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					  Global participant observation
  from the Australian periphery:
   space/time compression and
  its implications for qualitative
             research
                                Mark Jackson

                        Department of Social Sciences
                          Latrobe University Bendigo
                                 PO Box 199
                                   Bendigo
                                    Victoria
                                     3550


  Summary
  The rapid growth in the Internet and its use by socio-environmental movements provides
  new opportunities for social research and new challenges for until now face- to-face
  research techniques. This paper outlines the application of computer-mediated
  communication in a participant observation study of Local Employment and Trading
  Systems (LETS) in Australia and New Zealand. The methodological implications of the
  space-time compression inherent in the medium, and its possibilities and limitations are
  explored as are assumptions about the `de- gendering' of the medium. The approach
  raises numerous issues of methodology and ultimately epistemology and presents many
  possibilities for the expansion of research vectors and impacts.



Introduction
  Over a decade ago, Kerr and Hiltz (1982:173) projected that computer-mediated
  communication (CMC) had the potential to offer breakthrough methodological



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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



    opportunities for research. Since those relatively early days, computer conferences and
    listservers have become popular as discussion fora for academics and non-academics.
    The last 5 years has seen a phenomenal growth in computer networks including those
    catering for the communication needs of peace, social justice and environmental
    activists, a trend highlighted by Lyon (1988) and Falk (1995)
    (http://www.scu.edu.au/ausweb95/papers/sociology/falk)

    Many of these specialised computer conferences are maintained on private computer
    networks which are members of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
    - `a world-wide body dedicated to providing low-cost global communications service for
    people and organisations working for social justice and the environment'; its slogan -
    `think globally, dial locally' (Pegasus promotional pamphlet). Australia's APC node is
    known as Pegasus although many countries, both rich and poor, have their own node.
    Unlike conferences on the Usenet network, APC conferences cater more for the open
    communication needs of organisations such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace, or
    host discussions on more broad-ranging socio- environmental issues such as public
    transport. These and other CMC fora constitute a potentially vast data resource for
    academics undertaking research into social justice, environmental and related issues.

    Notwithstanding these developments, the utilisation of CMC as a social research tool
    has yet to be demonstrated. Many social scientists certainly utilise listservers (automatic
    subscriber email lists such as Geograph) to provide peer-to-peer communication. The
    natural sciences in particular have enthusiastically adopted CMC for publication by
    electronic mail (Taubes 1993). However the social sciences' engagement with computer
    technology, (other than for analytical purposes (e.g. see Qualitative Sociology 1991))
    has largely been to discuss its social impacts (an eclectic range would include Cooley
    1980, Jones 1990, Lyon 1988 and Poster 1990), rather than develop the technology itself
    as a research tool.

    In this paper I explore the application of CMC in qualitative social research. Thorough
    literature searches unearthed a single research note on a participant observation study of
    the email activities of staff of a computer company (Workman 1992) whilst a recent
    overview of qualitative research (Maykut and Morehouse 1994) neither lists CMC as a
    suggested research media nor source document. This paper explores such usage and its
    implications, and the possibilities and problems of computer-mediated participant
    observation as encountered in my doctoral research into Local Employment and Trading
    Systems (LETS). Whilst I use the Internet for other purposes (for example remotely
    accessing library catalogues or discovering and retrieving documents through the World-
    Wide-Web), this paper focuses primarily upon my computer- mediated observations and
    interactions with LETS activists around the world.

    The paper commences with a description of LETS and the relevant CMC resources
    followed by a comment upon the interplay between the project and the research subject.



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                                            Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



  I then briefly outline the core elements of participant observation and action research
  that we may more easily follow the changes which CMC can bring to these methods.
  After I have explored some of the more positive changes CMC brings to these methods I
  focus upon its limitations before concluding with a brief epistemological reflection.



LETS, lets.oz and econ-lets - an example of
the use of CMC in research
  I am using participant observation in APC computer conferences and other CMC media
  in a study of LETS. The research involves, amongst other things, identifying what and
  who constitutes a LETSystem and how well it meets its broadly self-identified goals of
  sustainable development. Surveys and an active participant observation on local, state
  and national levels, provide crucial insights into how the idea works on personal and
  community levels. Computer-mediated participant observation is being used to help
  establish the aspirations and ideologies of LETS activists and the progress of the
  movement in other parts of Australia and the world.

