Tag Archives: dissertation

Funny Money: An ethnography of local currencies

foto profilo After having completed a MSc in Economics and Management for Arts, Culture, Media and Entrainment at Bocconi University, Milan – Italy (2009), Mario Campana (@mariocampana) joined Cass Business School in 2010 as PhD student in Marketing. His main research interests are ascribed in the areas of consumer research, consumer culture theory, communities and money. In particular, his dissertation explores the relationship between the consumption of money and ideology, studying the phenomenon of local currencies.

Editor’s note: Mario Campana (@mariocampana), a PhD student at City University London’s Cass Business School, researches the growing trend of local currencies – of which there are currently over 3000 around the world.

He recently presented at EPIC, where in a Pecha Kucha presentation he discussed his research into the Brixton Pound, a neighborhood in South London. Expanding upon the research presented in the rapid-fire format of his last presentation on this aspect of his research, this article expands upon his ethnographic inquiry into Brixton’s local currency, delving deep into the social forces driving the development of the currency and the surrounding community. Such forces include issues of gentrification, and the conflicting notions of community and belonging between previously settled and locally rooted immigrants from the Caribbean and the recent influx of young, wealthy, and upwardly-mobile settlers from other parts of the city.

For more posts from this EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang (who gave the opening keynoted talk at EPIC this year), follow this link.

10 Brixton Pounds 

When we talk about money, we usually refer to national or supra-national currencies such as the Sterling, Euro, and Dollars. However, the variety of money is much more extended, and there are many other currencies used to demarcate different types of exchanges. In the last few years particularly, the phenomenon of complementary currencies has been rejuvenated. A recent study counted over 3000 systems globally (Longhurst and Seyfang, 2013).

In this post, I am going to discuss what I presented  in the Pecha Kucha session at EPIC 2013. My focus is on a specific complementary currency: the Brixton Pound in London. I have been conducting an ethnography on this local currency since March 2011. During the first year of my PhD in Marketing, I became interested on how consumers approach and stigmatise the mainstream financial system, especially during the last financial crisis.

Local currencies represent a good context to show how communities try to build resilience to fight financial instability. Furthermore, the Brixton Pound was the first local currency to appear in a huge metropolitan area. In an era where cities are increasingly global and old bricks-and-mortar neighbourhoods have been substituted by new shiny buildings (Zuckin, 2009), it is quite unique for a neighbourhood to claim its own historical, cultural and economic identity through the creation of a currency. Read More…

Ethnographic Entanglements: How having multiple roles enriched my research in Nicaragua

Chelsey Hauge

Chelsey Hauge

Editor’s Note: the final guest author for this month’s Ethnography in Education theme, Chelsey Hauge (@chelseyhauge), is finishing her PhD this coming year at the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of British Columbia. Originally from California, Chelsey has spent the last decade cultivating her love of youth and media, from New York to Oakland, Vancouver to Nicaragua. She provides a perspective on ethnography in education outside of the United States with a fascinating account of doing ethnographic research on a youth radio organization in Nicaragua – while also running the program. She shows us that her deep entanglements with the program were an asset, not a liability, and invites us to reflect on the entanglements that any ethnographic research necessarily creates.


An experienced education researcher recently admitted to me that they did not allow their students to conduct dissertation research in spaces where the student was not only a researcher, but also a facilitator, teacher, leader, or producer. It was an admission of curiosity: I have conducted my own dissertation research on a program I am intimately involved with – I led this program’s inception, designed its goals, formed the partnerships necessary to carry out the program, trained its staff, and mentored its youth. In fact, I grew up within the broader auspices of the Amigos de las Americas (www.amigoslink.org) program, and only through years of involvement was I given the opportunity to craft and direct the media program in Nicaragua. I could have never conducted my ethnographic research on how youth come to tell particular social justice stories without these most intimate connections.

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The recognition that this entire project would have been located outside this researcher’s “rules” urged me to consider the possibilities and limitations of such close research and programming work. Certainly, ethnography is always a research practice built upon and muddled by complex relationships between researcher and research subjects. As researchers interested in the personal, the everyday, the experiences of folks, and the way events come together and shift, ethnographers enter into relationships where roles of “researcher” and “subject” are often unclear, where friendship and research grow from each other and even depend on each other.

