Attachments 2012 03_8


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Attachments 2012 03_8

  1. 1. ContentsIntroduction 11. Presentation and critical evaluation of the research 31.1. Literature Review 31.2 Methodology issues and validity of the study 51.3 The ethical implications of the study 132. Conclusion 1
  2. 2. A Critical review and theoretical framework of “Presentation on Self on theWeb: an ethnographic study of teenage girls’ weblogs” by Denise Sevick BortreeIntroduction The aim of this study is to examine the research “Presentation on Self on theWeb: an ethnographic study of teenage girls’ weblogs”. Denise Sevick Bortree reportsa three-month (October to December 2003) ethnographic study of teenage girls’weblogs focused on the way they use weblogs for interpersonal and masscommunication and the dangers or challenges teenage girls being involved in theircommunication with a broader audience. However, the research question remainsunclear as Bortree refers at the beginning “This study examines two aspects of teensgirls’ blog use: (1) challenges and hazards of conducting interpersonalcommunication in a mass medium, and (2) self-presentation strategies used tonegotiate a dual audience (p.25)”, while later she specifies her interest only in howteen girls use weblogs in relation to their friends and in a broader audience: “Myspecific interest in conducting this study was discovering the ways teenage girls useblogging as a tool for self-expression, both for interpersonal communication ( tofriends) and mass communication (to a broader audience of teenagers)” p.28 This assignment will discuss the methodology followed by the researcher.Bortree refers that she used the ethnographic method and founded her research on avariety of surveys regarding the strategies individuals use in order to presentthemselves in the real world and in the internet. Observing the content and the designof teen’s weblogs, Bortree chooses the snowball sampling method and focuses herresearch mainly on girls’ blogs. Then, she conducts a series of 13 in-depth interviews 2
  3. 3. with teen teens’ bloggers not participating in the study and continues into the finalstep of the research, the analysis. During her study, Bortree sheds light on some interesting aspects of theresearch problem, on the way teens girls use blogging as a means of dualcommunication and the risks in which are involved. Teenagers use blogging byshowing a particular intimacy to their friends as a way of maintaining theirfriendships; this also acts as a kind of diary where girls exchange their experiencesfreely. However, in their interviews the girls maintained that when communicatingwith a larger group of people they try to ‘look different’ because they want to be likedby others. In the analysis of her research’s data, Bortree used the grounded theory andtried to give explanations based on other’s findings. However, during her study,issues concerning the validity of the methodology, as well as ethical issues arederived. 3
  4. 4. 1. Presentation and critical evaluation of the research1.1. Literature Review Bortree attempts to examine the perils and difficulties in the use of acontemporary mass medium such as internet when teen girls try to conductinterpersonal communication. She also tries to examine the self-presentation strategiesemployed by present-day teenage girls in their attempt to address what Bortreedescribes as the ‘dual audience’ and, hence, the dual communicative goal of theseweblogs. Bortree specifies the dual communicative goal of blogging; from one side,this is “to build and maintain relationships with friends” (the first part of the blog’saudience), while at the same time “appealing to a larger group of teenageacquaintances who may be reading the same blog” (Bortree 2005:25). She builds herstudy on the findings of earlier researches related to the motivations and the selfstrategies the individuals use in their social interaction, shedding in this way a light inthe insights of the research. Bortree in her study about the self presentation strategies teenage girls use inblogs, relies upon a variety of previous surveys’ findings, old and new, relating to theself- presentation strategies individuals use not only in the internet but also in theirdaily life. The explicit reference to other surveys, some older and other new, whichare closely related to the Bortree’s study, gives the reader the theoretical ‘scaffold’,necessary to negotiate with the whole study while, at the same time, gives the study asense of authority (Brown & Dowling 1998). In particular, Bortree draws uponGoffman’s (1959) description of individuals’ performance in any communicative 4
  5. 5. event and their use of self-presentation strategies during their communication.According to Gofmann, communication is a way of expressing the individual’sidentity. Bortree refers also to Baumeister and Jones who associated the self-presentation with the pleasure of others. Bortree reinforces further her research by referring to previous investigationson teenagers’ weblogs and the strategies they use when presenting themselves. The500 websites assessed by Dominick (1999) confirmed some strategies individuals usein their online communication. The Ingratiation (aiming at being liked by others), theCompetence (i.e. self-promotion as skilful), the Intimidation (i.e. anger as ademonstration of power), the Exemplification (i.e. as a proof of morality) and theSupplication (i.e. “appearing helpless so that others will come to your aid” (Dominick1999) influence on the nature of individuals’ performance. Another research foundthat the most common strategy the individuals use is the ingratiation (Jones 1990). Inaddition, in their communication, users use a specific language in order to make closefriendships (McKenna 2002). In this vein, adolescents express themselves in a waythat would allow them to become acceptable by a group of people (Shilstein 2001).Stern (1999) also discerned three kinds of characters: the ‘spirited’ (aiming at the selfglorification and self description), the ‘somber’ (the internet as a shelter of the socialconvention) and the ‘self-conscious (with a sense of self- restrain)’. Based on the above findings of presentation strategies, Bortree alsodistinguishes in her research three strategies teen girls use to present themselves.These are the ingratiation, the competence and the supplication. Teen girls showedingratiation to some persons by listing their names on their blogs, by exposing theirexperiences with them, or by calling them with their names. Some times girls in orderto draw the interest of others, reveal negative aspects of themselves (supplication). 5
