06 SES 11 B, Developing Research Approaches for an Era of Digitalisation
Smiling easily, with slightly lowered eyelids, Mary looks straight into the lenses of the little device she holds at arm’s length. She seems to be in her teens. Her hair curls down her neck while she tilts her head softly to the side and takes a number of pictures of herself. After carefully selecting and making some adjustments, a picture is uploaded together with her other self-portraits, which she has already shared. Next to this new picture she writes, “I am a bit clueless as to how I look . . . Any suggestions?Also, in which picture do you think I look ‘the best’”?Within a few hours, Mary’s request has gotten numerous responses.
I often use this brief narrative in writings and lectures to illustrate how one young person can use contemporary digital technologies in practices about identity. In both research and educational policy context the making of identity has for long been endorsed as one important condition for learning. It is argued that developing a confident, individual identity, and reflecting upon the identity of others, is fundamental in any educational practice (Swedish National Agency of Education 2011: 2018). Today, matters of identity intersect with the ongoing digitalization of society in general and education in particular (European Commission 2017 and 2018) and digital technology mediate conditions for social interaction that differ from those available in pre-digital times (Hällgren 2019). So, these new conditions enable young people not only to represent identity in other ways but also to make and learn about identities in digitally mediated ways - within as well as outside of educational contexts.
This paper is about methodological considerations when undertaking research on what it means to make identity when using digital technologies, such as social media. The objective is to critically explore and better understand different methodologies. The considerations relate on an ongoing Swedish research project – called Crowdsourcing Identities – which concerns youth, identity and social media. The overall aim of the project is to deepen knowledge, conceptually and empirically, about young people’s making of identity, digital technology and learning, as they combine, or not. And, also how they may, to various extents and in different intersections, influence conditions for teaching and learning.
From previous enquiries of the project, the interpretive lens of Crowdsourcing Identities developed as one way for thinking about young peoples’ making of identity and digital technologies (Hällgren 2019). It draws on perspectives of existentialism, social constructivism, technology and ideas of crowdsourcing and brings together human practices, theory and technology. Technology is not essential to identity, but can represent and convey identity, and more specifically, it can be used to engage online crowds of others in practices about identity. That is, a practice of “continuous requests and answers about existential matters of being, becoming and belonging. Who am I? How do I appear to others? Who can I be and become? Where do I belong?” (Hällgren 2019, p 4).
How may young peoples’ existential practice, and not only representations, of identity when mediated by digital technologies, be researched? Identity and technologies have, indeed, been extensively research and theorized in terms of the Selfie, the Persona, as Facebook identities, as open source identity, the Self as networked, as online identity, virtual identity, digital identity, and such. However, empirical resonance in larger structures of young peoples´ existential interactions about being, becoming and belonging, mediated by contemporary, digital technology, is yet to be explored. Questions in focus of this paper concerns how this can or could be done, what data gathering methods are appropriate, what ethical issues becomes pertinent, and what other methodological issues needs attention?
This paper is largely analytical and points towards methodological considerations. In multimodal, multidirectional, collaborative and networked ways young people can represent, communicate, gather information and also engage online crowds of others in continuous requests and answers about being, becoming and belonging. Contemporary digital technologies, such as social media, are pervasive in young peoples’ social interactions, and aggregate huge amounts of data on almost every aspect of their lives (boyd 2014, Björk 2017, Quan-Hasse and Sloan 2017, Lindgren 2017). Researching identity, as an existential practice, at the intersection of digital technologies, produces a dynamic unit of analysis and a number of methodological and ethical considerations. Is one method for data gathering, or many, to preferer? Or netnographic field work, participant observations or qualitative interviews (Kozinet 2015)? Or using a bricolage of methods (Denzin and Lincoln 1994), improvising and combining what is at hands in creative, adaptive ways and using the unit of analysis as guidance to aim for what boyd (2008) term as a typological map of human practice? Or is data driven analytics the way to go? Or using data emerging from the media itself, such as hashtags, links, likes (Lindgren 2017)? Information about large-scale patterns of social practices can be extracted through automated data collection and analysis. Data collected from social media contexts are often referred to as “big data” and needs to be approached critically, both in terms of epistemology and ethics (boyd and Crawford, 2012) Moreover, social media data can be diversified, for instance, as participative intentional data, consequential data, self-published data, social media data, data traces, found data etc. (Purdam and Elliot 2015). Being big or small and however collected, these data, in particular self-published data, brings new ethical challenges that has to be continuously dealt with in ethically sensitive and professional ways. Most of social media data are easily accessed and seemingly public, but as boyd and Crawford explain, that does not mean it can be used without ethical consideration. AoIR (2012) recommends a progressive approach to ethical decision making and emphasizes concepts such as harm, vulnerability, respect for persons, and beneficence to be operationalized in research practices and in context sensitive ways. Guidelines particularly sensitive to young people are provided by EU Kids Online (2008). Boellstorff et. al. (2012) recommend researchers to operate from principles of care, respect, non-deception and empathy but also anonymity and informed consent.