As a researcher drawing on feminist ethnography, this gets even more complex as I am invested in a research practice that critically engages with the power dynamics in relationships, friendships, communities, between researchers and researched. The experienced researcher’s stance, then, serves to make their student’s lives less complicated, their research just a bit less tangled up with the researcher’s multiple commitments. Yet, the tangles I have encountered as I research civic engagement and youth media in Nicaragua are visible to me only because I inhabit both roles, and those tangles are productive, fascinating, and generative. I have been privileged to engage with a richness that would have been impossible without ebb and flow between both roles.

How I came to AMIGOS as a site – and to ethnography as a research method

I came to my research with youth media producers in rural Nicaragua before I ever called it “research.” Read More…

Ethnography and the Geography of Learning

Alex Cho

Alex Cho

Editor’s Note: Alexander Cho (@alexcho47) is a doctoral student in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Radio-TV-Film. In addition to conducting fieldwork for the Connected Learning team in Austin, he helps coordinate the team’s qualitative data management and analysis efforts. His chief research interests involve how LGBTQ youth use social media in their daily lives. We are excited that he is contributing to this month’s theme on ethnography in education with and exploration of the lived experience of economically disadvantaged and minority high school students who are attending a low-income high school in the midst of a wealthy suburb of Texas. His group’s ethnography brings home the importance of experiences of place – both school and neighborhood – to what it means to be “suburban poor,” a phenomenon that is quickly becoming a defining feature of American cities.


When our Austin research team was initially designing “The Digital Edge” as part of the Connected Learning Research Network, we wondered: what would be the best way for us to gain a picture that was as comprehensive as possible of the daily lives and digitally-mediated learning ecologies of youth—especially youth from under-resourced minority communities? We were intrigued, for example, by Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that showed that youth of color were more likely than their white counterparts to use mobile internet. This was provocative survey-based quantitative information, but it left us wondering – what was the quality and character of this sort of access? Far from being celebratory, could it be that this was in fact because their quality of home access was poor? This was just one of many questions that we felt quantitative data on youth digital media practices left unanswered. And if we were going to marry youth digital media practices with their potential for informal and connected learning, we were going to have to figure out how to understand and describe these practices in much greater detail.

We realized that two facets of traditional ethnographic method would be invaluable to us: long time on task and nuanced qualitative data gathering. We wanted to pick up the stories where the quantitative data left off. What were these youth actually doing, why, and how? How were their lives impacted, what happened when something changed (If a mother lost her job? Or a college scholarship fell through?). We wondered: Can we begin to paint a picture of the daily lives, rituals, opportunities and challenges that  youth on the “Digital Edge” experience in school? And what, if any, is the potential or affordance of digital technology for these young people in creating education environments that develop the skills and literacies necessary to thrive in their next steps, be they post-secondary education, vocationally-oriented aims, or other sorts of civic opportunities?

Austin map

From “The Geography of Opportunity in Austin and How It Is Changing,” Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

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Connecting the Dots: Researcher Positionality in Participant Observation

Aaminah Norris

Aaminah Norris

Editor’s Note: Aaminah Norris (@aaminahm) is just about to finish her PhD in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. She studies “critical making” and “design thinking” movements in an urban school, particularly the ways that its students use design thinking to develop methods to negotiate their racial and gender identities, which in turn relates to their self-efficacy. We’re excited to hear her perspectives on ethnographer positionality as a researcher and a woman of color as a contribution to this month’s theme on ethnography in education.


Ethnographic researchers all have to deal with issues of ethnographer positionality. Participant observers must make on-the-ground decisions about how much of their relationships to the communities that they research is participation and how much is observation, contributing to debates about the role of ethnographers. As a researcher of color whose background mirrors those of some of the individuals I study, I have had to make many such decisions about my positionality.  Sometimes, though, the participants in the community made this decision for me.

Diversity Image
The following narrative illustrates ways in which my participation was informed by the teachers at my field site.  I will relate a snapshot of my ethnographic field note data collected during participant observation of one teacher professional development training.

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Interactive eBooks and Reading Comprehension – I’ll Meet You There

Sheila Frye

Sheila Frye

Editor’s Note: Our next author, Sheila Frye (@sheila_frye), wears many hats: she is an educator with fifteen years’ experience, a reading specialist, a literacy innovation researcher, and a doctoral candidate studying the design of learning environments. Her research focuses on the crossroads between interactive eBooks and reading comprehension.  She has teaching certifications in reading, special education, and educational supervision, and blogs at http://teachingliteracy.tumblr.com. We are honored to feature her insights – and, as you will see, her wonderful exuberance – in this month’s theme on ethnography in education.


I have joyful data.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I have AWESOMELY LOVELY and JOYFUL data.

