Finding out about finding out

First a note on what I’m doing here. This blog is a space to play with ideas in a loose, informal way – a way of recording my trains of thought outside of the constraints of formal academic writing. So forgive me for trains that go nowhere.

I’ve been ‘finding out about finding out’; exploring methodologies that have been used by researchers to concerned with people’s use of their mobile phones and smartphones. I’ve been keen to go outside the boundaries of science and technology studies to see what other disciplines might offer.

This has taken me from feminist critiques of the paradigms of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) studies, studies of social networking in Krygystan to large scale quantitiative studies of Finnish teenagers mobile phone usage habits. Studies using micro-ethnographies and day-long shadowing exercises to explore the material culture of modern motherhood. And reflexive anthropological studies of youth culture and mobile phones in Mozambique.

Ethical concerns and issues of access can take many forms. An HCI study where fieldwork took place in a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence (Dimond, J. P. 2011) showed how feminist action research can help minimise harm and intrusiveness. Researching ubiquitous computing in developing countries, an American team in Central Asia (Kolko, B.,2011) needed to state their opposition on the Presidency of George W Bush to gain the confidence of respondents.

Taking a broad disciplinary view has yielded great results. Shadowing techniques used in organizational studies (McDonald, 2005) seemed to throw up some great data on people’s sense of themselves and their roles, so it was a delight to see it used for a very different purpose – ‘micro-ethnographies’ of modern motherhood – by a research team at the Open University.

I’m also in the process of theoretically framing my work: aligning with or positioning against other theorists. Looking at where my work might fit in in the broader theoretical picture. Finding out how others have captured phenomena I’ve long observed in my professional life; such as Saskia Sassen’s descriptions of the complex ‘imbrications’ or layering of digital and material worlds.

These two processes are firing off each other. So, if we take the use of a mobile phones as mediated: what are the best methodologies for exploring that space, the mediated cultures between people and technology? What kinds of immaterial or affective labour are women doing with their phones? How might we find out what the digital divide looks like in the era of ubiquitous computing?


(Apologies for references from inaccessible scholarly journals – read a great rant on this topic by Danah Boyd!) 

Dimond, J. P., Fiesler, C. & Bruckman, A. S. 2011. Domestic violence and information communication technologies. Interacting with Computers.

Kolko, B., Putnam, C., Rose, E. & Johnson, E. 2011. Reflection on research methodologies for ubicomp in developing contexts. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 15, 575-583.

Mcdonald, S. 2005. Studying actions in context: A qualitative shadowing method for organizational research. Qualitative Research, 5, 455-473.

Sassen, S. 2002. Towards a sociology of information technology. Current Sociology, 50, 365-388.