  LETSystems are voluntary community exchanges, designed to facilitate trading without
  the need for national currencies. They are an attempt to create local or community
  currencies. Members who join a LETS are allocated an account upon which transactions
  are recorded in points. They have the ability to go into debit from the start and no
  interest is accrued or paid on account balances. Members' names and their offerings are
  placed on a list of skills and goods. By providing these two sets of information, trading
  is simply facilitated.

  It is important for the purposes of this paper to emphasise that LETS is a local social
  movement of global proportions. Each of the hundreds of systems around the world is
  established independently as an attempted local solution to locally perceived problems
  of unemployment and the lack of money. Their generally isolated and parochial outlook
  sharply contrasts with some of their global connections. Implicit in the ideology of each
  system is a stressing of the value of local resources - however many systems use
  globally resourced computer software and hardware, primarily for accounting and
  database purposes. Each system stresses the importance of accessing local information
  to utilise local resources - however many systems are plugged into a global
  communications network using internationally sourced technology and globally
  networked telephone and satellite systems.

  During most weeks LETS activists around the world, including the Canadian founder
  Michael Linton, generate pages of theoretical and practical information on LETS. In
  early 1989 Pegasus Networks established lets.oz for Australian LETS discussion. This
  complemented the existing lets.canada and was later joined by lets.uk. In late 1994 a
  non-APC media was added, a UK based listserver named econ- lets. This forum is



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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



    currently the most active discussion site (mid 1995). Despite their regional foci the
    conferences are open to participants from all nations. Discussions range from private
    impassioned arguments though public theoretical debates, to questions which seek
    experienced people to enlighten a particular problem of LETS practice.



The importance and influence of the medium
to my research
    The immense number and volume of conversations I can access via these fora opens the
    possibility for diverse research approaches. Over the four years of my participation I
    have watched people, and electronic fora, come and go. I have also observed the
    persistence and power relations of various participants. My own involvement in these
    relations must also be considered. At this point in the research however I am most keen
    to focus upon the content rather than the form of the interactions. It is the reflections, the
    theoretical arguments, the trading figures, the posed problems, the definitions, the
    geographical spread of LETS activity, which I find most relevant to my study. The texts
    provide me with facts and background information as well as material which can be
    analysed through discourse analysis, content analysis or other qualitative methods as
    appropriate. Analysis of the social interactions, and of the effects of the medium, may be
    appropriate for a study which wishes to focus upon social relations and the medium
    itself; it is however worth reiterating that this study aims to utilise the medium - albeit in
    a self-reflexive manner (hence this paper) - rather than focus upon the medium itself.

    As a researcher and interested LETS participant I read daily and contribute occasionally
    to these fora, depending upon their activity. My participation commenced some twelve
    months prior to the decision to undertake the research. Initial inquiries were usually of
    the `help me' nature, requesting more seasoned practitioners to help with specific
    problems my local LETSystem was experiencing. Some of the theoretical debates about
    the nature of LETS have contributed central concepts to the structure of the research.

    Not only was my research context informed by these discussions. A few rudimentary
    inquiries in various CMC fora, both academic and non-academic, furnished information
    on the extent of LETS activity, and of other research being undertaken into LETS. My
    research proposal, once completed, was posted into lets.oz. Within days, inquiries,
    suggestions and encouraging comments arrived from other academics, lay people and
    LETS activists around the globe. Prior to the advent of such technology it would more
    than likely have been towards the end of my thesis before I could know of similar
    research being conducted elsewhere, relying as it would upon publication or my
    personal attendance at a relevant conference.




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                                             Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



  Activity within these fora ebbs and flows, depending upon accessibility, individual's and
  regional circumstances, and perhaps the internal politics of the discussions which occur.
  I am kept informed of government policies in countries where LETS is active and am
  confident that the medium is keeping me more up-to-date with the global extent of
  LETS activity. I am also aware of the theoretical and policy developments of key LETS
  activists. A major methodological challenge lies in managing and interpreting this
  continuing `data' stream within the time and resource constraints of the project.
  Cataloguing, analysis and filing of topics and responses is a constant and often pressing
  task. As a researcher who is committed to an interactive style of social inquiry I
  occasionally respond to topics, particularly if it falls within my sphere of growing
  knowledge of LETS practice and government policy.

  My participation on `the net' has shown a distinct progression from naive inquirer to
  experienced contributor and researcher. Where does this `participation' and/or `action'
  fall within the quiver of qualitative methodologies? This internationalised and
  depersonalised version of participant observation not only shapes my research, but
  obviously is influencing and shaping the subject of research itself in a much broader and
  more rapid way than before possible. These issues and their space/time connotations are
  posing interesting methodological questions. How does this mode of inquiry, of action,
  differ from face-to-face participant observation? What are the possibilities that it offers?
  In order to further these queries a brief review of the core concepts of participant
  observation and action research is first necessary.



