July 17, 2012

Who shall I be today?

I’m of a certain vintage where one of my favourite TV programmes as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s, was ‘Mr Benn’. For the uninitiated, this was a mesmerisingly simple animated show. The central character was the eponymous Mr Benn who for the most part led a seemingly dull and ordinary life (probably a Whitehall civil servant). The highlight of his day was a visit to the local fancy dress shop during his lunch hour where ‘as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared’ to hand our hero a different costume each day; with which Mr Benn would disappear into the fitting rooms and transform himself, via the magic of stop motion animation, into the character suggested by the costume and then find himself in a Narniaesque fantasy world adventure. So, if Mr Benn tried on a Knight’s armour, he would end up embroiled with a dragon, and en explorer’s costume would find him in the jungle – you begin to get the idea. I can’t say I blame him. If I worked in Whitehall I would be doing exactly the same thing on my lunch-hour.

But what does this have to do with online identity? Well, to my mind, each platform is like wearing a different costume. It may be that very different identities are created through an online presence on, for example Twitter or Facebook. And each platform may lead you into very different ‘adventures’. So for example, one of my aims in using platforms is establish identity and credibility as a researcher with the academic community, but I would also like to communicate in a way which is accessible to a more general readership.

I am primarily doing this through this blog and using twitter (although I sometimes find it difficult to keep up the momentum on the latter in terms of regular ‘tweeting’). Facebook is, for me, a much more personal way of connecting. I did try to synchronise Facebook and twitter at one time – but it led to a lot of confusion for me about who I was communicating to and why. So nowadays I keep the two accounts separate. I may need to reconsider my Facebook strategy at some stage because this is a valuable way of interacting with the crafting communities, as potential research participants in my study.

Part of my PhD research involves ‘autoethnography’. So alongside interviews with crafters who use digital tools in their own practice, and participant observation of their use of digital tools, I too will maintaining this blog and possibly other platforms in yet another dual identity of crafter and researcher. So you’ll not only be able to chart the progress on my research but you should also be able to follow my own progress as a crafter. My field notes and reflective research diary will provide valuable documentary data of the experience and possible tensions that this might give rise to.

Another complication arises when I consider my multiple professional identities. So for example I work full-time at Warwick University as a Research Development Officer, and am a part-time Postgraduate Researcher at the best of times. In terms of online identities I found this a particular problem with Academia.edu. Whilst other social networking media such as LinkedIn allow you to associate with multiple jobs, this doesn’t seem to me to be possible with Academia.edu. I think this is a shame because my other professional identity is academic-related and I would certainly benefit from making connections through this platform to support the work I do in the day job. Nevertheless I can appreciate that it is unrivalled in terms of facilities to include published academic papers – and in today’s climate that is vital to academic careers.

Nevertheless I think I’ll persevere with it for the time being – particularly as it might even motivate me to write some publications to upload to the site. That’ll be a day when I’m wearing my researcher costume. In the meantime, the shopkeeper has just appeared (as if by magic) and wants me to either pay for the costume or get out of his shop! Until next time then…..

The resident of no.52 Festive Road


July 08, 2012

The truth is out there

Writing about web page http://ronnirose.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/the-truth-is-out-there-2/


I’m not sure if it’s just me. Does anyone slightly dread the moment that someone asks them ‘what’s your PhD about’ whilst looking expectantly at you to enliven them with details of an enthralling project and enlighten them with the benefit of your wisdom.

‘Erm, I’m researching the Psychology of Creativity’ has been my initial attempt at a response. Inevitably this leads to more questions.

‘That’s interesting,’ comes the usual response ‘what aspect of creativity in particular?’

And then I’m faced with a couple of choices. Do I talk about the theoretical roots of the research; the work socio-cultural psychology research on collaborative creativity and creative work; the importance of situating creative work in a broader social and cultural context?

Or is it better to tell people about the empirical focus of the research – the focus on how amateur crafters (in particular knitters and crocheters) develop their identities and creative practice through Web 2.0 interactions (such as blogs and social networks). Or simply, how knitters and crocheters use the internet to communicate about their work.

I usually opt for the latter approach as the first generally tends to alienate most people I speak to. I can understand that. Truth be told lots of the socio-cultural psychology literature can alienate me at times and I’ve been reading it for years – it should be an old friend by now. And talking about the practical focus of the project genuinely engages people (I think) – it’s talking about things that people know something about, whether that’s practising a particular craft or using blog sites or social media. And I find something quite rewarding about that. It leads to more of a conversation and less of a mini-lecture which wasn’t invited in the first place.

