Tag Archive | Repertory Grids

The Meanings of New Media

In parallel to addressing complicated methodological questions, it’s going to be important to outline what exactly is meant (in the context of my research) by “New Media”. The term is one of those that means different things to different people, varying according to where they work, what pre-conceptions they hold, and of course, the way you phrase the question. It encompasses both the socio-cultural and the technical. Pasted below are some definitions of New Media gathered from a simple Google “definition: ” search.

Which of these (click to enlarge!) make most sense to you? What about if you were a Professor of Chemistry, or a Researcher in Archaeology? What would they mean – or imply – if you were Head of a Journalism School; but were also wearing a slightly different hat and taking part in some PR activities on behalf of your institution? Some Universities now have Social Media policies in place that tentatively suggest best practices although their focus often seems to be on using Social Media as a sort of PR and outreach “toolset” – without any great attention paid to the fine-grained ways in which different New/Social Media concepts and techniques may or may not apply to different members of the faculty at different stages.

Blogs, wikis, social bookmarking sites; articles or multimedia objects with comments pages embedded – these are naturally enough included in just about all definitions. So too are online community art projects. But what about, say, ebooks? They are New Media, yes, but are they Social Media? Do they allow for that key element around which I hope to structure my data analysis – participation? It might be argued that the ability to quickly publish documents in ebook formats makes them a participatory media. But this is taking part in a quite solitary way: your engagement is more with the carrier than with a group. If someone annotates or makes a comment on an ebook, you will probably never know about it. Where is the innovative dialogue and debate – distinct from more traditional kinds?

These questions really matter since I will need to identify precisely the examples I want to use within data gathering exercises. Selecting various instances or types that may or may not be somewhere on the participatory spectrum will certainly be valid as “controls” or to provide contrast and illuminate findings. Texture and tone are as important as polarities.

As Zizi Papacharissi has pointed out, older forms of print and broadcast media, which by their very nature aim to communicate with people and get them talking, have always been Social and interactive. They have always had the potential to effect social change (even if unintentionally). So, to contrast “Traditional Media” with digital variations by calling these “Social” may be misleading. She prefers “New Media” (as a way of not over-emphasising the social aspect) and I think that making the same distinction will be helpful.

Still, this imprecision and fluidity of meaning is why approaches derived from psychology (such as Repertory Grids or Semantic Differentials) will be appropriate to my work. These introduce something approaching objectivity to the measurement of the subjective – and can allow us to find out which concepts or connotations people associate with “New Media” – before we try to find the connections and differences between them. By letting interviewees/subjects speak for themselves to identify constructs or respond to paired adjectives, we try to avoid the introduction of bias on both sides. Knee-jerk responses such as “New Media is just a flash in the pan” or “Well, I think Facebook is really cool” are not what will get us to the heart of the matter.

To take one example, Sarah Kjellberg nicely summarises the ways in which blogs should be understood as evolving hybrid genres, full of rich and subtle socio-technical characteristics that vary depending on purpose, use, author, audience and time. Blogs (like other New Media) are “shaped by individuals at the same time as they shape social practices”. That’s the sort of approach that might well get us to the heart of things.

Information and Communications: a first meeting on my research

Well, it’s time to start thinking properly again about the Research Proposal that brought me here. What better way than to kick some ideas around with my lovely new Supervisors? I met them this morning for a very productive exchange and a few cups of coffee. The building was strangely quiet since (swot that I am) I’m starting a little bit early. Well, quiet save for a procession of tidy-looking primary school children in blazers, who apparently were being shown around the campus!

The project that will (hopefully) 3 years from now secure me a shiny Doctorate is provisionally entitled ” New Media and Academic Researchers – Politics, Philosophies and Participation“. The idea here is that I will address the ways in which academics across disciplines perceive and make use of New/Social media within (and beyond) the research and possibly teaching lifecycles. This will be looked at in relation to theories of participation. Obviously ascertaining attitudes and perceptions is a delicate and tricky undertaking, so we are still thinking about what precise methodology will be most suitable. Repertory Grids are one strong contender, as is Sentiment Analysis. This is where my Supervisors, Frances and Jill, will be able to guide me through the territory. Whatever we decide it will be fascinating learning from them!

Jill, one of my new supervisors, introduces me to the building.

Key questions of the research are:

  • How do the attitudes of academics in various disciplines, with regard to new media, compare?
  • Can we use participatory theories (and a historical awareness of the role of scholar) to understand and analyse academic uses of/attitudes to new media?
  • Is there a typology of users, attitudes and type of use, which can be identified?
  • What are the implications for official and institutional policy, scholarly communication and the positioning of new media technologies?

There is going to be a lot of categorisation, classification, and data gathering involved in answering these questions. The end result should allow us to:

  • Analyse and interpret the changing position and responsibilities of scholarship and scholarly discourse as a result of ‘disruptive’ new media technologies.
  • Examine the extent of hierarchies, professional constraints or societal expectations of scholars on their relationship to new media.
  • Construct a typology of users based on attitudes and as a predictor of behaviours analysed and interpreted under participatory theory (assuming that participatory theory proves to be a valid and useful lens for modelling).

As you can see it’s pretty ambitious! We will need to have more discussions (next Wednesday is Meet 2) on that. Whatever the nuances, it’s pretty much agreed that scholars and academics are vital to the public sphere – as they have been since the days of the Enlightenment. With the boundaries between the “public sphere” and the “private sphere” shifting, merging, and forming all sorts of intricate relationships in the online age, it’s more important than ever that we understand what exactly is at stake for academia within that picture.

Hope you will agree this is an interesting topic! Comments and thoughts appreciated.