Monday, September 01, 2008

Where do i start; How to do data analysis in a PhD informed by ANT

Where to begin?
Latour suggests:
"Where should we start? As always, it is best to begin in the middle of things..."

And I'm left thinking, yeah right, but which one?
Theres the middle of the actors, who or what is most connected.
There's the focal point of the agency - its called the hub - but recent changes through computer mediated communications means there is no spatial requirement any longer.
There's the Christmas present of a PDA from which the new modes of communicating evolved, but which now has the status of an ornament; a reminder of Christmas past.
There's my own position as a participant observer. Centre of my own unvivers :)
There's the CEO ....
Get the picture? The middle is contestable, but I have to begin somewhere.
Blogging defers the moment of choice. whats in whats least latour suggests that ANT is not for the faint hearted or for those who see such things easily, so I'm reassurred I must be on the right track because I'm bewildered (and if sociology begins in wonder then bewilderment must be an asset !)

For several moments I considered a chronological stance instead, but whose?
There's the beginning of my research...
The beginning of my research where I am negotiating my topic?
When I am negotiating entry into the site of research?
My earliest involvement with the agency?
The beginnings of interviews? As a participant observer there was no clear delineation.
Maybe I could take it from when data gathering was first officially sanctioned by one ethics committee or by two?
And anyway, ethics isn't a moment in time, or if it is, shouldn't be. So this wont do either.

But begin I must for without beginning, I cannot end, and following another priceless piece of advice from Latour: a good thesis is a finished one :)

In media research, Latour suggests a newspaper, the ink on the page ... traces left by some writer suggests some group is being made or unmade.
So I choose to follow in kind and begin with txt.

But the first txts received by the agency seems to have gone the same way as the first ph calls. No one knows. No institutional memory, no written accounts.
Unlike the first successful bi-directional transmission of clear speech by Bell and Watson made on 10 March 1876 when Bell spoke into his device, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” and Watson answered.
But history seems often like this; the accounts of the history of the phone are not as clear as the account would suggest.
And nor are the txt messages I have as artefacts from this Youth counselling agency.

There was no myth making, no historical record kept.
So I look at what has been gathered from when the computerised records were established Nov 07.
50% of the first 30 or so texts were wrong numbers seeking the iou service from vodafone :)
The other 50% seem to be tests run by Youthliners learning to work with the system, "I'm a pirate and I need help."

And then it begins*...
"Hi wat is this service"

"Thankz but no...cant now evry1 just g0t h0me.s0ry 2 shy ...

"Yea ok. So um is it norml 2 feel guilty if i dnt hurt myslf enough?

(*not verbatim, nil risk to individual anonymity)

There appears a cautious curiosity, a reason established for texting over any other means, and a serious question posed.
Txt language is used. The sentences are short. The medium seems to not only truncate the words with novel spelling but also with spelling that would have been no more difficult in terms of key strokes had it been correctly spelt. There's a creativity in the spelling that seems to be for creativity sake. It is no easier to write thankz than thanks.
There's also a truncating of the conversation, the issue is pushed forward, 3 sentences and into it. Or at least that's the appearance, for there are no other cues by which to assess the authenticity of a message. The text gets taken on face validity.
I could write more in the theme of a discourse analysis, there is the use of an s vs a z, that there are salutations and punctuation that may suggest gender. What of an 0 replacing o but only some of the time. But it is not my intent to take a discourse analysis.
It is also not my intent to take a critical social theory approach. There is no evidence that texting was done because it was cheaper, nor more likely by a female as they have less discretionary income or more likely to use salutations... such supposition remains just that.
My research is informed by ANT, and as such I am eschewing such structural analysis instead, I follow the actors...

woops, thats going to be difficult - the service provides anonymity. The ethical considerations include doing no harm and that includes to a fragile community service.
Back to bewildered, and wondering.
I'm sure John Law promised a method for seeing the fuller better bigger wider brighter picture.
Currently mine is more piecemeal, a jig saw with gaps
Where are the hidden masses? Well and truly hidden.
The txters have anonymity and will not be traced, while I have invited participation by advertising in open spaces a willingness for involvement has yet to occur.
The techno peoples seem similarly elusive. They variously do not respond to emails, or in observed practice have a busyness that precludes interruptions, and when captured seem genuinely surprised that their role is one that should be in the eye of research of a counselling agency.
It takes work to convince these participants to participate.

I cannot trace all the connections in a lineal connected way, it will stop and start. A rounder fuller picture will be provided, but more in line with Annemarie Mol's study of athersclerosis in the body multiple.

Another snippet of Latour's wisdom: pack lightly for this journey, and expect delays.
mmmm. This delay is about getting from a to b when sometimes the path is missing (yet still be true to an ANT analysis).
The trace of a txters voice is evident: text artefacts point to being '2 shy'.
Instead of tracing these actors, I trace their voice through tracings...

1 comment:

  1. i love web 2.0. Even when people dont speak, the breadcrumb tracings left behind are sometimes well worth following. Just followed the breadcrumb trail of what visitors to this site might be looking for and found a search for susan leigh star and while mildly embarrassed by what they found here that does not do this clever academic justice, found a link to another of her writings via a search for silence, absence and being an other