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Showing posts from March, 2011

Visualisation and Computerisation: Putting RSAnimate into perspective

How does visualisation enact a message or a lecture?

This question was posed by sociologist and ethnographer Steve Woolgar in his introductory keynote at the ongoing Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation Conference in Oxford. He provided one very entertaining example that deserves a replay. Contradicting the much-celebrated RSAnimate's visualisation of a Slavoj Zizek lecture (on 'cultural capitalism') with the more mundane video of Zizek delivering the lecture in person, Woolgar invited us to think about what it means to visualise.

While Woolgar would normally argue that maintaining an ethnographic distance to the phenomenon under study is key to making a valuable contribution, in this morning's keynote, he played with the thought that it might be possible to allow oneself be dragged in by the lure and coolness of the visuals if at the same time maintaining a reflexive irony.

In this spirit I would recommend the reader to expose herself to Woolgar's example. …

Online interviews 3: Being there through text

This third instalment in my mini series on performing research interviews online deals with the issue of communicating via text such as emails and chat, rather than speech.

Communicating through text is not trivial since it leaves out the use of facial expressions and intonations that support offline interaction. In general, online communication implies a loss of social cues. For example, the lack of body language means that the interviewer cannot take signs of discomfort or confusion into account as easily. In terms of reactions, the 'interviewer’s repertoire' of tools with which to encourage the respondent includes nonverbal responses. Limiting this repertoire might make it difficult to build rapport effectively.

Seen from the perspective of face-to-face standards of qualitative data validity, there is a risk that the interviewee will find it offensive or unserious that the interviewer is not physically present and listening actively. For the same reasons, one might fe…

Online interviews 2: Purposive sampling and digital divides

Ten years ago, the “predicted trajectory of future penetration” of the Internet generated optimism on behalf of online research (Couper 2000). The rise of the Internet as a pervasive communication technology heralded unprecedented reach and ever lower costs of social science.

This second post on conducting qualitative interviews online is concerned with exactly this reach - the recruitment of respondents. Borrowing from quantitative lingo, one might call it sampling. But it should be made clear that theoretical purpose rather than probability must guide the choice of who to interview. Thus, I suggest the term 'purposive sampling'.

A major obstacle to purposive sampling of interviewees for online questioning is the so-called digital divide. The divide exists both between Internet users and non-users, and within the flock of Internet users.

According to Couper’s early meta-study, between 27-53% of adult Americans used the Internet in 1998-99. A recent US survey said the figur…

Online interviews 1: Introduction

The qualitative interview is perhaps the most popular method in social science. But online interviews are still relatively marginal, especially ‘real time’ ones. In a short series of posts to be published within the next week, I will suggests ways in which the Internet both challenges and furthers the interview method.

Discussing the validity of online research raises basic questions: Are online methods merely extending offline methods, or should they be seen as departing from them? This is related to the fundamental challenge in social science of inquiring a constantly changing world. Are the offline methods that have been cultivated over decades still adequate in a complex information society?

Depending on what one believes to be the answer, different threats to validity are brought to the forefront. For example, if online interviews are seen as merely an extension in which rapport still needs to be built in the conventional way, media richness is a key factor. If, on the other hand…