It’s good to talk

Time for a shameless plug for my research….Image

Would you like to be involved in a research project about crafting and blogging?

I’m looking to connect with craft makers who would like to participate in a research project that I’m doing as part of my PhD called ‘online interactions and identities in craft practice’.

I am interested in exploring how craft makers (particularly those who practise their craft part-time or whilst fulfilling other responsibilities) use different forms of internet [Web 2.0] technologies such as blogs and social networking sites. In particular I am interested in how ideas and information about craft is communicated, how individuals communicate with others using such media and how this form of communication informs individuals’ own practices and their sense of what it is to practice a particular craft (I’ve tried to capture the essence of my research project in my little doodle).

Essentially I am looking to interview craft makers who use the internet, and to observe their internet interactions (such as blog posts and public posts to social networking sites) over a particular period of time.

Through this research I hope to develop valuable insights into the ways in which internet communications, such as blogging and social networking help us to connect with others, to learn about and develop craft practices, to communicate with others about our own practices and to contribute to a sense of what it means to practice a particular craft. It will also help to develop an understanding of how a craft makers benefit from the process of sharing information with others via the internet. I hope to reflect on these issues and possibly provide some insights into how to develop practices and derive further benefits in the future.

If anyone’s potentially interested in participating, please send an e-mail to me at ronni.littlewood@virgin.net and I can provide further details of what would be involved.

Many thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Shameless plug ends

Who shall I be today?

I’m of a certain vintage where one of my favourite TV programmes as a kid, back in the 1970s and 80s, was ‘Mr Benn’*.  For the uninitiated, this was a mesmerisingly simple animated show.  The central character was the eponymous Mr Benn who for the most part led a seemingly dull and ordinary life (probably a Whitehall civil servant).  The highlight of his day was a visit to the local fancy dress shop during his lunch hour where ‘as if by magic, the shop keeper appeared’ to hand our hero a different costume each day; with which Mr Benn would disappear into the fitting rooms and transform himself, via the magic of stop motion animation, into the character suggested by the costume and then find himself in a Narniaesque fantasy world adventure.  So, if Mr Benn tried on a Knight’s armour, he would end up embroiled with a dragon, and en explorer’s costume would find him in the jungle – you begin to get the idea. I can’t say I blame him.  If I worked in Whitehall I would be doing exactly the same thing on my lunch-hour.

But what does this have to do with online identity?  Well, to my mind, each platform is like wearing a different costume.  It may be that very different identities are created through an online presence on, for example Twitter or Facebook.  And each platform may lead you into very different ‘adventures’. So for example, one of my aims in using platforms is establish identity and credibility as a researcher with the academic community, but I would also like to communicate in a way which is accessible to a more general readership.

I am primarily doing this through this blog and using twitter (although I sometimes find it difficult to keep up the momentum on the latter in terms of regular ‘tweeting’). Facebook is, for me, a much more personal way of connecting.  I did try to synchronise Facebook and twitter at one time – but it led to a lot of confusion for me about who I was communicating to and why. So nowadays I keep the two accounts separate.  I may need to reconsider my Facebook strategy at some stage because this is a valuable way of interacting with the crafting communities, as potential research participants in my study.

Part of my PhD research involves ‘autoethnography’.  So alongside interviews with crafters who use digital tools in their own practice, and participant observation of their use of digital tools, I too will maintaining this blog and possibly other platforms in yet another dual identity of crafter and researcher. So you’ll not only be able to chart the progress on my research but you should also be able to follow my own progress as a crafter. My field notes and reflective research diary will provide valuable documentary data of the experience and possible tensions that this might give rise to.

Another complication arises when I consider my multiple professional identities.  So for example I work full-time at Warwick University as a Research Development Officer, and am a part-time Postgraduate Researcher at the best of times.  In terms of online identities I found this a particular problem with Academia.edu.  Whilst other social networking media such as LinkedIn allow you to associate with multiple jobs, this doesn’t seem to me to be possible with Academia.edu.  I think this is a shame because my other professional identity is academic-related and I would certainly benefit from making connections through this platform to support the work I do in the day job. Nevertheless I can appreciate that it is unrivalled in terms of facilities to include published academic papers – and in today’s climate that is vital to academic careers.

Nevertheless I think I’ll persevere with it for the time being – particularly as it might even motivate me to write some publications to upload to the site. That’ll be a day when I’m wearing my researcher costume.  In the meantime, the shopkeeper has just appeared (as if by magic) and wants me to either pay for the costume or get out of his shop!  Until next time then…..

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The truth is out there*

using a ‘hook’ to loop together different strands into a coherent structure. Also perhaps a metaphor for research (hooking together theory and practice; ideas and empirical work).

I’m not sure if it’s just me. Does anyone slightly dread the moment that someone asks them ‘what’s your PhD about’ whilst looking expectantly at you to enliven them with details of an enthralling project and enlighten them with the benefit of your wisdom.

‘Erm, I’m researching the Psychology of Creativity’ has been my initial attempt at a response. Inevitably this leads to more questions.

‘That’s interesting,’ comes the usual response ‘what aspect of creativity in particular?’

And then I’m faced with a couple of choices. Do I talk about the theoretical roots of the research; the work socio-cultural psychology research on collaborative creativity and creative work; the importance of situating creative work in a broader social and cultural context?

Or is it better to tell people about the empirical focus of the research – the focus on how amateur crafters (in particular knitters and crocheters) develop their identities and creative practice through Web 2.0 interactions (such as blogs and social networks). Or simply, how knitters and crocheters use the internet to communicate about their work.

I usually opt for the latter approach as the first generally tends to alienate most people I speak to. I can understand that. Truth be told lots of the socio-cultural psychology literature can alienate me at times and I’ve been reading it for years – it should be an old friend by now. And talking about the practical focus of the project genuinely engages people (I think) – it’s talking about things that people know something about, whether that’s practising a particular craft or using blog sites or social media. And I find something quite rewarding about that. It leads to more of a conversation and less of a mini-lecture which wasn’t invited in the first place.

But it taking this approach often results in a question for my own internal monologue. ‘Nice crafty stuff and a bit of messing about on the internet, all very well and good and that but why is this a suitable social phenomena for a piece of research?’

Hmmmm.  I’m not necessarily going to answer that one right now.  Partly because I’d be giving everything away too soon, but mostly because I’m still pondering that one. The slightly unnerving part for me is that talking about my research, whether in conversation or in a blog, gives it a life and allows it to take on a form other than that which exists in my head or in any writing which I have done as part of my PhD. And readers will make of this what they will, bringing their own assumptions and providing their own interpetations. That is an exciting and a scary prospect at the same time. The truth is out there … somewhere.

Let’s just say for now it’s a PhD in knitting, crochet and the use of the internet – or ‘spinning yarns and webs’ as I’ve decided to call the blog.  I quite like the sound of that.

*From the popular 90s TV programme ‘The X files’: http://www.xfiles.com/