This week has been spent in the pursuit of two things:

  • A subject for my ethnography
  • Suitable tools to document my ethnographic subject

One of these pursuits has been decidedly easier than the other. As for choosing a subject, I find myself sticking on the essence of what it means to be a community, one of the core requirements for an ethnography. To study signal as opposed to noise, collaboration as opposed to some sort of happenstance. I keep coming again and again to the Bell’s Community and Cyberculture, specifically the discussion of the differences between authentic community and subculture.

Does the technology merely give us a silicon-induced illusion of community? The ‘aura’ of
cybertechnology – which we’ll pick up on again later – might in fact be the cement that binds these communities together, just as earlier ‘communications communities’ were seen to form around the telegraph, the radio and the television (Stone CR) (102).
So, are the communities I am interested in pursuing merely illusions of community, branded with a certain gloss that implies community without actually including it? This is something I have been toying with the last week in much of my Lifestream work. The communities I am considering for my ethnography include:
  • YouTube comments revolving around a specific topic or series of videos- good, but very loose sense of community here. Would this qualify as community?
  • Flickr photogroups-stronger sense of cohesion here, less of a subculture, more of an open, authentic form of interaction.
  • Elearning Africa- a conference (physical event) that spawned quite a sturdy digital network that spawns multiple social media platforms (which I feel is a good sign of community-less technologically dependent or specific

Tools to tell this ethnographic tale, I feel, will be the easier part of the equation. I am experimenting with the following channels, all of which have interaction (specifically for the Elearning Africa crowd) from these communities:

  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Audioboo (or some podcasting alternative)

I am an active participant in the Elearning Africa community so it will be important to establish both the participant and observer roles for this ethnographic study. More from the field.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.