A collaborative blog about blogging

This Blog was written throughout the blogging workshop and contributed to by: Rachel, Kristi, Roma, Liam, Fawzia and Louise. Thank you all for having your moment in the blogging hot seat!  All the links and resources we used during the day can be accessed here, I haven’t embedded throughout contrary to the advice we got in our workshop!

So here we are in Jubilee learning about bogging. Start with a BANG tells Melissa Nolas. Then work your way down.

The self promotion blog is something I have always felt odd about but I think is probably the way to go if you are a PHD student. Why? Because your blog travels with you. Its ‘capital’ – it belongs to you (or maybe it belongs to wordpress) rather than your institution or your supervision or PI.
So it makes sense, but the idea of the audience is a bit of a head-fuck. Who am I writing for? What am I saying about my desire to be seen. Will I come to regret doing this?

We all love Les Back’s academic diary – but Les is someone who makes the front and backstage of social research looks like the same space. Maybe it takes a whole academic career for this to be the case? Lucy Robinson’s blog is interesting – showing a process but using your personal voice to promote a project.
Personally I find social media much easier when it is for something collective – and I have some invisibility. I like to tweet for CIRCY and to blog for projects. But then again, I’m a professor and don’t ‘need’ to blog for myself. Or do I.

Liam is giving a brilliant review of what it means to blog as a PhD student – loads of very good reasons. Melissa explained that blogging should always be a pleasure and something that we don’t feel obliged to do. Not a straightforward thing. He is also covering the landmark blog of the current social research landscape and explaining how teams like celebyouth negotiated a division of labour so share out the hard work of blogging. The blog as a ways of documenting as you go and a window on the research. Ending with ‘everyday childhoods’ which is a route into an archive which raises another key affordance of the blog which is how it allows us to connect into a range of multimedia materials – all good blogs have links embedded!!! And as this machine is not linked to the internet (how weird is that) I am now unable to link in. Time to go and to pass over the liveblogging seat to the next person. So long. Next up live blogging which is what I am doing right now.


Lots of us like the idea of sharing and collaborating – takes a bit of pressure off, having to think of something all the time. Good tip from Ester – be yourself – don’t try to be funny if you’re not funny. This made us all laugh – maybe I laughed out of relief about permission not to be funny. Interestingly, Melissa talked about blogging contributing to her academic writing as well. This is something I hadn’t thought of before. I think I had mentally compartmentalised blogging so that it seemed like yet another task to do that I wasn’t clear I had enough reasons to want to do.

Teaching and blogging – great idea about using blogging as a space that connects the two. This workshop is making me reflect that blogging could in fact be a great way to keep connected with my PhD work. As a part-time PhDer I often feel my work goes in fits and starts. I know that fulltimers often feel the same way. Maybe blogging is a space or a tool for me to keep on writing and reading as an ongoing process . This makes it feel less like having to start from the bottom of the hill when I come to write academic pieces.

Now we’re talking about more the potential for the blog to be a More Vulnerable Space – good name for a blog, and for me a good sentiment. Lots less egotistical than I think I thought blogging might be.

Lots of questions have been raised about how we collaborate when we blog together.
Melissa started blogging initially as a way to record a trip abroad for family and friends. Since she came to Sussex she decided to take it one step further and caught the ‘blogging bug’ at work too. In particular, she became interested in how to use blogging as a tool for public engagement. At Sussex this began with a ‘Social Work at Sussex’ blog that was aimed to be used by a cross-section of colleagues within the department, as well as colleagues from outside. They tried to come up with a set of overarching themes so that the blog tapped into the interests of all colleagues.

However, a lot of work was involved to get it off the ground… in particular, finding people who would contribute! Not everyone was as excited about starting a blog, and so Melissa found herself chasing colleagues for blog posts. However, Melissa persevered as she felt that blogs were still a great tool for collaboration despite the difficulties of co-ordination. The next blog she worked on was the CIRCY blog (now run by Elsie).

Blogging with students is also not always a smooth experience. Ester describes trying to get students to blog as part of a course – however, felt that you need more than good will – need to help facilitate them blogging and giving them an incentive to blog.

For Melissa, part of running a blog can also be partly an editorial role. Potentially commissioning others to write a piece if you think it would be an interesting fit for a blog’s theme.
Authorship can be a political issue for a running a blog, particularly now that blog pieces can be cited in other pieces of academic work. Need to make clear when working collaboratively how authors will be recognised.

Melissa worried when writing a blog post on Rochdale that it might be controversial in the way that it represented different actors involved. At the time, she felt that she needed to share it with her head of department before posting it onto her Connectors study website.

Melissa also feels you set the tone of your blog in the way that you write and position it. For the Connectors blog she wanted an opportunity to set the tone for blog before she made it completely public.
How much should we blog? Melissa isn’t sure about the magic number, but feels too much and people won’t read, or too little and people will forget you’re there.

A question from Roma about using visual images or videos with blogs. Both Ester and Melissa find and make their own images to accompany the blog. What about the ethics of using images from research created by participants? Necessity of discussing what we make public and negotiating with participants as part of research process.

