The Digital Solidarity Trap: Social Movement Research, Online Activism and Accessing the Other's Others
15 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2015
Date Written: January 8, 2015
This paper explores the methodological limitations of qualitative work done in digital environments, particularly for researchers investigating subaltern populations. It draws from a 2010-2011 qualitative study of generation-based power dynamics within transnational feminist networks (TFNs). Early in the study, participants asserted technology-infused activism divided generations. Many suggested if I were to gain a “complete” understanding of young feminist activism, I not only study the digital spaces young feminists create, but also that I conduct research virtually, through technology interfaces. Energized by the methodological proposals outlined in anthologies such as Digital Writing Research (McKee and DeVoss, 2007), including DePew’s discussion of triangulating data gathered through digital research, I planned to combine fieldwork, including face-to-face interviews and participant observation, with interactive research conducted entirely online. As I set out to investigate young feminist participants’ claims that the youth-only virtual spaces they were creating enabled more inclusive participation in global feminist activism, I found in fact the opposite: a reiteration and reconfiguration of power dynamics marginalizing some members of the collective. Moreover, the digital research methods I employed with the hope of enabling greater access to a particularly marginalized population within the sample proved to make them in fact less accessible. This population was masked by the more powerful and resource-rich voices of others in the collective, who had greater control over content within shared digital space. Ultimately, this paper offers experience-based discussion of digital research in practice, and in particular cautions against the abandoning of “analog” methods.
Keywords: Qualitative Methods; Digital Research; Youth; Social Movements
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