The methodological considerations presented in this paper will be of importance to better understand how young peoples´ practice of making identity is mediated by digital technologies, primarily social media. The interpretive lens of Crowdsourcing identity can then be reflected in the methodologies used to research young peoples’ making of identity and digital technologies in more informed ways, and this may lead to a more ethically informed understanding of this phenomenon. Considering the amount of data available for researching this fundamentally human practice of making identity, it is of importance to make deliberate, well informed choices on how to empirically reflect this practice – and the meaning it has to young people. Moreover, these methodological considerations may have wider implications if the promotion of digital technologies in education is thought of in their underlying ethical and existential meaning. Digital technologies that are central in the practices such as the one implied by the short vignette of Mary may become promoted in formal education in ways that are naïve and perhaps harmful if not fully understood. With an informed understanding this might be more a matter for education of using wisdom to guide the use rather than techniques.
AoIR: Markham, A., Buchanan, E. (2012) Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0) https://aoir.org/reports/ethics2.pdf Boellstorff, T. (red.) (2012) Ethnography and virtual worlds: a handbook of method. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. https://books.google.se/books?redir_esc=y&hl=sv&id=RBlYYuyshzwC&q=empathy#v=onepage&q=care&f=false boyd, d. (2014) It’s Complicated. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. boyd. d. & Crawford, K. (2012) CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA, Information, Communication & Society, 15:5, 662-679: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2012.678878 Björk, Å. (2017). Drama, hat och vänskap: om ungdomars interaktioner i sociala medier. Diss. Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2017. Umeå. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-142052 Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (red.) (1994) Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage. European Commission (2018) On the Digital Education Action Plan. COM(2018) 22 final. Brussels, 17.1.2018 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52018DC0022&from=EN European Commission (2017) Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture. COM(2017) 673 final. Strasbourg, 14.11.2017 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/communication-strengthening-european-identity-education-culture_en.pdf EU Kids Online; Lobe, Bojana, Livingstone, Sonia, Olafsson, Kjartan and Simões, José Alberto (2008) Best practice research guide: how to research children and online technologies in comparative perspective. (Deliverable D4.2). EU Kids Online, London, UK. ISBN 9780853283546 http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/EUKidsOnline/EU%20Kids%20I%20(2006-9)/EU%20Kids%20Online%20I%20Reports/D42_ISBN.pdf Hällgren, Camilla (2019) Crowdsourcing identities: On identity as an existential practice mediated by contemporary digital technology First Monday, Vol. 24, No. https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i1.8112 Kozinets, R.V. (2015) Netnography: redefined. (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Ltd. Lindgren, S. (2017) Digital media & society. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. National Agency for Education (2011/18) Curriculum for the compulsory school, preschool class and school-age educare 2011: Revised 2018. Purdam, K. & Elliot, M. (2015) The Changing Social Science Data Landscape. In P. Halfpenny & R. Protecter (Eds.), Innovations in Digital Research Methods (pp.25-58). London, Sage. Quan-Hasse, A., & Sloan, L.Q. (2017). The SAGE Handbook of Social Media Research Methods. SAGE Publications Ltd.
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