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Now that I’m slightly more coherent… December 19, 2006

Posted by Sarah in futureprojects, personal, progress.
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When I posted yesteday afternoon, I was barely functional, having been up since 5, barely eaten (a breakfast sandiwch and a coffee at the airport, a ginger-ale and 2 bags of peanuts on my flight from BWI-BDL, a Luna bar and a diet coke, and a small bag of Raisinets), and done the defense. Now I’ve had food and sleep and the company of good friends, and I can say more about the academic bits, mostly in list form.

At Leda‘s prompting, we discussed whether or not it’s the concepts of public and private that are changing. I definitely need to think more carefully about the terminology I’m using, because part of the tension is that we still have this idea that public and private exist, and some even still view the divide as sacred and involable. Does this mean that the concepts are changing, or do we need new terms?

There was an interesting discussion of whether or not one can do ethnography in an online environment; Jerry wondered if “ethnography” was the appropriate term – are the data rich and varied enough? I pointed out that the term “ethnography” is routinely used to describe this sort of Internet Studies work, which I don’t think was taken as an entirely satisfactory answer (but it’s the truth!). I also tried to show that the data available are much richer than one might initially think. Mark pointed out, and we came back to this later, that one thing I’m not getting at is the relationship of the blogosphere to the users’ offline lives.

Jerry liked my development of a continuum of public and private – he pointed out that what we have are pluralistic spaces in which there are degrees of public and private, and wondered if those spaces can be characterized as different from a totally private or totally public space.

Millie suggested that I have the opportunity say more about the spaces in between. Types of content and the various levels of public and private, she suggested that I look at Doreen Massey‘s “A Global Sense of Place” (pdf), where space is not conceptualized as bounded by walls – rather, it’s a node in a network. I responded that this sounds quite like Barry Wellman‘s concept of networked individualism.

Jerry wondered if we were really dealing with a transition or a trend… he referred me to Gary Marx‘s work on social changes related to the telephone. I should look this up and also look at James Katz‘s work in more detail as well.

Leda wondered what sort of (grand) statement I want to make – I have to consider the options.  Millie pointed out that if I want to talk about relationality, I should add observations offline.  Jerry wondered how my non-dichotomous models could be applied offline.

Bob suggested that I’m looking at two things – the technological context, and sets of uses.  He elaborated that I’m looking at something new & possibly threatening.  Public and private are operating in three zones:

  1. Place – the net dislocates this
  2. time – the net detemporizes
  3. person – information is or isn’t shared with people

He points out that the services don’t necessarily dislocate the person (because of the various security settings).

The question seems to be – given the opportunity, what do people do with public and private?

[At this point the committee kicked us all out and talked about me, because Jerry had an appointment he had to get to.  When I came back, they wanted to talk about data collection.]

The committee were concerned about my balance of data – they were less keen on the survey and much more interested in the ethnographic / PO portion.  To that end, they think I need to follow more than the 10 – 15 blogs that I’d been planning on.

We also talked about the structure of the final document.  Bob suggested that I consider each chapter laying out a different enactment of public and private, whether that means dividing it up by service or some other way.   Leda wants me to strengthen my background (which I already have a couple of leads on).

Mark also came back to the issue of how blogging activities relate to daily life.  Life happens, blogging happens.  For this line of thinking, he reminded me to go back to Ron Lembo‘s Thinking Through Television.  (Those playing along at home might remember that Ron was actually on my comps committee.)  Mark and I are also brainstorming a joint paper for AoIR in Vancouver.

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