Monday, 28 May 2012

Qualitative Blog Analysis: Opportunities and Challenges

Helene Snee is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester. Her research interests include: cultural practices and social divisions; young people and consumption; Web 2.0 and new social media; online research methodologies and ethics; and narrative and representation. Helene is one of the theme leads on the challenges of new social media for qualitative researchers. In this blog, she discusses qualitative blog analysis.

The term ‘blog’ covers a range of new media, from diaries on intimate topics, to websites of up-and-coming fashion bloggers, to online commentaries from journalists. They tend to share some similarities of format: blog posts are presented in reverse-chronological order, can link to other webpages, and allow readers to comment. More fundamentally, blogs are associated with personal and spontaneous forms of communication. A case in point: I’m making this blog post less formal than an abstract I’d provide to a journal or conference! As such, they offer a potentially rich and innovative source of data for social scientists interested in a variety of issues. The opportunities for qualitative researchers include documentary analyses of blog content and ethnographic participation in blogging communities.

In some ways, my talk at the ‘Blurring the Boundaries’ event will present how not to conduct blog analysis. This draws upon the project I conducted for my PhD thesis, which explored how young represented their gap year experiences. Blogs were the main data source, supplemented with qualitative interviews with a subset of the bloggers. There were some practical advantages in conducting blog analysis, but this approach also enabled me to ask particular questions about how young people present their experiences without a researcher being involved in their generation (see Hookway 2008 for an extended discussion of this). At the talk I’ll consider these opportunities, but also flag the methodological and ethical challenges. Who do we capture with blog analysis? What kind of conclusions can we draw? How do we deal with the text itself? What are our responsibilities towards bloggers? In sharing some of the lessons I learned using blogs as a data source for the first time, I hope to invite debate on the future directions of qualitative blog research, and new media research more generally, including research tools, the research environment and ethical frameworks.

Reference: Hookway, N. (2008) ‘”Entering the blogosphere”: some strategies for using blogs in social research’ Qualitative Research, 8(1) 91-113. 

What do you think? Have you used blogs as part of your research? What do you think are the main ethical and methodological problems? Let us know over at Methodspace.