The new way to research

I want you to consider any research articles you have read lately, – whether it was on climate change (I hope it was), on how Facebook might be making us depressed, or on why people wear makeup (surprisingly interesting) – whatever it was, consider how much of the paper was based off quantitative research and heavily relied on charts and graphs. Now, consider how much of the research involved collaborative ethnography. ‘Never heard of it,’ you say? Not for long.

Collaborative ethnography is research that involves both the researchers and the collaborators partaking in constant mutual and collaborative engagement throughout the entirety of the study. This yields a greater and more involved relationship between the researcher and the people being researched; collaborators are not only part of the research, but they also receive something in reciprocal for the study. The result is a study that is co-written by local communities of collaborators which considers multiple audiences outside the confines of academic discourse; in this way, it often surfaces more accurate findings of social environments and a deeper and more contextualised understanding of relevant issues.

A relatively simple example of collaborative research can be seen in my previous post where I interviewed my mum about her experiences of television growing up. This study was collaborative in a number of ways: importantly, the interview acted as a reciprocal experience as my mum was glad to be able to help me out in any university work, and because she also got to share some pretty special childhood memories with me. Acting as a sort of reminiscing conversation, the conversation allowed me to hear about my grandma’s everyday life, something I had no idea about as she sadly passed away when my mum was very young. Additionally, each student studying BCM240 also interviewed someone about their television memories, and so all of these experiences can be pooled together to collect emerging themes and question — a perfect example of collaboration at a very deep level. If this research was conducted quantitatively, it would’ve been very difficult to conduce results that involved so much of the emotional responses that came out of many interviews.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of quantitative research (gotta love a good fun fact statistic) and I am certain that quantitative data could add depth to a lot of these television research reports, (data like how many people owned a TV, how often they watched it and so on) but collaborative ethnography has the ability to fill the gaps that quantitative research simply can’t and so I believe individual stories of media space experience really should matter to commercial researchers.

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Thick Ethic Confusion: what is right and what is wrong?

image sourced from: http://xen.com.au/social-media-marketing-ethics/
image sourced from: http://xen.com.au/social-media-marketing-ethics/

Ethics can be thought of as being common moral guidelines which are intended to help us differentiate between right and wrong (Tinkler, 2013). The BBC defines ethics as ‘a system of moral principles, affecting how people make their decision and lead their lives’. Ethics are important to ensure that people worldwide understand what is acceptable—to guarantee people adhere to standards that promote understanding and justice. But it is rarely that simple. With no fixed answers as to what is exactly right or wrong, ethics can be highly subjective. This is due to the fact that standards of ethics depend on various different factors such as ‘discipline, political system, legal system, religious/social system, research content, setting/institution and time in history’ (McCutcheon, 2015).

Social media websites are increasingly being used as vast tools for research, opening up new opportunities for researchers. However, this new and rapidly expanding form of research tool has raised several challenges and concerns in regards to ethics. Social media websites have the ability to collect personal information from users when they set up an account – personal information including name, gender, age, location etc. As well as this, statistical information can also be collected through a person’s use of social media, such as their time of use, frequency of use, types of people and activities engaged with, which external links are clicked on, etc. etc.: pretty much anything a person does on social media can be seen, stored, analysed and utilised by social media analysts. But with this ability to track users come several ethical issues. One recent example where these ethical issues are clear is the experiment conducted by Kramer (Core Data Science Team, Facebook, Inc.), Guillory and Hancock (both from the Departments of Communication and Information Science, Cornell University). Facebook examined the experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks with the intention to find out whether ‘emotional contagions’ affect the emotions of social media users – that is, whether the emotions of social media users and their content was contagious to other users. But, in order to conduct this experiment, the research team used filtering software which allowed the researchers to filter through user’s newsfeeds. Even though the filtering system was backed by Facebook’s Data Use Policy which every user had to agree to on creating an account (yeah, because everyone reads the 100000 page policy book and doesn’t just click ‘I agree’), it is the fact that the 689, 003 participants, chosen at random, had no idea that they were being a part of the study which raises ethical issues. There was absolutely no level of informed consent. This experiment has led to many concerns amongst the recent media research which features social media statistics. I definitely believe that any social media user should be directly informed if their activities are being watched and recorded for media research; even though I would be totally fine with my data being used, and I’m sure most people would also be, it is just the fact of knowing that I am being watched which would make the report much more ethical.

