The Project

What am I doing here?

This is the research blog/website for my master’s thesis project at the department of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Vienna.

The preliminary title for my project is “Research at home? Social Scientists and their understanding and use of the internet as a site of research.”

Open laptop, on a table, soda bottles in the foreground. Casual work setup.

In this project, I am looking to explore the relationship between qualitative online researchers and the medium or field of their research. If you are or were involved in projects doing online interviews, using ethnographic methods, and/or simliar approaches, let’s talk.

I am currently looking for interview partners who are online researchers. You can find my call for participation with a more detailed description here.

Why am I interested in these things?

In 2012, the project work for my bachelor’s thesis in Cultural and Social Anthropology led to my first encounter with online methods – I had been trained in ethnographic methods at that point, but teaching was restricted to traditional “offline” methodology. Working with methods texts that were available back then, I was never fully convinced that young researchers like me where who those texts were written for. After all, a lot of them read like basic introductions to using the internet. But what to make of these thoughts?

Of course internet usage, for research purposes and otherwise, is changing at an incredibly fast pace. This means that a lot of what was true in regards to conceptionalizing and defining the internet and online research in 2012 is outdated now. New texts have been written, methods have been adapted.

Social scientists are now living (and working!) in a world where our digital lives and the physical world blur together. In a world where social media platforms are not just for networking, but have become a popular site of research. I am interested in how researchers are dealing with this – fairly new – reality and how they approach fieldwork in the 21st century.

The questions I have been asking myself remain:
  • Who is writing methods literature for social scientists conducting empirical research online?
  • Who is teaching those methods, and to whom?
  • Who is doing online research?
  • And how relevant is qualitative social research online now, considering automated data collection/big data projects are becoming so popular?
  • What are the different channels and tools researchers use for online communications, and how do their choices change over time?

I do not think there is a single answer to any one of these questions, and the many more I have been thinking about – And while always at the back of my head, they are posed here only to show where I am coming from. I want to talk to people working with the vast toolkit digital technologies offer researchers, and I want to know how they actually do it.

Some questions I hope to be able to answer with my project:
  • Where did those researchers start, and why – or how – did they end up doing projects online?
  • How do online researchers conceptualize the Internet? What does being and working online mean to them?
  • How are people translating qualitative social scientific methods from the physical world to online contexts?
  • How do they navigate medium-specific legal and ethical questions
  • What are their experiences with doing online research? Which approaches work well for them, and which do not?

I am convinced one needs to collect individual stories in order to be able to understand how the medium changes research practices: Research is not only messy in a way most textbooks do not account for, it is also performative in the sense that it is constructing reality (see also Law 2004). This is why I want to work with researchers, to explore their experiences and see what they do with the tools they have at hand, how they create new ones – and how all of this is intertwined with their personal and professional backgrounds.

Timeline

I do not have a set deadline for my thesis, but I hope to be able to finish this project in 2018.

Screenshot, showing windows of different messengers and the web-interface for this website.
There are many different ways of interacting through digital media.
A short disclaimer:

This blog, just like the research project itself is a work in progress. I will try to keep it up to date and add to it as the project evolves and, perhaps, also changes in the process.

I am also aware that some aspects, concepts, or ideas might get oversimplified – especially in the introductory posts. This is a deliberate choice to keep the blog usable as a research tool, and to keep the information accessible. I might post more nuanced discussions at later stages of the project.

References

Law, J. (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London: Routledge.