  6. 6. Other times, they tried to show a social face to other people by adding in their webslinks of their friends or of people that met online; or just by allowing to receive a lotof comments. In this communication with friends and a broader audience, teen girlstried to keep a balance; from the one side, to be believable from their friends and fromthe other side to impress the people who meet online.1.2 Methodology issues and validity of the study The concepts of validity have been central to defining ‘objectivity’ and‘rigorousness’ in social science research. As Punch writes (2005:45), validity mayrefer to the accuracy of research data, the overall validity of the research, to whetherthe research design reflects the reality, and finally the generalizability of the study’sfindings. Bortree conducted an online research and used the ethnographic method inorder to explain how teenage girls use blogging as a creative medium for interpersonaland mass communication, and the risks hidden in the use of blogging, as well as theself-presentation strategies the teenage girls use. “The development of thisunderstanding involves the immersion of the researcher in the practices in theempirical setting and sustained interaction with participants. The predominant meansof collecting data is through highly detailed observation” (Brown & Dowling 1998:43). In this respect, ethnographers select their data through observation, interviewsand conversations and examine the facts in the ‘environment’ in which they are takingplace, in turn helping them to deepen more into the research (Brown & Dowling1998). However, Bortree conducts a three-month (October to December 2003) studyincluding only observation of the weblogs’ content and graphics that teenage girls 6
  7. 7. used. In addition, this time is too short for someone to be engaged in this ‘communityof teens’ and makes ‘valid’ assumptions about the way teen girls use blogging. Bortree used the non-probability sampling method and more specifically thesnowball sampling method since, because of the shifting character of the blogs, it wasdifficult for her to select her sampling. So, in turn, she decided to select herparticipants observing the links included in teens’ websites and which formed othersubgroups of friendships. She observed and selected 40 sites (29 females and 11males, aged 16-18) that appeared to form a wide friendship group in which a varietyof smaller friendship subgroups was constructed. Then she concentrated on 6 sites.Although the snowball sampling undermines the validity of the sample, it was theappropriate method for Bortree’s research: “While this approach severely restricts thegeneralizability of the findings, considering the qualitative nature of this study, thegoal is not to generalize but rather to explore more deeply the nature of thisphenomenon” (Rowan & Huston 1997, p.29). However, the criteria Bortree used for selecting and grouping the bloggers-geographic area, social relations, and age - affect on the validity of the findings.Bortree selects American teenagers who knew each other, lived in the same area andattended the same school. However, the definition of groups of friends cannot beconsidered a valid indicator given the shifting character of the weblogs. Bortreeexplains that frequently, someone’s link who was appeared to be friend was droppedand substituted by new link. Bortree, after finishing the ethnographic study, proceeded in the second stageof her research by conducting email in-depth interviews. According to Johnson(2002) the in depth interviews are used for further investigation of individual’sexperiences and are usually used in conjunction with other methods such as 7
  8. 8. observation or interviews aiming at confirming their assumptions or as a method oftriangulation. In order to carry out the in-depth interviews, Bortree necessitatedfinding other participants from the Internet as the teenage girls used for theethnographic study did not provide any personal e-mail address. So, she e-mailedinvitations asking 50 girls aged 18 years old whom select from others’ weblogs totake part in the interview. These girls maintained a weblog at that time and were at thesame age with the girls who were participated in the ethnographic study. The fact thatBortree did not interview the authors of the blogs she observed in the ethnographicstudy, does not help her to ensure her first assumptions about the way teens girls useblogging, and in turn, does not give validity to her assumptions. In addition, this mayalso be the reason of why remained some unanswered questions about the realmotivations of teen’s communication: “More in-depth interviews with teenagebloggers would give valuable insight into the world of teenage blogging (p38)”. However, from these 50 girls to which Bortree sent e mails invitations, the16 accepted to participate in the interviews and the researcher sent an e-mail with 10questions: “Of the 50, 16 responded and volunteered to participate in the onlineinterview process […]. Of the 16, 13 responded to the e-mail questions”. (p.31).Bryman (2004) sheds light to other two interesting aspects of the interviewing: thedifficulty for the researcher in internet interviews to establish relations of confidenceand trust with the participants. This is distinct when we read in Bortree’s study: “Ofthe 50, 16 responded and volunteered to participate in the online interview process[…]. Then, Bortree continues that “Of the 16, 13 responded to the e-mail questions.(p.31)”, which shows the weakness of the internet research where the interviewee isnot in position to know if some questions bother the participants (Bryman 2004). Theabove shows additionally the difficulty for the interviewee to establish relations of 8