Qualitative research methods - participant
observation and action research.
  Implicit in the method of participant observation is a physical immersion of the body in
  the research and the need for negotiation to gain entry to `the field' of research (Smith
  1988). This research posture has been termed `indwelling', a stance which requires the
  researcher to interact, to `be at one with the persons under investigation' and to reflect
  (Maykut and Morehouse 1994:25). At the risk of stating the obvious it is worth
  dissecting this further.

  The body of the researcher is physically immersed in the medium of research (e.g. the
  social group, the street, the pub) and, by definition, is physically and temporally
  constrained by the body. For example the body cannot be in two places at once. Bodily
  characteristics also place constraints upon movement within the social landscape. For
  example entry to the research site and to the trust of the research subjects will be
  affected by, amongst other things, class, sex, speech and dress.

  At the same time the sentient body offers an array of `sensing equipment' to be utilised.
  Lofland and Lofland describe `classic participant observation' as involving `the



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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



    interweaving of looking and listening....of watching and asking' (quoted in Ely 1991:42).
    The act of indwelling offers the body as the research tool. The human-as- instrument
    (Maykut and Morehouse 1994:26) not only looks and listens, but also feels, smells,
    touches and intuits the nuances of human behaviour, the smells, the movements etc. of
    the human subject; a task that can only be appreciated through the complexities of the
    human observer (Maykut and Morehouse 1994:27).

    Vexing questions in participant observation are `How far do I go in my participation?'
    and `When do I withdraw?'. Action research brings these questions to the very centre of
    research philosophy and usually involves the `research subjects' in a consciously
    collaborative effort (e.g. Whyte 1991). This strategy is largely applied in educational,
    industry and management environments. Indeed, for the employee who undertakes
    action research as part of their own work situation it is not necessary to contemplate the
    question `when do I withdraw'? A further conscious feature of action research is its
    activity cycle of: plan--act-- observe--reflect--plan (Winter 1987:43). Like participant
    observation it involves an embodied position which requires negotiation.

    I am very much experiencing a blurring of the distinction between these two methods in
    this mixed environment of LETS research and communication. It is, undoubtedly, a
    function of my committed and interactive research style. However there are some
    fundamental differences of such `disembodied' practice which are unquestionably due to
    the nature of the medium itself. Central to this is the space/time compression that CMC
    makes communicatively real. The style is a far cry from classic studies such as William
    Foote Whyte's Street Corner Society (1955). CMC brings a new space/time twist to this
    traditionally face-to-face and, hitherto, place/body- specific activity. The next section of
    the paper explores the implications of CMC for these methods. Many of the observations
    made here were flagged by Kerr and Hiltz (1982) in their general commentary about the
    future of CMC.



New geographies and styles of research
    Three levels of CMC impinge upon this research: communications between LETS
    activists, between researchers and the activists and between the researchers themselves.
    In all of these relationships the most obvious liberatory difference is that a researcher
    based in one place can virtually instantaneously study a movement that is occurring in
    many places simultaneously, as well as get potentially instant feedback from one's
    geographically dispersed research peers.

    Computer-mediated participant observation circumvents problems of space/time
    synchronicity, so characteristic of the embodied researcher. As Kerr and Hiltz put it,
    `computerised communication increases the opportunity to "be in the centre of the
    action" without regard to geography' (1982:114). Such ease of communication is



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                                             Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



  unprecedented and itself presents opportunities for a whole new geography Falk (1995)
  (http://www.scu.edu.au/ausweb95/papers/sociology/falk); Brunn and Leinbach 1991).
  O'Brien (1992) has even gone so far as to forebode the `end of geography' for the
  financial world.

  So too are there potentially new research landscapes for the academic. As newsprint
  constituted a new political geography - the nation state (Anderson 1983) - so did the
  smaller scale `newsletter' delimit geographies of research and academic communication.
  CMC broadens these geographies both spatially and temporally (e.g. Taubes 1993).
  Similarly the potential `research subjects' have a faster and broader medium within
  which to communicate, reconstituting the meaning and practice of community Falk
  (1995) (http://www.scu.edu.au/ausweb95/papers/sociology/falk).

