Danah Boyd, New Media, and Discourse

Our readings this week were all very interesting, and mostly related to online composition and studies of its complexities.

Dana Boyd’s dissertation was a fun read; I now understand why she is such a popular author, especially as a blogger. Her writing style and voice are incredibly personable as well as intelligent. I hope I can develop a similar communication style. In Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics, Danah did an ethnographic study of teen’s cultural and social practices with new media networks during the rise and fall of MySpace (c. 2004-2006).

Her methods were truly impressive:  she scoured hundreds of thousands of profiles on sites as various as LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, and Facebook, while also observing chatrooms, immersive online environments, and other sites of teen interaction. in addition to her online investigation, she traveled to ten different states to formally interview 94 teens in their home towns. Wherever possible, she used random sampling, and her involvement with technology companies gave her access to data not usually available to users. Her triangulation included her subjects–teens themselves–as she interacted with them about her research over the 2.5 years of her study. It also included adults within the communities where the teens she interviewed were located. No doubt that her intern, Sam Jackson, and other new media scholars also helped to shape her analysis and interpretations of these communities.

Her theoretical foundation is interesting to me, because without ever mentioning ANT she describes the importance of investigating networks of practice without privileging either online or offline environments, people, objects, or sites–but rather moving along all these axises equally (50-55). She bases this approach on the writing of Jenna Burrell, whom I will have to read. Like Mol and other Praxiographers, she also rejects the divide between subject/object as essence and representation, saying that the wired and offline lives of students are not equivalent to a show and a backstage reality, but are rather intertwined in their communal practices.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony, as I read Leon and Pigg’s article about “Graduate Students Professionalizing in Digital Time/Space.” In it they point out the way students are using their computers as tools to multi-task in research and professional networking–this, as I click back and forth between three PDF readings, my University email, Danah Boyd’s blog, and this WordPress draft. Do I, as Leon and Pigg found in other graduate students, feel guilty for my hours of virtual exploration? Well, I did, especially when I first experienced sitting down to do one task and three hours later found that I had about 50, but not finished the first I set out to do–but I think that a couple years of experience have relieved me of that anxiety. I now know that it is indeed more productive, at times, to allow yourself t be led on. At other times, pressure will provoke you to stay focused, so that you can, for example, finish a blog post due for class in a few hours ^_^. For another interesting perspective on this topic, see Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From Video, located in my “Animation Communication” blog post.

In “Your Views Showed True Ignorance: (Mis)Communication in an Interracial Online Discussion Forum,” Heidi McKee investigated a discussion which took place in blackboard regarding affirmative action and multiculturalism. Her methods included receiving permission from some of the students to quote their posts (82 out of 185), as well as personal interviews with the five major participants in the conversation. She asked the students how they would like to be represented in her article, explaining how she would describe herself: as a white middle-class woman who attended a predominantly white school. I think this was a great example of how ethnographers can share representational power with their subjects. I also felt that this was an interesting take on the “ethnography” as a genre–and felt that it did fall into a subcategory of the genre’s parameters. Perhaps the most excellent aspect of her paper is that it was hypothesis generating rather than hypothesis testing. She asked the students open ended questions, and her conclusions after the interviews were different than her hypothesis going into the study. She concludes that discursive writing practices can appear differently to different cultural and racial subjects, and what may appear tame to one group, may actually be very damaging to another.

In “Digital Hidden Transcripts: Exploring Student Resistance in Blogs,” Warren Mark explores a 15 year old student’s discursive resistance toward his teacher, exemplified in online writing. What may be unexpected about this study, is that Marc (the subject) is a student as the Fly High College, a school for boys in Singapore, where the author taught English for four years. I wish that there had been more discussion about the racial, linguistic, national, and economic implications of this interesting fact. Otherwise, Mark did an excellent job of incorporating the student’s own writing and voices into his work.

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