  9. 9. confidence and trust with the participants. It also shows another one aspect of‘weakness’ of the e- interviews according to which the interviewee is not in positionto know if some questions bother the participants (Bryman 2004). Finally, a seriousconsideration should also be given in the responses of these interviews as emailinterviews make less spontaneous the participants’ responses than the face-to-faceinterviews, as they give time for consideration. However, using synchronous means ofcommunication, like face-to-face interviews or in telephone or online (and not by email) which have many of the benefits of the face-to-face interviews as they are ‘realtime’, could help her more to investigate the real motivations of how teens use theirweblogs (Bryman 2004). Without doubt, one cannot ignore that interviews, in combination with data-gathering approaches, may lead to identifying new topics, as well as to exploring,explaining or clarifying data collected through other methods (Brawn & Dowling1998). However, two issues here are raised, the issue of “observer bias” and“observer effects” (Gay & Airasian 2000). In the first case, the researcher as“participant observer” can be influenced negatively or positively by his/her intimacywith the participants. On the other hand, acting as a participant, the researcher canexamine closely and comprehend better his/her research, and, additionally, theparticipants knowing that they are observed it may influence their responses. Finally,Bortree does not give us any information about the nature of the questions which doesnot help us to assess the validity of this method. Silverman (1993: 20-29) highlights the importance of investigating thelanguage for understanding the meanings in various social contexts. Breaks andpauses in the speech reflect the inner incentives and the potential fears or suspensionsof the speaker. In this case, the researcher is engaged in a meticulous investigation of 9
  10. 10. talk in order to determine the way the conversation is organized and performed in its‘natural environment’, as well as the ‘strategies’ which the individuals use in theirsocial interaction (Ritchie 2000). After the conversation analysis, Bortree couldproceed in the discourse analysis of written texts, where the language is considerednot only as a means of communication, a tool of speech, but also as a means of socialinteraction (Wood & Kronger 2000). Our attention is being drawn by Bortree’s saying: “I choose this groupbecause it reflected what appear to me to be a typical group of teenage bloggers-primarily female (29 female, 11 males) […] (p 29)”. Another one issue which isderived here for the internet investigations is that the researcher does not know if theparticipants are really what they are registered (Bryman 2004). Bortree refers that she“[…] e mailed invitations to 50 girls who identified themselves in their blogs as 18years-old.” (p.31). This in turn can undermine the validity of the research’s findings. After conducting some interviews, Bortree proceeds to the analysis of herresearch data. This analysis argues the existence of an intrinsic tension in the designof teenage weblogs between the need for interpersonal communication, i.e. thesharing of intimate thoughts and the expression of personal conflicts among closefriends on the one hand, and the desire for mass communication with a wider blogaudience in ways that promote a well- accepted self-presentation on the other hand.To that end, as the study maintains, a number of self-presentation strategies areemployed with various aims and varied results, typically including “ingratiation”,competence, and supplication. According to Bortree, however, the significance ofweblogs as a communicative medium, lies not so much in that they facilitateinteractive dialogue, but in that they allow the freedom to indulge in a constructivemonologue or in Bortree’s words, “a commentary of sorts, that others may respond to 10
  11. 11. through other forms”(p. 37). Yet, as she reminds us, “the risk of exposure and loss ofprivacy(p.38)” in the public domain of the internet remains a constant threat forteenage bloggers and calls for a balanced use of weblogs as creative tools for teenageself expression. Bortree in her analysis uses the grounded theory. According to Quinn Patton(2002: 442), the analysis demands “creativity, intellectual discipline, analytical rigor,and a great deal of work”. Walker et al (2006) coding is the method which is used inthe grounded theory for the analysis of the data. In this respect, the information givenfor the analysis method used by Bortree is not sufficient enough to give validity in thefindings of her research. Bortree referred only that “taken together, these findingsfrom the ethnographic study and the interviews indicated that teens […]” p.37 One of the methods that researchers use in order to confirm the validity andreliability of their research data is the method of triangulation. The method oftriangulation combines and examines the results of the qualitative and quantitavemethods of data collection. It also entails the comparison of different data sourcessuch as the results of observations with those deriving from interviews. Bortreecompares the results of the observations (some teens used blogging as a ‘diary’although they knew that their writing could be read by anyone; others were more‘reticent’), with the results of the email interviews from teen girls who did not takepart in the Bortree’s research but maintained their weblog during the ethnographicstudy. Bortree could give validity in her study and may shed light to some obscureaspects of teens that left her study if she conducted interviews with the sameparticipants of the ethnographic study; more specifically, online interviews, or byphone interviews could support Bortree more than the face to face interviews, todeepen the real motivations of teen girls (Quinn Patton 2002:559 & Bryman 2004). In 11