  The new connections are already apparent in my research where researchers and
  research subjects communicate in a reconstituted landscape. This not only offers new
  opportunities for research but the possibility of a much greater two-way flow of
  information, a democratising challenge to the usual modes of `objective' research albeit
  an option many may choose not to adopt (Clarke 1993). These different facets of an
  emerging technology present problems and opportunities which are blurred in the grey
  areas of social adaptation to rapid technological change.



Blurring divides?
  The rapidity and ease with which exchanges can take place means participant
  observation can have a far greater impact upon the research subject. The spatial and
  temporal immediacy, and the rapidity and clarity of the written word in the medium
  (Kerr and Hiltz 1982:118-120) gives greater force to interactions between the researcher
  and researched. Contributions may not necessarily be either theoretical nor exhortative
  but, as in my experience, may simply arise from field observations. In acting as an
  international researcher I am also acting as a conduit between different places (which
  may not be connected to the net), transfering knowledge more rapidly than other means.
  By comparison academic journals (albeit the `currency' of academic promotion) - with
  their relatively high cover price, limited circulation and rigorous refereeing process - are
  a poor tool for propagating findings back to the research subject. The 'hard' conference
  circuit is an equally expensive and limited means when one can access and
  instantaneously participate in the same electronic communication networks as one's
  research subjects. I and others are at once keynote speakers, attentive listeners; less often
  noisy rabble and rarely, dozing professors.

  By way of example, my participation in lets.oz was particularly active during field work
  in New Zealand in the latter half of 1993. During this time Australian LETSystems were
  being seriously confronted by a radical change in Department of Social Security (DSS)




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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



    policy brought about by the Department's increasing awareness of the high participation
    in LETS of DSS beneficiaries. This national policy change seriously threatened the
    continued local growth of LETS in Australia. Being in New Zealand I was aware of the
    apparently favourable policy stance of their Department of Social Welfare. The
    technology allowed me to be aware of the situation in Australia whilst travelling, and to
    convey my contributions and my knowledge of the New Zealand situation back to
    Australia. At the same time it was my position as an embodied researcher in New
    Zealand which privileged me to access lets.oz through New Zealand university
    networks. I was thus enabled to actively participate in a vigorous discussion about DSS
    policy and the formulation of a unified LETS submission to present to DSS. No other
    forum would have served the purposes that CMC provided in this case.

    Clearly the researcher is presented with the possibility of a genuine two way exchange,
    threatening to turn the `participant observation' into an inadvertent version of `action
    research'. When engaging in such a `live' research medium I find the position of not
    communicating my findings and insights to my research subjects (who are my peers in
    many respects) indefensible. Having such an attitude, and putting in so much time to the
    necessary tasks of engaging, responding, cataloguing etc., raises several questions.

    First is the issue of publishing in `respectable' academic journals. These of course
    remain `quality' (albeit `dated', at least in terms of modern communication mediums)
    sources of information and constitute vital `community currencies' for academic
    promotion. However in relation to disseminating research to a target audience rapidly
    and widely, publishing potentially becomes a question of `why bother?'. Of course the
    imperatives of publishing are ignored at the peril of one's career options.

    Secondly, and arising out this issue, is the risk I undertake in placing my material in
    such a public and manipulable medium. Obviously opportunities exist for the more
    electronically tentative and career conscious colleagues who may be `lurking' in the
    virtual shadows. As I cheerily engage in this ephemeral electronic world they may well
    be studiously writing up papers for publication in the `real' world based upon insights
    gleaned from my own electronically expressed ideas. This may not necessarily be
    plagiarism but may simply be a case of `...seeing further by standing on the shoulders...'
    - of an electronic and unacknowledged variety. I am also toying with the idea of
    undertaking a relatively open thesis writing process by placing draft chapters upon my
    World Wide Web `home page', making it accessible to inquirers at any time. Obviously
    this is a move which will require substantial thought in relation to these issues.

    A further challenge of using CMC for research is that the immediacy of information
    makes research possible at a much earlier stage of development of the potential research
    subject. It is possible to know of small community events and initiatives occurring on
    the other side of the world, events and initiatives which may not even reach the local
    media, let alone national or international media, or academic journals. What may have



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                                             Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



  been a single minor community innovation in an isolated location can, by virtue of a
  rapid and rhyzomic communication medium, much more quickly become a global
  movement. What is locally important becomes globally spread (still with a local
  priority), and only knowable as a globally occurring local event through the medium of
  computer communications.

