Exploring online research methods - Incorporating TRI-ORM


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Image of the Mum's army blog - 'stories of antisocial behaviour'
Mum's Army blog



Open/close headingCase study details

Title: The personal is political? Blogging and citizen stories: the case of Mum's Army

Author: Tracy Simmons

Affiliation: University of Leicester


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[Open/close heading]The aim

The aim of the project was to examine the use of blogs by citizens in a community context, the focus being the Mum's Army blog. This blog is concerned with people's experience of 'antisocial behaviour'.


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[Open/close heading]Methodological Innovation Used: Blogs

Blogs or 'web logs' are on-line diaries that allow people to post their thoughts on any topic they choose. Blogs do come in a range of sizes and shapes. For example, some have plain text while others have multi-media functions. One defining feature of blogs is that they display information chronologically, with the most recent entry appearing first and previous posts archived underneath. Another feature is that blogs often (though not always) allow other users to respond and leave comments. There are a variety of sites which provide blog templates most notably [External Link - opens in a new window]https://www.blogger.com/start which provides you with the necessary tools to set up an account. Sites such as [External Link - opens in a new window]http://technorati.com/ track and index blogs, which can be a useful tool to search particular themes and topics in the blogosphere. Also, these sites are useful in tracking the links within and to other blogs that are displayed on the 'blog roll'. Similarly, a number of academics are creating web tools that enable researchers to map and gather data on blogs. For example, two free sites [External Link - opens in a new window]http://voson.anu.edu.au/ (you need to register with this site) and [External Link - opens in a new window]http://www.govcom.org/index.html enable the researcher to do just that.


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Open/close headingThe Mum's Army blog case study

Much work has been focused on how political elites use blogs to connect with the ordinary citizen (see for example Coleman, 2005). My interest was in how citizens might use blogs to connect with political processes/institutions and elites in a community context. The Mum's Army blog was launched in January 2006 by Take a Break, a UK based 'best selling' weekly magazine aimed mainly at women that features 'true life' stories. The magazine launched a campaign called 'Mum's Army' which was concerned with mobilising communities to tackle antisocial behaviour in their local area. Therefore the blog does not operate like a traditional blog, where an individual posts their feelings or thoughts. Instead, it is a collection of different individual posts that are placed on the blog site via one of the magazine's editorial team. Through correspondence with the 'blog administrator' I was able to gauge to what extent editorial control is placed on the posts (especially as blogs are seen as unmediated) and more generally why a blog was chosen as part of the campaign, rather than a conventional website. The administrator pointed to how a blog would be useful tool to chronologically organise the different accounts of those participating in the campaign. In that sense, the blog works as record, as well as a conduit for the various experiences, groups and events being set up as part of the campaign.

I applied a textual analysis of the blogs, more specifically examining the discourses of intimacy in the blogs. This involved an examination of all the posts, including the archived posts from the launch of the blog a year ago. Part of this analysis was to examine the key discursive themes in the blog that connect with debates about intimacy and the public and private divide. Blogs it could be argued (see Alexanian, 2006) transcend the public/private divide in that they tend to be concerned with the personal and intimate that is made available on a public space (cyberspace). But also, in the context of Mum's Army, the emphasis is on how experience and individual testimony becomes part of a process of politicisation. Many of the posts on the blog were about individuals, mainly women, who self-defined as not interested in politics and had never voted. Their participation in the campaign had led to them becoming more interested in polical issues and some had put themselves forward as councillors in the local elections. More importantly, the sharing of their experiences, recording of what action they had taken in their local area appeared to encourage and galvanise others to participate in their local communities.


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Open/close headingUsing blogs for research

Like many online sources, although blogs can be considered 'public' there remains some ethical questions about using them as part of a research project or paper. There appears to be little consensus or clear cut guidance on this in the early research on blogs. In the case of Mum's Army, it was not practically possible to contact all those that had posted on the site, not only as contact details were unavailable but also due to the large numbers of individuals who had posted. But as mentioned earlier, I did contact the blog administrator, making clear the scope, aims and intentions of my research. In addition, I was clear about what the destination for any extracts from the blogs might be (part of a journal article) and that any contact details or names did not have to be included. The administrator was also at liberty to let participants know of my interest in their accounts. Although my approach does not entirely resolve ethical issues of using blogs for published research, it does flag up the importance of thinking carefully about what impact the inclusion of material from blogs might have on the bloggers. On a more philosophical level, what is our responsibility to bloggers especially in view of the very personal content placed in blogs? This is something that resonated with me in my case study and this issue needs more attention in methodological accounts of online sources and research concerned with blogs.


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Author of this page: Tracy Simmons - Year of publication: 2007 - Affiliation: University of Leicester
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