  12. 12. the e mail interviews individuals response less spontaneously as they have as muchtime as they want to think and to hide potential fears or hesitations which they couldnot do it easily in the face to face or telephone or even in online (in a chatroom)interview. The credibility of the research depends on the issues reviewed above suchas the variety of sources and research methods used when gathering and interpretingdata, the analysis process the researcher uses, as well as the research experience andthe education that the researcher may have in relation with his/her research (QuinnPatton 2002). In her study, Bortree attempts to investigate the way in which teenagegirls use blogging, by means of insufficient sources and inadequate variety of researchmethods when gathering and interpreting data. Furthermore, analysis methods such asa discourse analysis or a conversation analysis of the content of the weblogs could bean alternative approach for Bortree to explain teenagers’ deeper motivations of usingblogging. 12
  13. 13. 1.3 The ethical implications of the study Undoubtedly, the most significant issue in research ethics is to ensure theparticipants’ consent to be involved therein; the researcher must confirm the consentof the participants from the observation as “collecting information on participants orobserving them without their knowledge or without appropriate permission is notethical” (Gay & Airasian 2000:99). The informed consent has to do with the purposeof the study, the questions which are going to be asked in the interviews, theresearcher’s confidentiality, the way in which the data will be used, the risks theindividuals may be involved (Quinn Patton 2002). However, in this study, DeniseSevick Bortree begins her research by observing the content and the design of theteenagers’ weblogs without confirming the consent of participants. The reason is thatshe investigates the blogs which are publicly available. She does not reveal names andother information which would put in danger the participants’ privacy. In the secondstage of her research, the email interviews, Bortree informs the participants about thepurpose of the study. Another significant ethical issue that derives from this study is theanonymity in using the data collected about or from people (Gay & Airasian 2000).Many strategies have been developed in recent years in order to protectconfidentiality, such as including codes instead of names or giving pseudonyms(Brown & Dowling 1998). In this study, Bortree in the interviews she conducts andthe on line conversations she refers, does not reveal the real names of the research 13
  14. 14. participants. “To protect the girls’ privacy, direct quotes from their blogs will not beused in this paper […].The names are not included I this write-up to protect the girls’identities.” (p39). 2. Conclusion Firstly, a sort of surveys is mentioned about the behavioral strategiesindividuals use in online communities and their real life giving in turn to the researcha sense of validity. Bortree proceeds in her ethnographic study by observing thecontent and design of some teenager’s blogs and she distinguished groups of friends.However, the short period of three months which Bortree used in order to conduct thisethnographic study does not help her to incorporate into the teens’ world and givevalidate explanations of the way they use blogging. Bortree in the second stage of her study conducted some in-depth interviewswith teenagers that did not take part in the ethnographic study. The above does notsupport her fist assumptions about the dual communication of teen girls. She does notgive any information about the content of the questions so we can not make anyassumption about the validity of that study. However, she maintained the anonymityof the participants. In her analysis, Bortree used the grounded theory but she did not refer to anyspecific method (coding) she used to examine her data. Rather she merely concludedthat teenager girls admitted that blogs act as diaries in which they ‘entrust’ thoughtsthat they cannot otherwise express under the fear of adults’ intervention. Although the 14
  15. 15. use of blogs as diaries leads to the creation of deeper relations, it is admitted that girlsoften try to promote a different image of them when communicating with broaderaudiences. Bortree finished the ethnographic study by maintaining that the focus onthe content and design of teenager’s blogs left unanswered some questions about thereal motivations of teenager girls’ blogging. ReferencesBortree, D. S. (2005) “Presentation of Self on the Web: an ethnographic study ofteenage girls’ weblogs”. Education, Communication & Information 5(1), pp. 25-39.Brown, A. & Dowling, P. (1998) Doing Research/Reading Research A Mode ofInterrogation for Education. London: Falmer Press.Bryman A. (2004) Social research methods. Oxford: Oxford UPCharles, C. (1995) Introduction to Educational Research (2nd edition). New York:Longman.Denzin, N., & Norman, K. (2000) (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research. London:Sage Publications. 15
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