Category Archives: Week 7

I’ve Got My Adventure Jacket On and Am Ready to Take Off in My Side-Car Motorcycle.

My research has the potential to contain both virtual and physical fieldwork. Primarily, my fieldwork would take place in the digital realm, on the websites and in the online communities created by those who engage with municipal open data to organize it and create something with it. As pointed out by my fellow bloggers, this will require participation on my part. As always, an effort must be made to maintain an ethical relationship with those communities to make sure that my research does not cross over into unethical territory. Of course I would identify myself as a researcher whenever engaging with  members of the community. In such cases it is clear that the community should know who I am, what I am researching, how I am doing it and that they can choose not to be involved in my research.

Again, there are more issues at play here than there initially seem to be. These posts are all public since none of these online communities require a signing up process to create or view posts. Since everything is easily accessible to anyone online, ethics come into play again. Is it okay to look at and analyze these public posts if the posters has made them freely available to all? There are multiple online communities of open-data users who I would be engaging with and observing.

Another type of digital fieldwork that I would perform involves the items created from the open data. These items generally come in the form of applications created from open data to fill a perceived community need. Since these items are something that I will be working with the items first hand and need to engage with to understand why and how the open data users engage with the data, clearly they enter into the realm of fieldwork. Playing around with these applications cerates another digital realm of fieldwork.

My research could also contain a traditional form of fieldwork since these online communities often move into the physical realm to create their products made using open data. For example, hackathons are commonly held by members of these communities. Hackathons are events where people get together to create objects from open data. Sometimes a specific goal is in mind, though often what gets created is decided by those who attend. These events are  excellent places to engage in ethnographic research. Luckily, these online communities are generally very accepting of researchers and willing to participate in studies.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging Question, Week 7

‘The Field’ and Participant-as-Observer Membership: A Complicated Relationship

In order to understand the fieldwork of information research, it must first be acknowledged that on a social research standpoint, the field of information is complicated by the permeable nature of information itself. Information is omnipresent in every facet of human social environments, whether naturally occurring or digitally constructed as my blog-mates have identified in previous posts.

I strongly agree that ethnographic field research involves the constant discovery of information through ‘gold-standard’ methods such as participant observation, as Professor Hartel outlined in her lecture. Drawing on last week’s readings, Stebbins presented two types of association which researchers performing a “participant-as-observer” role would experience in their fieldwork: namely, that of the member and the non-member. With this in mind, being a ‘member’, whether through prior association or identification to the participants in your field of study, has its obvious benefits in terms of building a sense of trust that elicits information extraction. Yet, this close association poses issues with information validity due to researcher bias. Participants in a particular setting, especially in their own homes, are in turn less likely to tolerate a researcher who imposes or threatens their environment by their unfamiliar or ‘non-member’ qualities. Thus, the information researcher is often found in conflicting roles that pose a conflict to the validity of their study as a result.

In this spirit, I completely agree with Victoria. I, too, was alarmed by the fact that practicing ethnography requires you as a researcher to refrain from asking your subjects any leading questions or to provide commentary on your area of study. Even if the research leads me to adopt the participant-as-observer-as-member position, it would be wrong to ask a family “can all of you gather around and flip through the pages of your family photo album together?” It is forcing a condition upon what should be a naturally occurring ritual. If the family does not actively engage with their photo albums in this way, this request could easily create tension, skewing the information I record and potentially leading to exclusion or ‘non-membership’ in my participant-as-observer position.

Further complications information research presents in my field of study deal with the too common adoption of biases present in the larger discourse of Diasporic and Transnational studies. As previously stated, my research seeks to discover how Canadian immigrant families construct and preserve cultural heritage memory in their family photo albums. Prior studies on immigrants and information is based on the idea that immigrants have certain needs that are not met by their new environment, and, as Srinivasan and Pyati state “the focus on ‘lacking’ negates discussion about the agency of immigrant groups in contributing to the work of building information environments”. As a researcher, I must be aware of these inherent pitfalls when conducting and compiling the ethnographic data produced through studying immigrant families. The cyclical nature of ethnographic research elicits constant change and evolution in knowing what the ‘right thing to ask’ or the ‘right thing to study’ may be, for questions will change as people I interview will change. With all this in mind, the fieldwork of information research not only requires a persistent creation of trust and membership as the field environments change, but also a reminder that the researcher must not intervene and allow the human participants involved behave and respond as they naturally would in relation to the subject of study. In this sense, the implications which fieldwork produces for the larger scholarship of information studies should be determined by the researcher themselves.

-Olivia Wisniewski


Srinivasan, R., Pyati, A. (2007). Diasporic Information Environments: Reframing Immigrant-Focused Information Research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58 (12), 1734-1744.

Stebbins, R.A. (1987). Fitting in: The researcher as learner and participant. Quality and Quantity, 21(1), 103-108.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging Question, Uncategorized, Week 7

Week 7 – Field Work

It is difficult for me to write this week’s blog post as I am still not sure what methodology would best suit my area of interest. As such I’ll just start off with a story relating to my own field work experience.

