Theory in Practice: ‘Digital Researcher’ Conference, 2011
Image: woman presenting at the Digital Researcher conference. My photograph.
Inspired by Jennifer Jones‘ liveblogging, I’m putting down my thoughts on the Digital Researcher 2011 conference (twitter tag: #dr11) while experiencing it.
In sociology at the moment, there’s a palpable nervousness around social media used in research. We deal with people and their data, which means that ethics issues are paramount, but I strongly disagree with the idea that social media automatically makes research unethical or insecure. Any use of primary data has the capacity to become unethical – but social media’s benefits outweigh the risks, if it’s used carefully, in my opinion. Making research more participatory and more interactive can only be a good thing – and it fits very well with the aims and epistemology of my work. All the same, it’s a task and a half to persuade colleagues that blogging or tweeting about a research project can be a good thing. I think this is a shame, when social media is such a great fit with social research. At the same time, I acknowledge the very important need to protect data.
So I enjoyed the session on ‘Who Owns Knowledge?’ where ideas around licensing, creative commons, open access publishing in academia, etc were explored. The speaker talked particularly about the financial cost of accessing academic information, but there’s also the problem of access generally – whether that’s for the purpose of good disability access (e.g. publishing in accessible formats), or in order to make research generally accessible to more people. I’d like my research to be widely available to anyone who could be considered a ‘stakeholder’ – in my case that includes disabled Christians, church leaders, interested church members, other disabled people, and potentially other groups I haven’t thought of. I’m not saying my research is going to be earth-shattering, or paradigm-shifting, or even particularly exciting. But, as Tristam Hooley was saying in his presentation earlier, research is social and iterative. If others can’t join the conversation, I’m only talking to myself. And that’s definitely not worthwhile. There are career and academic implications to that, though, as the speaker acknowledged. It seems to be about balancing those considerations with the pros of building networks and making your research more participatory.
I’m ridiculously happy to be at a conference where we’re encouraged to tweet, blog and interact, rather than being told to be quiet and listen – something I’m rarely able to do. As a sociologist (and as someone with dyspraxia!) I’m interested in the way we form and use networks and communities. Social media makes my life so much easier, since interacting face-to-face can be a drain on my energy and cause a lot of social anxiety. I’m starting to use it to make my research easier and more accessible to me, too – one example being Mendeley, which I’m using to access PDFs more easily and annotate them better. I also just got a Kindle, and I’m going to try to use that in a similar way (I believe there’s a program allowing you to use it with Mendeley).
I love finding out that good access benefits everyone, whether disabled or not. Let’s have better access to research and information through social media!