Internet and Society
Documentary Analysis and Online Research
PhD supervision. Applications are welcomed from potential PhD students with interests in online research or digital culture, or in Science and Technology Studies.
This paper focuses on the way in which people deploy scientific knowledge alongside other resources in everyday interactions. In the UK headlice are common amongst schoolchildren, and treatment is viewed as a parental responsibility. Choice between treatment options lies with individual parents, with official guidance giving no clear steer. In the face of this combination of responsibility and uncertainty, users of an online parenting forum justify their actions using a variety of resources, including claims to scientific knowledge of both headlice and the action of various treatments, but also drawing on the authority of having direct experience, trust in brand-named products and generalised suspicion of “chemical” treatments. These discussions occasion expression of knowledge as part of portraying oneself as a responsible parent, and thus while they do not necessarily represent public knowledge about science more generally, they do offer a useful site to explore what people do with science.
Whilst digital technologies are often popularly portrayed as inherently different from their material counterparts, recent research has accentuated continuities between the two. Research on the material aspects of digital technologies has emphasised that both material and digital technologies are embedded in practice and acquire their meaning in context. This is particularly so in science, where research in science and technology studies has illuminated the contextual interpretation of representations and their contingent manifestation through embedding in specific sociotechnical configurations. The current paper explores how digital technologies are experienced in a specific field of science, biological systematics. Email accounts were solicited from biologists who have been working with digital images of the biological specimens conventionally used in work on the classification and naming of organisms. Thematic analysis of the interviews shows that qualities of digital images were highly contextual, often defined in dialogue with their material counterparts which are also defined in fluid and contextual fashion. Discussing the use of digital specimen images involved distinctions between different forms of work and different organisms being studied and referenced the varied institutional and geographic positioning of respondents. The introduction of digital images offered the possibility of new sociotechnical configurations emerging and to some extent realised the aspirations of digitization projects to enable new forms of distributed working. This was, however, a qualified success restricted to only some aspects of the systematists’ work.
This article aims to expand on the currently popular practice of conducting ethnographic studies of individual online fan groups to find other ways of using the internet ethnographically for television studies. The example of the Antiques Roadshow is used to explore a strategy for ethnographic attention to the diversity of mundane engagements with a particular television text via the internet. The development of this strategy draws on recent thinking on the constitution of ethnographic field sites, focusing on conceptualization of the field as a made object, and development of multi-sited approaches as appropriate forms of engagement with contemporary culture. This strategy also builds on recent debates about the significance of ‘found’ digital data for social research. Potential problems with this approach include loss of depth and contextualizing information, and the risk of only focusing on that data which is easily found by dominant search engines. These problems can be offset to some extent by increased focus on reflexivity, and by allowing the field site to spill out beyond the internet as the ethnographer finds it necessary and useful in order to explore particular practices of meaning-making.
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