f2f social situations as well as to online encounters. Whether participation has to be ratified as suggested by Goffman is less clear. In spaces such as Twitter or Facebook it seems to be perfectly fine to hold endless monologues which may be picked up by automated systems in order to be re-distributed. This may count as machine ratification, an entity not exactly covered in the model of the production format (principal, emitter, animator, figure – united in one agent at times). Reception roles and production roles are not clearly defined in the complexity of online social interaction (c.f. the concept of produsage, A. Bruns – blogpost and presentation
from prosumer to produser ). Impression management in mediated communication may require to address the fact that some communication online is meant to be self-reflection and monologue ‘only’, which, in contrast to offline space, does not require any ratification at all.

An aspect also discussed in Larry Friedlander’s (Stanford University) presentation – the representation as strategic action: never spontaneous, never pragmatic. In social networks the self-presentation is accompanied by anxiety to demonstrate and create status in a careful mix of showing and disguising by applying methods of evasion.

So, is it all staged, choreographed and scripted? Only if we assume people are not able to learn and grow while engaging in online social relations (even if ‘only’ with their self in reflective encounters). Narrating the self involves the negotiation of boundaries which entails self-defence as well as the growing self-confidence resulting from practising, exploring and observing what happens at the knots of connections or interfaces. However, the construction of self involves the negotiation of other, and even if only in observing monologues, non-ratified by the observed other. This complex layer of self-representation may only surface once the process has come to the point where an author determines to express a facet of their complex self.

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VKS: Ethics in (e)research Workshop in Amsterdam, Part 2

It’s a fortnight ago I attended the Workshop and the analyses of ethical dilemmas in a range of different fields explored with colleagues gained another dimension during a conversation I had last week with a friend located in continental Europe – who’s neither related to research nor sociology or internet studies in the wider sense.

I notice that a universal notion of ethics, online collaboration, self/community, individual authorship and Creative Commons equals an assumption we all see the same sky, every day. We don’t. And this is not only due to geographical location, national politics and regulation, but also related to varying degrees and facets of collective unconsciousness. The kind of public debates I do have access to here in the UK by help of traditional media including print media differ considerably from German debates (so do US debates I access online). Different types of angst feed into such discourses on macro and micro levels. Only by seeking actively to push my personal boundaries and engaging in a challenge of my own ideas as well as questioning what is taken for granted by others, something of a more personalised value system, based on eclecticism has emerged. This is a mix of nationally framed legal regulations, enhanced by ethical guidelines compiled by academic and professional bodies, plus a range of personal, in part moral, beliefs.

The questions I have in mind are:

  1. Are others similarly aware of their values and beliefs and their origin?
  2. Are they subscribing to a notion of values in flux or rather static, life-long held beliefs when it comes to moral values and ethics, in particular in the globalised virtual sphere?
  3. Where does awareness and reflexivity come from if not formally acquired, and what role do social media play in this? Is it undermining, challenging or enhancing ‘everyday ethics’?

Clashes and opportunities are produced in social networks which offer discussions in forums and groups. Large and heterogeneous groups of individuals engage in debates and become exposed to ideas, behaviours and practices they are less likely to encounter in real life in such a speedy, diverse, and dynamic manner. I recalled my own experiences and reviewed my impressions, wondering whether research can be improved in its ethical quality if more consideration would be given to the following aspects:

  • Communication skills and awareness levels are culturally embedded, they are often taken for granted and subject to assumptions rather than being explicitly discussed and reflected upon – if researchers take a reflexive approach why not offering research participants the chance to engage in a collective exercise of reflexivity too?
  • The digital divide 2.0: social media super-users vs social media sceptics – are social media super-users ethically more aware as they are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of positive as well as ethically problematic behaviours?
  • How do adult research participants learn about ethical issues? Informal learning processes (which can be an incentive for research participants as well as researchers), crowdsourcing practices and non-target driven engagement in social network sites may result in a stronger sense of authorship and a willingness to challenge practices of production of authoritative knowledge in the researchers’ world. Yet, this may be rather an exception than the norm. Would researchers and societies benefit from a more pro-active approach on the part of researchers, for instance by including such debates into research projects and making them part of the data collection?
  • Not just Twitter but also Facebook is one such major site that potentially may help to increase attribution awareness. However, as attributing practices, for instance on Twitter, evolve rapidly but haven’t stabilised yet, we cannot assume users will adjust and adopt naturally the most ethically beneficial syntax at some point. Flickr for instance offers currently 4 explicit options under the Creative Commons Licence – plus the option to not licence images and videos but make them freely available for all purposes. The advise is provided in clear language and many users may develop an awareness for authorship and copyrights, however, others may not even bother about finding out the differences between options.

What is supposed to be right or how things should be done online differs widely, conventions are emerging and are being challenged on an ongoing basis. The amount of trust gained over time by help of familiarisation with Social Network Sites and Social Bookmarking Sites as well as expertise in online commenting, eloquence and online ‘street wisdom’ separates social media savvy users from those who rather stick to e-mail and the consultation of conventional websites. This distinction applies also to researchers and academics. Awareness-building and reflexivity as well as ethical considerations should accompany the entire research process, from drafting to publishing and beyond, when participants critique the findings and interpretations. The learning could and should be mutual, without fearing the researcher’s expertise and specialist position is under threat, although it might well be under scrutiny due to the increased level of transparency. That may well be a very optimistic stance, yet, a paradigm shift towards collaboration in a partner-like manner could be beneficial and much more sustainable on the long-term and it could help to educate where institutionalised learning fails to reach out.

The key discussion points and questions raised at the workshop have been posted by Anne Beaulieu at the Virtual Knowledge Studio as FAQs which underlines the fact that ethics in (e)research is not only ongoing and iterative but also a process rather than a stage at some point of a research which means, frequently asked questions may require new answers, each time we encounter the dilemma.

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