You see, for the past nine months I have been entrenched in my dissertation fieldwork, giddily collecting data on second graders’ responses to reading interactive eBooks on the iPad. Using a repeated measure design, I sat with thirty participants individually for two thirty-minute sessions each and observed what they did while reading the two chosen eBooks in either a “Read-to-Me” or “Read-and-Play” mode. After reading, the participants engaged in several performance tasks to assess their understanding of the stories and to gather information on their personal views of reading interactive eBooks.

In most children’s stories, the reader takes on a more passive role. But I wanted to study what happens when readers become active participants in a story. Luckily, Nosy Crow developed these awesome eBook apps that contain digital enhancements to transform the reading experience into one that requires the user to manipulate and interact with the characters, words, and other textual elements to traverse the plot.  Consequently, users have the option to become active participants in the narratives themselves. You know the Three Little Pigs? Well, users can help the pigs build their houses with the tap of a finger and, diabolically so, blow on the iPad to assist the wolf in huffing and puffing and blowing their houses down. Think Cinderella needs to upstage her mean stepsisters? Users can put the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot so she can gloat until her heart’s content.

Cinderella Slipper

Genius, right?

Think about it: Children are naturally curious and practically beg to be involved in the environment that surrounds them. Drawing upon this to design eBooks that allow young readers to become part of the story?

Simply brilliant.

My research takes an intimate look at “interactive eBooks,” software applications that provide users with a multimedia literary experience designed especially for a touch screen device. Interactive eBooks go beyond traditional eBooks because they have “hotspots” embedded within the software that allow readers to become actively involved in the experience of reading and, subsequently, may provide learners with new ways to make meaning and increase text comprehension. As you may know, reading comprehension is the ability to make meaning and construct knowledge, an act that stems from the interaction between the reader and the text. In order to comprehend a text successfully, readers must actively reflect on and decode the printed word, combine this with their own prior knowledge, attend to unwritten nuances and inferred purposes of the author, and finally synthesize this information to make new meaning.

Whew!

Read More…

Collateral Benefits: Focus Groups as Social Support Groups

Ricarose Roque

Ricarose Roque

Editor’s Note: Ricarose Roque (@ricarose) continues this month’s theme of ethnography in education with a lovely piece about some unexpected results of qualitative focus groups she ran with groups of parents as part of her research. Ricarose is a doctoral student in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, where she works with families in communities that have limited access to resources and social support around computing. We are thrilled to have her as a guest author at Ethnography Matters. 


In designing our research projects, we weigh which methods can contribute (or not contribute) into our research questions, but how might these methods benefit the people we study?

I found a surprising outcome in a recent series of focus groups I conducted to understand parents’ perceptions of computing in their lives and their children’s lives. Parents play an important role in their children’s learning ecology, from encouraging their children at home to brokering relevant relationships and resources for children beyond the home. As technology proliferates to every part of our lives from how we connect with one another to how we can learn, I’ve been interested in how parents are negotiating technology use with their children, especially among parents who do not have a history or background in computing and engineering. (I use parents loosely here to mean any adult caretaker.) I used focus groups to interview multiple parents in a familiar setting (their local community center) and to leverage the dynamics of groups to gather shared perceptions or contentious points.

In the hour and a half we shared together, I would discuss with 3 to 5 parents their personal and children’s use of technology and its influence on their lives. And at the end of each one, I noticed that parents seemed to enjoy the experience. They thanked me for putting this together. And then they thanked each other. Some suggested doing “this” again. Parents exchanged contact information. There was a feeling that we went through something special. And I only made sense of what that was through iterative readings of the transcripts.

parents

I found that parents connected over their sometimes overwhelming anxiety around computing and how it influenced how they saw themselves, their children, and their relationships to their children. For example, they agreed that there were benefits to using computers and mobile devices in their lives, but at the same time, they shared questions about what was being lost or given up with their use. With cell phones, they could get in touch with their children immediately and at any time. With Facebook, they could keep in touch with relatives still living in the countries they left behind. But when someone grows up with communication done through text-based mediums and interactions mediated through devices, how do they connect with people emotionally and deeply in real life? How do they develop their sense of what is right and wrong? One mother asked about technology: “How — not even how does it benefit him — how does it benefit other people? How does what you do [with technology] help someone else?”

For every question I asked, parents illuminated their responses with stories. One dad shared his disappointment with how technology has complicated reading with his son, and even replaced him as his son’s reading partner.

You hit on a word [on an iPad reading app] and it says the word for you. I was a little offended, I thought I would be a great reader for them, but they preferred to have the, whatever the person who had been paid by the company to read to them, which I’m still bitter about.