But it taking this approach often results in a question for my own internal monologue. ‘Nice crafty stuff and a bit of messing about on the internet, all very well and good and that but why isthis a suitable social phenomena for a piece of research?’

Hmmmm. I’m not necessarily going to answer that one right now. Partly because I’d be giving everything away too soon, but mostly because I’m still pondering that one. The slightly unnerving part for me is that talking about my research, whether in conversation or in a blog, gives it a lifeand allows it to take on a form other than that which exists in my head or in any writing which I have done as part of my PhD. And readers will make of this what they will, bringing their own assumptions and providing their own interpretations. That is an exciting and a scary prospect at the same time. The truth is out there … somewhere.

Let’s just say for now it’s a PhD in knitting, crochet and the use of the internet – or ‘spinning yarns and webs’ as I’ve decided to call the blog. I quite like the sound of that.

RRusing a ‘hook’ to loop together different strands into a coherent structure. Also perhaps a metaphor for research (hooking together theory and practice; ideas and empirical work)


July 03, 2012

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July 01, 2012

Hello? Is it me you're looking for?

Writing about web page http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/about-the-faculty/departments/psychology/postgraduate/profiles/ronni-littlewood.php


‘Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?’[1]

In some ways starting a blog is worse than starting a new piece of writing using traditional media. Not only do you have the blank page/screen taunting you, but at least I know how to use the more traditional media. I know how to pick up a pen or pencil and make a mark on a piece of paper, and I know how to use word-processing software. I’ll let you into a secret – I’m using Word to draft this initial piece just to get over the hurdle of getting to grips with new technology whilst trying to order my thoughts. I can’t multi-task. And Word kindly checks my spelling and grammar for me.

I have several motivating reasons for wanting to do this; all of which have converged nicely at this point in my life. Firstly, I am in the processing of doing my PhD on a part-time basis with the Open University. It seems as though I have been doing this for ever, and still have for ever to go. The opportunity to blog about the research presents a good opportunity for me to inject some life into it. Life as a part-time PhD student with the OU is often a lonely one, and by blogging I hope to encourage discussion and dialogue with others in a way that is not accessible through being co-located with fellow PhD students.

Secondly; digital tools, web 2.0, social media, blog sites; call them what you will – they form a central part of an empirical project as part of my PhD research. My next blog instalment will talk more about my research. In short, my PhD research is about the ways in which part-time or amateur crafters and makers use such technologies as part of their practice to promote their craft and communicate with others. Understanding more about the process of interacting using such technologies will, I hope, provide valuable insights into this aspect of my work, as well as providing some data as a reflective participant observer. More on this anon.

Thirdly, I am proposing to include an ‘auto-ethnographic’ element of my work. I’ve put this term in quotation marks as the term, like most others in the social sciences, it is a contested and debated term (a potential theme for a future blog post perhaps?) but essentially I’m interpreting this to mean that as both a researcher and amateur craftsperson, I will develop my own dual purpose blog as part of my data collection strategy, and will write reflectively on this.

Finally, I have been given an opportunity to participate in the ‘Digital Tools for Research’ programme run by the University of Warwick Library. In my other life (i.e. when I’m not a PhD student) I work in the Research Support Services department at Warwick, and I support researchers in the Social Sciences, particularly in Warwick Business School, Economics and Politics and International Studies departments. I hope that my participation in this programme will help me in my ‘professional life’ by giving me an insight into the type of support that is available to researchers in the University to help them raise the profile of their work using digital media.

For now, at least, the process of constructing a blog doesn’t seem to be that painful. It is greatly helped by the resources made available through the programme on the ‘Publishing on the Web’ module, so my thanks go to the course organisers and authors for that. The main thing that the course materials encourage you to do is to think strategically about your blogging and to get your thoughts and activities into some sort of order. For me it has generated lots of ideas for future posts

My main challenge to work through in the forthcoming weeks is that there is so much useful information out there about establishing and maintaining a blog, how to you filter what’s useful, and where does the reading and absorbing of information end and the active, participative process of constructing a blog begin?



[1] Richie, L. (1984) ‘Hello.’ Can’t slow down. Detroit; Motown. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hello_(Lionel_Richie_song)

In the true spirit of academe – I am duty-bound to cite my source appropriately.


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