Hello all! Here is my essay for tonight's presentation. Additionally, I am including a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's livecams. https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams Please take a look at the livecams they offer (but don't watch any of them yet!), and decide which one most interests you. This may seem way off-topic, but it's part of an activity I have planned related to grounded theory. See you tonight!
Together in Harmony: Grounded Theory and Participatory Culture
The two articles I have examined, "Grounded Theory: A Critical Research Methodology" by Joyce Magnotto Neff and "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century" by Henry Jenkins, offer a research method and a topic of study for which the method would be ideal. Neff’s article explains the basics of grounded theory, while the highlighted portion of Jenkins’s article introduces the concept of participatory culture. When one looks at the characteristics of participatory culture as defined by Jenkins, it becomes clear that the relationship-focused, collaborative, fluid method of grounded theory is the best way to go about conducting research on the topic.
Because grounded theory is concerned with relationships between data, it allows researchers to examine and forge theories from the wide range of data pools they would need to gather to get a clear picture of a given participatory culture. The hallmark of grounded theory is that it “is based on ‘systematically and intensively analyzing data’ not just to order them, but to examine conceptual relationships and to generate theory” (Magnotto Neff, 1998 ,p. 125). Take this in concert with Jenkins’s recommendation for studying new media technologies: “we would do better to take an ecological approach, thinking about the interrelationship among all of these different communication technologies, the cultural communities that grow up around them, and the activities they support” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 8). If one were studying interactive technologies themselves, as is common in the field of new media studies, another method might serve as a more effective way to conduct research. It would be easy and sensible to set up an experiment where an experimental group uses a certain technology, a Wi-fi-enabled tablet for example, and a control group does not. Researchers could get a picture of how that technology affects learning, and whether or not the results fit their hypothesis. Participatory culture, however, is not such a straightforward topic; it relies on a large number of data types, many of which are qualitative, and their relationships to one another. In order to manage the different types of data and make meaning out of them, a researcher would need to employ a method that is equally concerned with finding relationships and deciphering their meanings and impact. Grounded theory meets that requirement.
Grounded theory is also a research method that encourages collaboration between multiple researchers; this is necessary when studying something as multifaceted as a participatory culture. Participatory culture is defined by Jenkins as having five key characteristics: low barriers to expression and engagement, strong support for creating and for sharing one's creations, informal mentorship, members' belief that their contributions matter, and members' perception of social connection to others in the community (Jenkins, 2006). Each of these five characteristics could warrant a study in and of themselves, but with grounded theory they don't have to. Instead, five researchers could team up, and each of them could focus on collecting data for one characteristic of the culture being studied. When the researchers share their data, they also benefit from each other's varied thoughts, styles, and expertise in the arduous process of data analysis. For example, a sociologist who collected data on mentorship in a community might also have a unique insight into the data their composition scholar colleague has collected about creative support in the community. Magnotto tells us that “grounded theory develops agents for change through the inclusion of participant-researchers, and it opens up spaces for action and reciprocity” (Magnotto Neff, 1998, p.132). Interestingly, this sort of collaboration mirrors the features of the “affinity spaces” (Gee 2004, as cited in Jenkins, 2006) that so often breed participatory cultures. It allows each researcher involved to “feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of others” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 9).
The mirroring of competencies between participatory cultures and grounded theory becomes even more pronounced when one considers the fluid, adaptable natures of both the research method and the research topic. Jenkins tells us that participatory cultures are beneficial and necessary because “youth need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them” (Jenkins, 2006, p.20). He also implies that within new media participatory cultures “meaning emerges collectively and collaboratively” and that “creativity operates differently in [such] an open-source culture based on sampling, appropriation, transformation, and repurposing” (Jenkins, 2006, p.20). Compare this with Neff's description of grounded theory, where “data are examined for dimensions and properties, compared with similar phenomena, regrouped and reconceptualized until a provisional theory emerges inductively from the analysis and is further tested through theoretical sampling” (Magnotto Neff, 1998, p.125) It almost sounds as if they are talking about the same thing. Meaning, artifact, or theory are flexible, formed collaboratively, and subject to change based on the interplay between data and researchers, or between community members and artifacts.
Having highlighted the harmony between participatory culture and grounded theory, found in their shared concern with relationships, their emphasis on collaboration, and their room for adaptation, one can see how well the two fit together. Although it is not necessary for a research method and its topic to have such similarities, it does make for an easier, more fruitful, and more engaging research process. Other methods which lack such harmony would likely fail to give as extensive data or as solid a theory when studying participatory cultures.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning. Retrieved from https://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF
Magnotto Neff, J. (1998). Grounded theory: A critical research methodology In C. Farris & C. M. Anson (Eds.), Under construction: Working at the intersections of composition theory, research, and practice (pp. 124-135). Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press.