I recently came across Mariana Goya Martinez’s and Aimee Hope Morrison’s work. The latter is a researcher in Canada and mommy-blogger, her presentation raised a number of interesting questions. Morrison argued that the diary-style blog, as sub-category of the blogosphere, constitutes a hybrid as it links the private and the public mainly by comments. These two areas are also interdependent as they nurture each other – comments provided on each other’s blogposts help to maintain and build networks and relationships. The theoretical framework was very much rooted in Goffman’s notion of the frontstage and the presentation of the self in the everyday. An everyday I would also define as a hybrid of the public and private, online and offline. The extent to which the bloggers’ narrative self-disclosure was part of an everyday life lived offline, though, was not subject to analysis.
Guilty pleasure as a concept sprang to mind as it was argued that many of those [female] bloggers ‘under investigation’ avoided tagging and categorising by purpose in order to prevent identification. It seemed, underlying the lifecycle of those blogs were also strongly correlated events and stages in offline life which forced the researchers to be either in a similar situation in order to comment and engage with the authors or to remain in an undisclosed role. Participant observation, textual analysis and auto-ethnography constituted the methodological framework.
Researching blogs without revealing one’s own identity, motives and activities might be very tempting and legitimate in ethical terms as the blogs are publicly available. Yet, when it comes to evaluation of findings the lack of participant validation as one strategy to ensure triangulation strikes me. Part of the problem may be the fragility of a blog’s lifecycle which is certainly subject to periodical crisis. Revaluation and redesign seem to be part of a blog’s coming of age with comments as currency generally providing a more or less constant flow of stimulation, positively or negatively. This may even result in its death with the role of flame wars in this context certainly not to be underestimated. Without interviewing bloggers at a more in-depth level, though, the complexity of events, complex decision-making processes and the impact of the unconscious upon all this must remain behind the public presentation and largely obscure – or subject to speculation at the researcher’s end.
This is the nexus where it becomes clear that participant observation and textual analysis are no doubt valuable methods but they may need to be reviewed as bloggers become increasingly aware of being subject to scholarly scrutiny with them being subjectified to observation and their products to textual analysis. The politics of ethnography would benefit greatly from a more sophisticated understanding of an unequal distribution of power in the blogosphere and what strategies bloggers resort to in order to prevent their blog becoming a casualty of the politics of ethnography.
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?