Now because I am a liar, or perhaps just to build anticipation, I will not dive into my story but first talk about how field work should be done (or rather how I intend to approach it). There has to be some level of detachment as well as inclusion when conducting field work, to make sure you are an imbedded within the situation as possible while remaining objective. I guess the old parable “not to judge someone until you have a walked a mile in their shoes,” summarized my stance on the subject. To fully understand what you are studying you have to immerse yourself into it. That being said you also have to step outside of yourself and observe the natural interactions within the environment.

Now before my writing becomes even more convoluted, the story! While attending teacher’s college I had several placements where I had the opportunity to work within a classroom setting. The first day or two was reserved for observations: learning the students names, becoming familiar with the class dynamics, and watching both the teacher and students throughout the course of the day. During this time it was important for me to be unobtrusive, I was working in mostly grade 2 classrooms where the sight of a dog through the window outside would derail their academic fortitude for the whole day.

On my second day the teacher, who was kind enough to have me in her class, through me to the wolves and had me teach my first lesson, and it wasn’t until that moment when I was made fully part of the class that I understood what it meant to be a teacher. I had previous experience in instruction, working with different age groups teaching and evaluating everything from literacy development to first aid. I had a foundation build on theory (Piaget, among others) and anecdotes (those of my professors, as well as my brother, himself a teacher by that point), but together they could not signify what it meant to be in that class.

This is probably not the best example to use. I was coming into the class as an authority figure, in a role already familiar to the group (students), with the approval of their own teacher validating my presence.

In the real world, relationships have to be built and maintained, but then the issue arises of how close do you become to your subjects, how integrated do they become in your life, and you in theirs? This is an ethical concern, while observing from the outside has lingering over it the questions of how relevant the data you are collecting actually is. Are you misinterpreting something, making observations without having the full context, does your act of observation influence behavior?

My own research would take place inside of libraries, but also outside, through outreach in the community. I would be collecting information regarding satisfaction of library users, as well as library circulation and programing statistics. Depending on how ambitious I am, I would have to find some measure to show the impact that increased library services are having within the community as a whole. You can see why I found writing this blog post so challenging.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Week 7

What is the field?

My research will be examining the attitudes and practices of librarians and other library workers. I plan on completely most of my information gathering through online surveys, however I am going to do the preliminary interview in person. I would like to do this in order to speak to the participants about the goals of my research and assure them that they are not “on trial.” Of course, doing this is contingent on how many participants I am able to recruit, but I find it unlikely that I’ll have hundreds of library workers chomping at the bit to participate in this study.

It logically follows then, that the field for my information related research is the library, although admittedly even the in person interviews don’t actually need to take place there. This isn’t quite the same as the way the kitchens/homes of the participants were in Jenna Hartel’s study, or Tracy’s research (that I just read about) in the homes of children. When conducting a survey (which will be the primary means of collecting information for my research) what constitutes the field? This isn’t, after all, ethnographic research.

I imagine that in addition to the library, the field for information research might include archives, online databases, a library’s catalogue, perhaps even an integrated library system. Perhaps, then, one of the key attributes of “the field” in information research that it isn’t always a real place. This disrupts the traditional notion of the field, however by 2013 we should be used to a certain amount of flexibility in this realm.


Leave a comment

Filed under Week 7

“…he will blend in. Disappear…”

That’s right, I titled my blog a quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What? It fits I swear.

Ok, well perhaps for a perverted sense of “traditional” field work. When Indiana is referring to the supposed skills of Marcus Brody as an ethnographic researcher, he was alluding to the idea that Marcus would be invisible in the crowd as a professional who sought to study a culture without interfering in it. In this example, as with many other examples, the field is a physical space where people interact and talks, share meals, and generally physically help or conflict with each other. But How does this translate into the digital world.

There are several ways that, as researchers, we interact with digital communities to find out more about their norms and their needs. One of the most interesting ways is to become a part of the society, or at least a trusted outsider. This is the type of ethnography that Parmy Olsen conducted when she wrote We are Anonymous. She was able to get to know the group she was studying, but was never able to physically see any of the members due to the nature of the group. Another really interesting case study, although it might not be ethnographic (take a look and let me know what you think), involves studying responses to epidemics and epidemiology in general through programming mistakes made in World of Warcraft. The wiki article is actually quite interesting and involves studies in both epidemiology and terrorism.

So the study of digital environments and the way that real people use those environments can have some very interesting real world complications. Both case need to take into account that these environments involve real people communicating in a real time. This means that there are terms of service and privacy concerns that limit the access by external researchers to the data. The ways in which the ethnographer will gain access to this information will vary and there are extreme ethical issues tied to them because the subjects of the research may never actually meet the researcher, leading to misrepresentation and miss-communication between the parties involved.

Is it possible to ethically participate in an online community that you intend to use as the basis of your research?

I don’t know what the answer to this one is yet, but I am very interested in looking into it.


Ben S.

Olson, P. (2012). We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency. New York: Little, Brown and Co.


by | October 23, 2013 · 9:25 am