Ethics are pretty much just a big subjective ball of confusion, with every person having a slightly different perspective on what is right or wrong. But regardless, it is clear that codes of ethics are definitely necessary in research in order to protect the rights and emotions of every human being.

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References:

Kramer, A. D. I., Guillory, J. E. & Hancock, J. T. 2014, ‘Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111, no. 24, pp. 8788-8790.

McCutcheon, M. 2015 Research Ethics, BCM210, University of Wollongong, accessed 29 March 2015

Tinkler, P 2013, ‘Ethical issues and legalities,’ Using photos in social and historical research, SAGE, London, pp. 195-208, viewed 29 March 2015, <https://tr.uow.edu.au/uow/file/01c8dc7c-27b0-419b-a25f-54edd7f10d5b/1/Ethical%20issues%20and%20legalities.pdf&gt>.

Researching research

Research-Design
sourced from: http://research-methodology.net/research-methodology/research-design/

Researching what research is – if this isn’t paradoxical then I’m not sure what is. But, here goes nothing …

The first blog of a subject is always the hardest, so admittedly I found myself opening a new safari tab on my phone with the brain-dead intention of Googling the word research. But, after looking at the amount of tabs I already had opened with various questions directed at Mr. Google and his endless pool of knowledge, it became obvious that I research a lot more than I had ever consciously realized. I had consulted Google on cheap flights, bushwalks in my area, the phases of the moon, and costumes to wear to an upcoming circus-themed 21st – all in the past few days. Whilst, these questions might’ve been burning and imperative to me for a couple of hours, they are in no way scholarly research, they are in fact everyday research: research that is unconscious and automatic. Scholarly research, however, is deliberate, it is ‘systematic and objective’, and it revolves around ‘correctness and truthfulness’ (Berger 2014). Scholarly research should be completely detached from our personal opinions, biases and experiences (McCutcheon 2015). No matter if the research falls into the category of everyday or scholarly, either way, when we pose these questions we search for answers that have been provided already, answers that we can add value to or answers that may not exist currently; we aim to establish facts and reach conclusions. Further than this, the research we undertake can fall under two categories: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research is about ‘asking people for their opinions in a structured way so that you can produce hard facts and statistics to guide you’ (Willis 2015). Qualitative Research is primarily exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of ‘underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations’ (Wyse 2011). Both forms of research can be incorporated into finding a conclusion to an idea, however each have their own downfalls. Berger (2014) claims that quantitative research is accused of being too narrow; where as qualitative researchers are accused of reading into things that aren’t there.

Media research is all of what’s been discussed above, but applied to aspects of the media, including mass media, social media, print media, radio, cinema etc. Research into these areas can help us to identify links between media, culture, society and individuals. Strasburger points out that there is currently not enough media research and that the ‘effects of the media on children and adolescents’ are more or less unknown (2013). This means that there is a space where media research could possibly help fill in the blanks to hopefully minimise the risks that the media presents to vulnerable targets. That is where my interest in media research lies; the effect that media has on its consumers, in particular social media. I am particularly interested in our online social presences and the way that we each shape our online image to make people view us in a certain way. I want to look at the concept of ‘Facebook envy’, where people put the best aspects of their life online and leave out the average things so that when people look at their online profile they form an envious admiration of that person. In broad terms, I am interested in media research in regards to the question ‘does Facebook make people happy?’
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Reference:

Berger, Arthur A. 2014, ‘What is research?’, in Media and communication research methods : an introduction to qualitative and quantitative approaches, 3rd ed., SAGE, Los Angeles, pp. 13-32

McCutcheon, M 2015, ‘Lecture 2: what is media research?’, BCM210, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, 11 March

Strasburger, V.C. 2013, “Spinal Column: Why Isn’t There More Media Research?”, Clinical Pediatrics, vol. 52, no. 7, pp. 587-588