Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogging, ethics, research and emotion

This post is my initial thoughts on the vulnerabilities of blogging. I carried on reading Bruns and Jacobs' collection, including Jill Walker's piece, which I really enjoyed. Not least because it broke with academic convention and there was a sense of personal voice there which I don't tend to see so much in the academic writing. One point she made was about the lack of control there is in blogging, in so far as an unknown audience can assume knowledge of the blogger as an individual. It is one of those strange things that someone unknown to me, might be reading this and then bump into me in an unpredicted context. This, no doubt, is a risk that any blogger takes in putting their thoughts 'out there' (or rather 'out here'). And I guess, I have deliberately kept any references to my personal life, my family, kids separate from this blog (incidentally we do have a family blog, languishing, unupdated out there in the blogosphere).

So far, so uncontentious. But this morning I started doing some serious sifting through blogs as I have begun to think about the data I want to look at for my 'blogs and research paper'. I had the idea some months ago that I would look at personal blogs - the idea being to redress the balance pointed out by Herring et al (2004) that personal blogs, whilst being the fastest growing genre in the blogosphere are the least researched. Well, I thought I would delimit this a bit and look at blogs written by people who are battling cancer. So I started looking, and there are many blogs that come under this category. They are moving, honest, intimate, painful. And as I sat there with tears running down my face time and again I realised that the personal element of these stories is completely unescapable. And the writing was amazing in so many of these texts, but I also felt deeply uncomfortable as a stranger looking into the most personal expression of these people's lives. So if I am going to go ahead with this, I have letters and emails to write, seeking permission to use extracts from the blogs - clearly, although the material is so easily accessible in the public domain, there are ethics involved here. I would not like this blog reproduced, analysed by some unknown academic so I certainly would not inflict that on someone else.

And that said aside, it made me realise afresh that the division between the personal and the professional is illusory. For a long time I felt that my academic research was quite separate from the personal 'me'. A year or so back, someone said to me that my research was deeply bound up with who I am. And I have begun to realise that that is true - not just in terms of my interests, or the relationships that lie behind the data that I sometimes collect (always with consent, of course!). But the emotional reaction I had reading through these blogs this morning caught me unawares. How I work that through alongside the academic questions of blogging remains to be seen.

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