Author Archives: miloanderson

A couple thoughts on audio

Hi everyone,

This week’s readings seem more practical than theoretical, but there were two things that caught my attention in the Knight reading.

First, it was always drilled into my head that one should never rely on audio recordings for interviews, because sooner or later something will go wrong and you’ll be out of luck.  Even if the batteries are fresh and the record light is on, you sometimes have to ask: Does the microphone have a switch on it?  Is it plugged into the right jack?  Does the input have a volume control?  Does the device have a monitoring feature where everything looks right but nothing is actually being recorded?  etc, etc.

Knight mentions that having two recorders saves time on duplicating tapes, but it’s also good insurance.  In any case, in any interview I try to take notes as if it’s all I’ll have to rely on later, even if there is a tape recorder running.

Second thing — on the subject of transcriptions, I was wondering if anyone has had experience with dictation software, and if any of it is any good?  What with Siri and all, it seems like something software engineers have been working on a lot in the last few years.  It would be really interesting to try writing with speech, too.


What’s the issue with online data?

Hi All,

Having just read the Orgad piece on online/offline research, I understand and agree with most of what she says about deconstructing the distinction between online and offline research.  What still confuses me a bit is what she’s arguing against.  What reasoning supports maintaining an online/offline distinction in research?

Early in the article she points out that looking at the Internet as either a cultural artifact or a culture informs our choices about whether to collect information in an online or offline setting, and seems to be saying that this is the reason people put online data in a different category.  But rather than supporting a distinction, this seems to me to just confirm her point, that everything depends on what kind of information your research is trying to get at.

Towards the end, Orgad provides the quote by Pitts, who talks about the lack of offline data in her research as a limitation.  Pitts writes that she can’t confirm the identities of her subjects, and that got me thinking that maybe that’s the real reason researchers might feel that online research isn’t as reliable as offline, whether consciously or intuitively.  Is identity the whole issue?  Is there more to it than that?

Again, I definitely agree with Orgad, but I’m trying to think about this from different angles.

Thinking about ethnography and ethics

I had one more thought on ethnography, before we move on…
When reading the Shaffir and Stebbins articles I kept thinking back to this mini-saga I had with the Lyndon LaRouche Youth Movement back when I was an undergraduate.  I was taking a feature writing class, and I thought it would be a great idea to write a profile of a member of the LYM, as it’s called.  I’m assuming students in Toronto will be familiar with them — they seem to be widespread, and spend a lot of time on campuses, ostensibly to recruit new members.  To be clear, I went into it knowing that the LYM is a badly misguided and even potentially dangerous political cult, but all the weirdness made me all the more curious about what it was like on the inside.

I found them on campus, started chatting casually, and before too long told them that I wanted to write something about them, and could we arrange to talk some other time.  There was one woman who seemed most willing to talk, she gave me her email address and I followed up.  Long story short, there were several phone conversations and a couple in person meetings with campaigners, and then the local leadership got wind of what I was doing and clamped down hard.  Very soon everyone knew my name and knew that I was trying to do, and they were forbidden to cooperate in any way.  The reason given was that it was a waste of time to talk about or do anything that didn’t further the cause of fighting fascism in the U.S. (their understanding of politics, history, and ideology is completely addled, but I don’t have time to go into it).

I had my ‘aha’ moment during one of the last face-to-face encounters I had with them.  I had asked if they saw any value in simplifying the content of the literature they distribute, to make it more accessible — even to someone like me who loves reading about economics and politics, it’s very hard to follow.  There was a particular look of glee in the face of one woman as she explained “we don’t want it to be easy to understand!”  At that point I realized that the cohesion of this group depends on feeling that they are outcasts, that the rest of the world cannot understand them.  I never liked it when someone referred to the LYM people as crazy or stupid, because from talking to them I could see that they were neither.  What I think is that they’re very lonely, and when you’re intelligent and lonely and have a leftist outlook and George W. Bush is the president, a tight-knit group of similar individuals who say they’re working to change the world can seem very attractive.  But once you start spending every waking moment with them (they all live together), it can seem like the only place you belong.

So from that standpoint, it seems to me that being genuinely sympathetic, respectful, and interested in what they had to say was just about the most threatening thing I could have done.  Thinking back, there were a few moments when I started arguing with them about something, and that seemed to be when they opened up the most.

I still think about writing that story someday, but after my experiences I seriously doubt anyone could do it without concealing their intentions.  You could talk to people who had left the group, and you can find those interviews online, but obviously that’s not a representative sample and it doesn’t get at the meat of what it’s really like to be on the inside.

As an undergraduate, they taught me journalism ethics, which basically said deception is almost always inappropriate, but that there are situations where the story is important and there’s no other way to get it, and those have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.  What interests me about ethnography is it seems like a very similar process in some ways to journalism, just on a much larger scale.  I didn’t notice the authors we read last week taking a stand one way or the other on outright, conscious deception in ethnography, and I wonder if that’s because it’s taken as given that it’s unethical and should never, ever happen?  It’s clear that there is a large grey area, but I wonder where the ethical boundary lines are.

proving vs. disproving

I was struck by an example in the Knight reading for this week.  On page 42, he illustrates the potential power of a case study that countered the prevailing generalizations of other researchers.  This was the Boyle and Woods study of the headteacher.  It got me to thinking — as small-scale researchers, can our projects generate more oomph & relevance by identifying exceptions to, or shortcomings of, existing theory?  Assuming that our findings were generalizable to some extent?  Whereas if we strike out on our own and try to prove something new, could we find ourselves on an uphill climb with limited time and resources?

But then on the other hand, if we’re being honest we have to allow the possibility that our research will show that the expectations we brought to the study are incorrect.  Would that render a research project pointless or meaningless — if it just ended up affirming an existing theory, and moreover did it on a smaller scale than other researchers have done in the past?

I hope that makes sense, I’m thinking out loud here.


Hi, this is Milo.  I’m from Alaska originally, but have been living in Seattle for the past several years.  I studied music as an undergraduate before switching majors and graduating from the University of Washington with a BA in communications with a journalism emphasis.  I’m here pursuing an MI degree.  I have been leaning toward the CIS path, but after the reading for this class this week I’m starting to consider the thesis option as well.

When I thought about topics that would be fun to research, right away I remembered these charts I had seen on political polarization and education level.  I tracked down the original blog post here.  It runs counter to our intuition that education would make someone less likely to answer a question correctly, but the thinking here is that this is due to elite signaling, and an arguably rational “outsourcing” of thinking on complex issues to opinion leaders.

As interesting as this subject is to me, I kind of ran into a ditch when I got to the part in the Luker reading where she talks about coming up with specific, meaningful questions.  The only thing I can think of is perhaps I should “review the literature”, or some of it anyway, as I’m sure there’s a great deal more research on the subject that I know nothing about.  If anyone has any reactions, that could be helpful too.

Hello, INF1240 Group 5!

Hi Team,

If you’re reading this, then I’ve successfully set up a blog for our class.  I picked a simple theme — you can check out its various configuration options here.  Let me know if there are any design changes you’d like to see.  Our options are limited with a free blog, but we can switch to an entirely different theme if we want.  Look at the options here and let me know if anything has a strong appeal.

Each of you can create a WordPress account without needing to set up a blog.  The page to do that is here.  I can then add you based on your username or the email address you used to create the account.  Once that’s done, it might not be a bad idea to post a quick hello so we can make sure everything is working for everyone. 

You have my email if there are any questions/issues.