2 Responses

  1. Edward Appleton
    Edward Appleton at |

    Steve – thoughtful response, thanks. Sure agree that folk are more likely to be less inhibited in private forums than open ones such as Facebook.

    Subject matter to me is another variable. The areas Peter Totman focussed on were emotive – racism, immigration I think – areas where two things likely come into play: you may feel strongly, but not feel comfortable that your view will be approved of by others. So it makes sense that you say different things in different circumstances – both are true of how people in that situation may feel, truth is plural, potentially contradictory.

    Additional factor to throw in – the oral versus the written, whether the oral is a more uninhibited form (fleeting, unrecorded) per se than what is documented in writing or visualised digitally. Digital documentation is, as we know, seemingly for ever, and who knows what the word privacy is worth.

    To me, accessing a full picture (“the truth”) means – as you say – observing and listening over time, taking in attitudes and behaviour, so (no surprises) effectively triangulating. Context is key – seeing how our views shift according to where we are, who we are with, how we feel.

    Another check is asking other people’s opinions about what a person has said – looking for surprises, contradictions maybe.

    I guess using online qual. is great for the known advantages – geographical reach, mobile= in-the-moment, longitudinal possibilities, cost – but I would still suggest that if a project has involved NO face-to-face, quasi-ethnographic component, the danger of superficiality can be real and present, dependent on the objective.

    Curious as to others’ views.

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  2. Susan Bell
    Susan Bell at |

    This is such an interesting discussion. From my perspective as an researcher doing both online and f2f qual, I agree that multi-modal is the gold standard.

    As for the kind of depth to expect from online qual, it comes down the kind of online qual research that you are talking about.

    A lot of the promotion of online qual has focussed on its superficiality – the idea that you can achieve insights quickly and without attempting to engage with people gets far too much airtime in my view. If that is the kind of online qual the original paper referred to then yes.

    However if you design it right, in my experience, online qual research CAN give you more depth than face to face for 2 reasons:

    1. People can read the moderator’s question, and then go away to think about their answer for several hours before coming back to the discussion and posting. You get a much more considered response than the ‘answer me now’ hothouse environment of a face to face group.

    2. Secondly, people can express themselves online without being interrupted. We find that written posts are typically longer and more detailed than the discourse of our f2f groups.

    These arguments to me are the main reasons to do online qual – the ‘geographical reach’ benefit comes in third.

    Perhaps there was more to the ‘multiple selves’ argument than I have understood through these posts. Yes, people present one ‘self’ online; but they present one ‘self’ face to face too. We all do it. Perhaps we researchers know more about WHY people choose to present a particular ‘self’ in a f2f group (group bonding being the simple answer) than we know why people choose the ‘self ‘ that they present online?

    Having said that, I do have a linguistics background and am perhaps ‘linguistically attuned’ to quote Edward. Perhaps we as an industry need to develop and share some of these linguistic skills?

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