As someone who is tangentially involved in the open clique of social Internet researchers and who does a middling impression of an actual anthropologist, I though I’d share some thoughts here. First, it’s possible that focusing solely on online anthropologists perhaps narrows the scope of this proposal too much, though I’m sure the same has been said by people at Concordia already. Is Internet Studies a name for this field yet? Anyway, whatever you call their area of study, researchers of social stuff online read each other’s stuff and interact to a regular extent, such that sometimes it’s easy to forget who’s in what discipline, and sometimes a given researcher doesn’t even have a disciplinary home per se (and bear in mind that I’m obviously only talking about the English Internet).
The amount and type of collaboration would also obviously depend on the method of communication. LiveJournal is particularly conducive towards forming communities, moreso than just individual blogs, and using it was extremely helpful when I was looking for theory stuff related to my M.A. research on blogs as sites of diasporic identity construction among Filipinos online. It was much more useful in that regard than my research blog, which I’d thought would have a lot more collaboration with other social Internet researchers.
I would also like to mention that being an online researcher also carries the possibility that one might encounter the very people one is writing about. I remember mentioning danah boyd on I think the lj_research community and having her reply herself.
Finally, there’s another way that online communities can be used to collaborate in research: the online dissemination of digital articles among researchers. I think this practice might actually be illegal since the participants avoid paying for access to journal articles that neither they nor their institutions have subscriptions to, but now that I think about it I’m not actually sure if it’s any more illegal than photocopying an article. Still, this online exchange certainly benefits the people involved and it’s a tangible way in which online researchers can create communitas with each other. Sure, researchers email article PDFs to each other, but I’m thinking more of dedicated online communities set up just for exchanging PDFs. I know of at least one such community and suspect that Firefox extensions such as AllPeers are already being used to facilitate this exchange as well.
Anyway, this project sounds interesting, so I think I’ll be paying attention over the next little while.
In response to part of the previous comment–"First, it’s possible that focusing solely on online anthropologists perhaps narrows the scope of this proposal too much, though I’m sure the same has been said by people at Concordia already"–I have to disagree. Most online anthropologists who collaborate do in fact make a point of identifying themselves as anthropologists, and unless the person is using a pseudonym, or has buried details of their CV, it is a fairly simple matter to discover the person’s disciplinary background or current affiliation. In the case of anthropology blogs, often the very word “anthropology” is in the title of the blog, or in its description. If the suggestion was to expand the project to include collaboration between anthropologists, online and offline, then of course that is not practical.
The more important point is that a project must have clearly defined limits. It cannot be open-ended, and certainly not for the relatively brief period of a Masters program. If one were to look at all all online collaboration between social scientists, regardless of discipline, then the project would no longer be feasible given the time constraints. I think most of my colleagues would agree and would in fact offer the same advice.
Thank you all for this amazing input. Within a day of this blog “shout-out” I have been contacted by three parties who are interested in sharing ideas about how to go about this research. I am blown away.
Thanks Lorenz for the publicity.
Sarapen, thanks for the comments! The difficulty teachers have in distributing anthropological works to students and to each other [ie: my $300 book / article budget each semester] is definately a problem. It certainly backs up the community desire/need for open access. I’ll also investigate the academic communities you mentioned above.
I am very encouraged by the community response and am sure that the internet makes it easier than any previous period in history to find similarly interested people.
I also think this reflects how the academic community can play a helpful and necessary role during the research process itself. It’s open access, and open management.
I’d recommend an intriguing yet easy book on virtual worlds - Ludlow & Wallace’s 2007 book “Second Life Herald: The Tabloid that Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse” (and I’ve blogged about it here).
There is a lot of ethnographic work on online communities, in both anthropology and communication/ internet studies. The AOIR list and facebook group is a good place to start.
Collaborative ethnographies - or autoethnographies - of online communities seem harder to find (any suggestions would be appreciated), yet would seem to suit the individualized path we take on the internet much better.