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:
- Are others similarly aware of their values and beliefs and their origin?
- 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?
- 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.
This year’s AoIR conference, the IR9.0 in Copenhagen is still inspiring me – it’s been a great event with numerous encounters, plenty of food for thought thanks to the fantastic conference chair Lis Klastrup and the programme chair Brian Loader with the organising team and 430 international delegates. Here is the visual overview flickr
The keynote lecture presented by Mimi Ito focused on a large-scale project which had made use of a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods applied by 29 researchers. The descriptions of these aspects alone were fascinating and highlighted that managerial and soft skills may have played a quite significant role in the success of the venture. Mimi had resorted to currently dominant discourses around dichotomies such as the connoisseur/amateur, producer/consumer, autonomy/peer pressure in order to frame the findings of research undertaken in the area of anime/fansubbing where reciprocity of peer review is embedded in friendship-driven participation and closely intertwined with practices of status. Exploring this specific area must have been fascinating , some of her results suggest that the genres of participation – covering ID, culture, practice etc acc to her definition – might be rooted too much in traditional sociological terms, though. I thought that these categories did not seem to enable us to truly capture the complex phenomenon of capacity-building activities including the flows of social and transferrable skills which -presumably – start off in the online sphere and gain momentum and their own dynamics in the offline sphere. Mimi ‘s notions on moral panics and the scepticism as to the contrary celebrations of the no-barriers sphere remained marginal in this rather optimistic interpretation within her lecture.
The pessimistic comments were much more at the core of Stephen Graham’s keynote lecture which critically evaluated the tagging practices in the contemporary hype of securing, excluding and trajectory-tracking of mobile bodies, goods and ideas which all aim at listing of profilings including discourses of status, power, control and policing in order to make spaces governable which are perceived as prone to threats. Stephen presented a picture in stark contrast to Mimi’s: the dream of transparency in an ever more complex world chiselled into the gloomy rhetoric and practices of biometrics, militarisation and the fixing of ‘authentic’ IDs into static subjects. He raised the question how much time societies may have left at their hand before their citizens become all too accustomed to the notion of being the sum of tags. Tags defined and attached by others – also here an underlying polarity. Re-animating and re-mediating urban spaces in an attempt to un-blackbox these technocrat politics by moving away from interiorised gaming were among the ideas Stephen presented as to how to resist and appropriate at grass-root level. I felt, though that questioning the lack of questioning in these days might be the underlying issue at stake in a hybrid on/offline world where anxiety has gained true celebrity status as it actually dictates the culture of tagging in a very subtle manner – and in this sense is an even more powerful agent in a nation’s subconscious.
I got stuck in the Northern Line this morning, 8am, on the way to work. So the conductor from within his separate space got in touch with the crowd: [tired voice] ‘would the person leaning against the door please move away…otherwise I will have to check all doors, and that’s going to take ages’. How was he imagining his audience, I wondered. If he was imagining us at all that is…
In front of me a lady in pink – applying make up, lots of make up to be fair. She managed to do that with a very quiet hand in the totally crowded tube, standing in move-with-the-speed mode. Impressive. Obviously, she was either used to audience, desiring ‘us’ as onlookers – or totally ignorant of all those around her attractive self.
Last night I discussed with a friend who wants to write a travel guide – and my own blogging experience came up. Again, audiences sprang to mind. Who are ‘they’ – are they groups, individuals, no names, blurred or simply a grey invisible mass?
Finally, I saw a tap show with friends on stage at the white cabaret [Inn on the Green, London], sitting on cushions in touching distance to the stage, and again: audiences. How did the performers visualise/imagine and perceive the audience/s – blurred in the shadows of a 1920s style purple/black ambience? Or did they ignore us in order to concentrate? Audiences – who are you? Frequently also of importance, perhaps even more so: where are you?