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Ethnography of Trolling: Workarounds, Discipline-Jumping & Ethical Pitfalls (2 of 3)

whitney phillips december 2012Editor’s note: While ethnographers sometimes encounter resistance from their research subjects, it’s not everyday that these subjects threaten to harm or otherwise humiliate the researcher. In her second guest post,Whitney Phillips @wphillips49  tells us how she responded to threats from the community she was studying. Whitney also shares with us how she adjusted her everyday life to her research, how she handled professors’ concerns, and how her analysis evolved over time.  

Whitney also reflects on earlier criticisms of her work, giving us an intimate sense of how she negotiated her position within her fieldwork. 

 Her second post is a fantastic follow up to her riveting post from last month about her ethnographic work on an anonymous community, internet trolls.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers

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As promised in my last post, this post will discuss my role as a participant observer in the 2008-2012 troll space. It was weird, I hinted, which really is the only way to describe it. Because space is limited, I’m going to focus on three points of overlapping weirdness, namely troll blindness, real and perceived apologia, and ethnographic vampirism. There are other stories I could tell, and other points of weirdness I could discuss, but these are moments that taught me the most, for better and for worse.

sagan trollsss

It’s Just a Death Threat, Don’t Worry About It

For the first few years of my research project, I kept the lowest public profile possible. I had published a short thought piece on trolls’ relationship to 2009’s Obama/Joker poster, but otherwise was conducting my research in stealth mode. My friends knew what I was working on, sort of, and whenever I could I angled seminar papers towards my dissertation project (an especially neat trick in the Piers Plowman class I took during my third year of coursework). So my work wasn’t top secret, but it wasn’t something you could easily find just by Googling my name — which was exactly how I wanted it.

This changed after I started working on Facebook memorial page trolling (RIP trolling for short), which could run the gamut from harassing so-called “grief tourists,” people who post condolence messages onto the Facebook RIP pages of dead strangers, all the way to attacking the friends and family of murdered teenagers. By 2010, and spurred by that year’s series of gay teen suicides (the coverage of which trolls were more than happy to exploit), memorial page trolling was shaping into a pretty major news story. Because my University of Oregon student bio had recently been updated to include information about my research on the subject, media outlets began reaching out. I did one newspaper interview, which lead to another, which resulted in my name and information being posted onto 4chan’s /b/ board, one of the internet’s most notorious trolling hotspots (my article on /b/ can be found here). Read More…

On Digital Ethnography, What do computers have to do with ethnography? (1 of 4)

Editor’s Note: While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that. In the first of her three-part guest post series, she shows how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities. By drawing on examples from her own research on independent rock musicians, she shares with us how she moved from being an ethnographer of purely physical domains to an ethnographer who built software programs to gather more relevant qualitative data. 

Wendy is currently a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. She recently completed a Ph.D. in the Critical and Comparative Studies program in the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation, an ethnography of Asian American independent rock musicians, deploys the methods of ethnomusicology and digital humanities to explore the complex interrelationships between popular music and geography in transnational contexts. She implemented methods of digital ethnography to map musicians’ social networks. She tweets at @wendyfhsu and blogs at beingwendyhsu.info. She also plays with the vintage Asian garage pop revivalist band Dzian!.

Check out past posts from guest bloggers. Here are some ideas for how you can contribute.

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When Tricia asked me to contribute a series on Ethnography Matters, I thought that I would take this opportunity to bring together the notes on digital ethnography that I have collected over the last couple of years. I would like to push the boundaries of computational usage in ethnographic processes a bit here. I really want to expand the definition of digital ethnography beyond the use of computers, tablets, and smart phones as devices to interact with online communities, or to capture, transfer, and store field media.

In this three-part series, I am going to discuss how working with computational tools could widen the scope of ethnographic work and deepen our practice. I will stay mostly within the domain of data gathering in this first post. In the second post, I will talk about the process of field data interpreting and visualizing; and the last post, I will focus on how the digital may transform ethnographic narrative and argumentation.

In this post, I’d like to foreground computational methodology in thinking about how we as ethnographers may deploy digital tools as we explore communities within and around digital infrastructures. I am particularly interested in how we use these tools to study communities that are digitally organized. How do we use and think about data ethnographically? How does one use computational tools to navigate in digital communities? What are the advantages of leveraging (small) data approaches in doing ethnographic work? While this post is focused on the study of digitally embedded communities, in my later posts, I will speak more broadly about how the digital may extend how we look at communities where face-to-face interactions are central.

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