Ester talks about ethics. Ethics is seen as this thing apart, but we need to acknowledge that good ethical practice is part of everything that we do, not this separate tick box. So what distinguishes ethics when it comes to blogging? Who owns the content of a blog? How does one negotiate consent in relation to blogs? There is then the bigger question of academic labour, privacy, consent and the use of people’s times… ethics stretch beyond the more common concerns of consent forms. There are bigger politics at play! This is something that has to be continually negotiated and re-negotiated.

A good place to start with thinking about ethics is, why are you blogging in the first place? You don’t have to have some inspiring vision here, you just have to be frank about why you are doing this and who it is aimed for? This needs to be clear to you! Sometimes the motivation isn’t necessarily pleasurable, it might just be because someone (i.e. your supervisor) told you to do so.

Taken from the Oxfam Blog

Taken from the Oxfam Blog

Blogging has the potential of providing a virtual space to hang ideas and therein lies its potential. It can hold something together, even when you as a researcher are struggling to hold something together. In Ester’s case, she wasn’t looking for a particular audience. Other bloggers might take a different approach, desiring to communicate their research to a particular audience.

Heather Mendick, a ‘celeb’ youth researcher, writes about her experiences of running a blog that is worth reading. She reinforces some other potentials of a blog, namely how the blogger can trace and track what works and what is most popular reading material on the blog.

Linking blogs to facebooks and twitter can also provide means of tracking who hits the blog and where they come from (a potentially addictive pastime!). As academics working within an agenda in which we are (hopefully!) seeking to be audible, then this can provide a measurable way of assessing and expanding reach.
So, what’s the difference between the ethics of blogging and the ethics of research? As blogs often use visual images, perhaps this presents additional ethical concerns? These need to be negotiated with particular participants. For example, a participant may not care about privacy in the present moment but this might change over time and what goes on the internet can potentially stay on the internet…for a loooong, looong time…a scary thought! How will the participant be able to access the researcher if they changed their mind regarding what they want said about themselves online? A researcher can take down any content that they have put up, but there is always the chance it has been retweeted, cut down, copied, pasted…. It may have taken on a whole life of it’s own on a different platform!

Therefore is a straightforward ethical conversation ‘enough?’ There can be a formal ethical consent form but those can feel like they are covering the researcher’s back, more than prioritising the concerns of the participant. The question of ‘enough’ comes back down to the nature of the researcher themselves, recognising the relational, subjective nature of the ‘ethics’ process.

Michael Warner writes about ‘texts in search of audiences.’ He deems texts to only become something, once they have found their audience. One cannot know a blog will end up reaching, whereas in academia people can generally predict their audience and appeal. Ester’s ‘good sex’ blog sought perhaps a wider audience and more, ahem, ‘eclectic’ audience than she might have anticipated, and not necessarily the audience she was seeking out! Blogs have the potential to take on a life and appeal, all of their own, which is unknown to the blogger until the moment of the first post.

Melissa talks about the beauty of the text travelling. We cannot think of every possible implication/ use of a blog post but the general ethics of research practice must inform our approach to blogging

blog workshop postits

Ester has asked us to use the post-it notes we wrote at the beginning of the workshop and think about ethical questions that we would have to address before we start blogging. Some questions:

1) If I’m using a space that my participants don’t access is that ok?
2) Blog is an archive participants may want to change their mind about images or words attributed to them – how does that work?
3) Could it affect the research process/participants?
4) Longitudinal research – participants could be identified more easily?

(Some more of the questions)

Ester talked about her Good Sex Project – funded by the ESRC to turn her PhD into a film. She used a blog to chart her progress. Ester’s clear that she draws on feminist thought and theory to accept/ or create a vulnerable space – she blogged that she did not know.

Regarding copyright is there a danger that ideas/writing are more at risk of being stolen. Ester’s clear that not an issue for her. She uses her blog to inform her work and then has turned that in a paper. Melissa talks about her experiences of access/ open access and how there is anxiety around ownership. Made me think that these are more general issues regarding open access.

Ester and Liam talking about what to do when your research is critical of practice or participants. Liam shared experience of using visual methods to try and articulate the authenticity of the research without revealing too much publically. Melissa talking about her dilemas with critical material – Ester responds by bringing us back to the blog – that is not the place for disclosing difficult/critical material.

How much do we want to engage in a vulnerable space? Melissa’s decision to hide her connectors blog for a time until she felt more at ease and the project was more established given as a means to manage. Time seems a thread here. Sensitive and reflexive. Liam referenced Danny Miller ‘teenagers leaving facebook’ – that was used extensively in other media a year later the research gives a different message.
What makes a good blog? Sharing resources, well written, how much to share?, this is a political space, raise questions don’t always try to answer.

Drawing to a close – such a useful and thoughtful workshop from Ester, Melissa & Liam. Loved the engagement with ethics, embedded throughout and no down-playing of the complexity of the issues.

Thanks CIRCY.


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