  Thus CMC gives social movements the potential to have greater fluidity and volatility.
  These present further complications for research. For example LETS is, from all
  appearances, a rapidly growing global phenomenon. However it is entirely possible that
  the whole movement could decline within the life of the study. Instead of being a
  theoretical and forward looking piece of research, the thesis could just as easily become
  an historical document before it is even written. The inherent volatility of LETS is made
  even more so as local systems are influenced by the instantaneous transmission of
  information about events across the world.

  Before reflecting upon other issues a comment upon a minor methodological benefit is
  warranted. The interactions of CMC participant observation are contained in computer
  text files. The 'collective group memory' of the participants is thus accurately retained
  for later analysis (Kerr and Hiltz 1982:171), readily retrievable for analysis in qualitative
  analytical packages such as The Ethnograph or Nud.Ist.



The removal of the body?
  The truncation of the various senses implicit in the `human-as-instrument' is definitely a
  limitation. For example, to be limited to a ;-) in place of a wry smile certainly limits
  one's social perceptors when detecting irony. It is not easy to determine the mood of
  those responsible for the written word on your screen, hence misinterpreted
  communications can rapidly escalate into `flames' without recourse to other more
  reasonable means of communication. The art of placation is severely limited by the
  rapidly written electronic word. Firing off a sharp retort is far easier when a couple of
  key strokes completes the irretrievable mailing process. Compare this to the relatively
  laborious task of putting pen to paper, whiting out, stuffing the envelope, getting the
  stamp and then physically placing the completed letter in the mailbox. An exchange of
  salvoes is a much more rapid affair and could quite literally occur in minutes, rather than
  weeks.

  A further example from New Zealand highlights these points. I was reporting on an
  informal basis to lets.oz about the general circumstances of LETS in New Zealand. The
  differences between system operation in New Zealand raised the ire of some activists in
  Canada, the UK and Australia. At times I took the negative responses personally. These
  feelings no doubt expedited the decline in my participation as a `flames' (criticism) and
  'whispers' (private email 'asides' outside of the main conference) encouraged me to




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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



     become somewhat of a 'lurker', someone who reads but does not contribute. Clearly not
     all of one's senses or feelings are truncated by engaging in CMC.

     My 'lurking' episode, which has only recently ended, was partly due to a computer
     breakdown and my financial inability to complete the necessary repairs and upgrades.
     This of course raises the question. Who can and does access the medium? Clearly the
     issue of access is a function of many factors - education, gender, wealth - but as the lack
     of an APC node in New Zealand demonstrates, these issues can occur at scales greater
     than the individual; hence geographical gaps in the medium.



Blurring the divide of `otherness'?
     It is widely assumed that issues of `otherness', such as sex, are effaced by CMC. For
     instance Kerr and Hiltz suggest that entry to groups communicating in the medium is
     easier due to exclusion of such markers as sex, race and physical appearance (1982:115).
     Mark Poster, on a more theoretical level, contends that identityless computer
     communication upsets

       `...the power relations, both economic and gendered, that govern synchronous speech. Factors
       such as institutional status, personal charisma, rhetorical skills, gender, and race - all of which
       may influence the way an utterance is received - have little effect in computer conferences.
       Equality of participation is thereby encouraged' (1990:122).

     The impersonal face of CMC certainly appears to efface bodily characteristics which can
     present significant obstacles to participant observation. Potentially the researcher can
     'listen' without being seen, without upsetting the internal politics of the communications
     proceeding, without having their employment status, sex or race questioned. If however
     they do decide to enter the discourse, the utterance and reception of contributions may
     be less affected by these issues.

     One case which appears to affirm Poster's `identityless communication' observation
     occurred during a particularly fractious lets.oz discussion in late 1993. `Gert' was a
     LETS activist whose practices were considered dubious by many other LETS workers.
     For all intents and purposes it appeared that this `flame war' was directed at this `man'. A
     point came in the discussion where `Gert' appeared to be arguing about women's issues
     from a woman's point of view. Eventually the comment arose `I didnt (sic) even know
     Gert was a woman - sorry Gert'. Later conversations from people who lived in the same
     district as Gert confirmed that `she' was indeed a man, it was simply the language which
     was ambiguous.

     Paradoxically this `apology' demonstrates the importance people place upon gender
     during communication. Whilst the sex of Gert may have appeared irrelevant whilst it




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                                             Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



  remained unknown, it would be erroneous to conclude that race, gender, poverty etc. do
  not have an influence upon communication. Clearly they have an effect upon who is
  accessing the medium if not, as Poster contends, the communications themselves. Much
  feminist literature would contest such superficial assumptions, ignoring as they do that
  the communicating bodies are indeed, inter alia, gendered. All of these are elements
  which affect access and reception and utterance of the discourse itself (for instance see
  Rose 1993).

