10 Things I Learned at #pcaaca16


1] Twitter is the actual best (and kind of like academic crack): at cons, it’s the best way to distribute info about upcoming panels, to share what’s being said in panels, and to communicate with/meet other scholars in your field.

2] That said, tweeting at Misha Collins may have…unintended consequences.

3] Fan studies scholarship is a tres small world: in FS, it’s not unusual to have undergrads, people new to the field, and some of the biggest names in our field all in the same room–hell, on the same panel! And that’s one of our greatest strengths.

4] I am never drinking rum at a conference again.

5] Ever.

6] Hanging out with fandom + scholarly friends for three days spoils you for real life.

7] Supernatural is everywhere. It’s the textual kudzu of fan studies. I’ll never be free.

8] The most productive work at aca cons happens outside of panels: in the bar, at breakfast, while walking down to the waterfront. I’ve heard this idea many, many times before, but this is the first con where it’s been true for me. It was great, if unexpected.

9] Twitter is the actual best (and my saving grace): a space to keep those conversations going–to talk about the next con, to wax at length about Hannibal, to keep each other’s spirits up when academia is at its greatest drag.

10] Never underestimate the power of a fucking unicorn.

Load ‘Em Up

The biggest lesson of graduate school for me? You gotta come to terms with how much you don’t know.

You gotta get to a Zen sorta place where that knowledge is a given: there’s way more in the world, in your field, than you even know to ask about. So have another beer and relax, ok?

Or, uh. Try to.

To that end:

I spent this past Thursday at a day-long symposium at Drexel University called Life Online: The Ethics and Methods of Conducting Research in a Digital Age.

Yeah, it was spring break this week. And yeah, I spent it learnin.’ Though I look at it as gathering arrows for my dissertation quiver. Because sooner rather than later, I’m gonna have to start doing research rather than just talking about it [ahem], so I say: load ’em up.

A few arrows I came away with:

Of immediate interest for wee young researchers like me is this chart from the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). Said chart sketches the different types of data that a researcher might collect online, the venues in which that data might be collected, and the concomitant ethical questions that a researcher might then consider. Interested parties may also find AoIR’s comprehensive Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research (2012) useful in generating a set of vocabulary for talking about and planning online research projects.

For me, the most useful part of the day was Mary L Gray‘s presentation on IRBs and the difficulty some have in dealing with what she calls “ethnographically-engaged” digital media research.

Dude, Dr. Gray was nine kinds of awesome: amazing research, super-smart as hell, and a great speaker. She was talking about Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), for gods’ sake–snore–but she had the whole room with her from go.

You better believe it.

Somehow, Dr. Gray was cut off for time when other speakers were not and we lost a good 20 minutes of her talk. That was—unfortunate. Especially since some later speakers had time left over. Ah well.

For me, here were the key takeaways from her presentation.

General concepts/questions re: digital research:

  • Websites are both texts AND sites; digital media are both a tool AND a location.
  • Online research regenerates the question: what constitutes a public space?
  • There are no unembodied moments online; the body is always present.
  • “The notion of privacy is a privilege,” which—

—holy crap!! One of those things that sounds so obvious and yet, damn.

Central questions re: ethics of online research:

1.  Ethical dilemmas are an index of methodological flux/growth in fields of inquiry. Such dilemmas can be generative and productive and we shouldn’t shy away from engaging with them directly.

2.  Ethics in online research are ad hoc and (re)constructed: they evolve over time, over the life of a project, and researchers must attend to this evolution.

3.  Online researchers should talk through the ethics of a particular project with a trusted colleague, peer, or professor.

AMEN! Especially when your advisor’s own research is generating simliar questions.

4.  Gaining IRB approval doesn’t signal the resolution of ethical issues around a project. Indeed, Gray argued that the setup of many IRB forms and procedures can obscure, rather than shed light on, ethical questions that can spring up around digital research.

5.  Those who study worlds online should not let the computer screen become the sole terministic screen through which they study a given population or community. Gray emphasized the importance of talking to the people whose activities you see online; there’s much that’s lost without pushing into the broader context within which the user’s digital engagement sits.

This last one really got to me, especially because Gray was pretty damn convincing on this point. But such in-world examinations work directly against both my own instincts (eek! people!) and my sense of the “norm” in rhetorically-inclined digital research. Goddamn it. Because of course, the resistant aura that in-world engagement holds in this context is like catnip to me, man.


Or batnip.

All in all, I came out with more questions and angst than answers, and that, for me? Is the sign of a day well spent.

Thanks Be To Rhetorica

As strange as the past year has been, I’ve much in the academic realm for which to thank the goddess Rhetorica.

To wit:

  • My cohort. We’ve always been good, but this semester’s made me realize how lucky we are to have each other: we’re a strong triad, each arm strong in her own way. They keep me sane, and I can only hope that I return the favor every once and a while.
  • My dissertation director, she who says “I know you can do this” first and then asks smart, productive questions that make the project that much more complex and entertaining. She makes my work kinetic; sees the potential and pushes me towards it. And I haven’t even started on the dis, yet.
  • My visual rhetoric prof, who covered for me with my colleagues when I slept through a class. Who admonished me kindly for not taking care of myself (true) and overcommitting (guilty) and gave me strict but loving advice about my conference-ing next year: go to only two in your third year, she said, and she’s right. That said:
  • Bloody academic conferences, all seven of you fuckers. There’s a whole post in this, but suffice it to say I’ve met the right people in the weirdest places and my reading list for the break is so very long because of them. And my research’s the stronger for it, too–if not my schoolwork.
  • Tumblr, that timesuck/project generator. It’s about 60-40 timesuck, but those moments of research gold make the hours of scrolling worthwhile.
  • Those who’ve been willing to participate in one of my projects. You know who you are. Please know that your input is invaluable, and I’m so grateful for your willingness to play along.
  • That academic at PCA/ACA who argued with me at my panel back in April. As much as you annoyed me at the time–as inexplicable as I found your position–the nettle of your comments settled into my skin and informed my work in the second half of the year. You pushed me in a way I didn’t dig at the time–ok, you kinda pissed me off–but you forced me to think more carefully and approach my research from a different angle. And my work’s more effective and persuasive because of that. So I say sincerely: thanks. Though I think you’d still take issue with what I’m arguing. Oh! And something your partner said, he who was on my panel, inspired my latest fandom-related project. So give him a thanks from me, too.