  Chua (1995) (http://www.scu.edu.au/ausweb95/papers/sociology/chua). comments upon
  the maleness of cyberspace (as do Kerr and Hiltz (1982)) but also identifies
  opportunities for new female spaces to be claimed within the virtual worlds. The
  creation of such a space was attempted by women LETS activists in mid-1993. Indeed,
  the discussion in lets.women showed signs of expanding the technical and ideological
  LETS discourse towards more personal issues and their effect upon one's activism.
  However activity on lets.women was short-lived and the conference is now defunct.

  If I were to leave my observations of LETS to this virtual world I might thus conclude
  that women's roles in LETS is limited. However the public/private, male/female duality
  seems to reflect quite healthily in an Internet/place or virtual/manifest sense. when one
  participates `face-to-face' in LETS trading and committee work it becomes apparent that
  the vast majority of traders and LETS management members are women. I have
  personally met many committees and CMC participants in the places where they live as
  well as at hard conferences. A very small minority of women who numerically dominate
  these situations are represented on the `net'. It is clear that women prefer to be achieving
  their LETS work on the ground, in real places, rather than engaging in high-tech
  theorising across cyber spaces. This is not to say that no women participate on the net,
  but as one woman (who I know personally) recently commented after an enlivened
  discussion: `NOW ALL I CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT IS THE GENDER BIAS!!!'. In
  fact this woman is a key negotiator with DSS, a fact which demonstrates (at least in this
  social movement) that those who utilise the medium also participate - indeed are key
  players - in policy formulation and government lobbying.



Conclusions
  Many more issues need to be explored about the potentials and impacts of CMC on
  research in general. This paper has only addressed a narrow area of methodology.
  Although the utility of CMC is becoming apparent to many more people, it is typically
  highly educated male professionals (Kerr and Hiltz 1982:173) who have a distinct
  propensity for 'playing' and communicating by computer. Nevertheless I have put
  forward arguments for, and demonstrated a productive use of, the medium for social
  research. Such use must be tempered however by an awareness of its limitations.




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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



     LETS is first and foremost a face-to-face trading system and it would be a fatal mistake
     for this study, and most other social research projects, to rely solely upon
     computer-mediated participant observation for its data. Use of the medium must be
     informed by an external awareness of who is using the medium, for what purposes and
     to what effect. Whilst the medium might efface gender and other characteristics within
     the communications themselves, they are fundamental in constituting and constraining
     access, and thus shape the demographic of the medium's users, as well as the styles of
     discussions being played out. Researchers of CMC such as Kerr and Hiltz
     (1982:166-168) and Myers (1987) may use the medium solely as their data source.
     However it is vitally important that researchers who are simply using CMC as a research
     tool keep in mind that CMC does not entrance nor entrain everybody. CMC is simply
     one source, which like any qualitative research should be subjected to corroboration (or
     `triangulation') with other sources. Equally it would be mistaken, in this research, to
     ignore the conversations occurring in the medium. To do so would be to omit a crucial
     vector for understanding the LETS movement and the latest happenings in this dynamic
     and globally spread local movement.

     I have also shown that CMC presents possibilities for a more balanced interaction
     between researcher and the researched. These however suggest broader significance for
     the cultural edifices of knowledge and research. The potential democratisation of
     research by CMC (Clarke 1993) has implications for the production of knowledge itself
     and the notion of subject/object in research. As Poster puts it, `...the scientist qua
     subject...(can)...no longer be regarded as epistemologically distinct from the object being
     studied...' (1990:144). Poster's observation concurs with similar contemporary criticisms
     of knowledge construction (e.g. Capra 1982, Keller 1982).

     The ability of CMC to facilitate increased interaction between researcher and researched
     lends substantive force to these theoretical challenges which have been made upon the
     notion of 'objective' research. The spatial and temporal constraints which previously
     existed, which maintained a semblance of a hierarchical knowledge production, are
     potentially dissolved for those academics who wish to engage in discourse with
     computer conference participants. Conferences which are no longer constrained by place
     or time open up the possibility for academics to communicate the processes and fruits of
     their research to a much broader array of people than those attending university
     campuses or reading academic journals.


References
      Anderson, Benedict, 1983, Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread
         of nationalism, Verso, London.




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                                          Global participant observation from the Australian periphery:



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Global participant observation from the Australian periphery: space/time compression and
its implications for qualitative research



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