Slack, R. S. (1998) 'On the
Potentialities and Problems of a WWW Based Naturalistic Sociology'
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Received: 12/2/97 Accepted: 13/5/98 Published: 30/6/98
Burns produced a videotape that framed a typist's hands at an electronic typewriter keyboard. The tape documents the typist's hands working at the keyboard while her voice gives a running commentary of "what she is doing" as she composes the text. The typed document is shown unfolding on a sheet of paper positioned in the carriage while the typist strikes a sequence of keys, crosses out and restarts a passage, and pauses between letters while considering aloud what to do next. The videotape thus frames a distinctive 'pair' of intelligible documents: (1) a 'real-time' video sequence of typing, complete with hesitations and commentary, and (2) a typed page that can be read, copied, and analysed independently of the real-time sequence. (Lynch, 1993: pp. 289 - 290).
2 While not endorsing the accompanying moral vocabularies, the options range from total adoption of any and all technologies as intrinsically good, through skeptical engagement to what one might regard as a form of Luddism.
3 Thus it is a case of making the technology work for our purposes - to say something more in and through the technology not because of it.
4 Pace R. E. Park.
5 However, we may say that the present work is another way of 'writing past' (Ashmore, 1989) the tu quoque.
6 By this I mean that in the use of audio-visual materials, we may bring about a sociology that shows as well as tells. I shall return to this point later in the paper.
7 As readers may know, this phrase has been employed by Garfinkel and Sacks (1970 ) and by Heritage and Watson (1980) to describe the practices of glossing. It would not be unfair to say that my aim here is to present a more accountable sociology - in the ethnomethodological sense of the term.
8 Which we shall discuss below.
9 Although such users rarely topicalise the work of tagging and categorising the data. I am grateful to A. P. Carlin of the University of Stirling for this notion of topicalising (which, I believe stands as a first class way of understanding the project of ethnomethodology), and for discussing the points made herein with me.
10 The work of Professor W. W. Sharrock at the University of Manchester, and of Professor J. A. Hughes at the University of Lancaster, together with their colleagues in their respective institutions and at Rank Xerox stand as exemplary studies in this area.
11 As A. P. Carlin (personal communication) has pointed out, we might usefully compare the relative inertness of the WWW journal contributions with the web pages of their institutions. It is my hope that sociologists will not come to use technology in the manner they use fieldnotes - rich in private but poor in public. Technology should not be relegated to singing dancing homepages, it is a powerful explicative instrument not a curiosity.
12 Of course, it may well be the case that the papers are prepared for 'the web' by use of some package such as HTML-Assistant or Adobe Page Mill. If this is the case, it seems that there is an even greater opportunity for sociologists to employ the potentialities of the form - perhaps through the imaginative use of such packages.
13 I am tempted to call this 'reflexivity by revelation'.
14 Readers may however like to examine the possibilities offered by Ten Have at: <http://www.pscw.uva.nl/emca/transcr.htm>.
15 I am grateful to Dr D. R. Watson of the University of Manchester for this word. His use stresses the notion of making real through situated practice, as opposed to the mentalistic use contained within, eg. 'I just realised'. Such phrases move us away from the notion that reality is [merely] socially constructed, inviting us to consider the logical grammar of words as they work within our analytic mentality.
16 Readers are invited to compare this treatment of the work of writing with that of Woolgar (1988).
17 We may consider the premium that collectors place on manuscripts as an instance of the value of recovering the lived work of writing. I have taken the time to study a copy of such a manuscript, a poem by Dylan Thomas, which shows the marginalia within his work of writing a poem - my respect for his work was enhanced by the recoverable details of his writing, especially the drafts and half-started phrases. Readers may see a printed example of this in some editions of Thomas's Collected Poems.
18 The current 'fieldnotes' debate in anthropology is an illustration of the reluctance to explicate the detailed how of writing. It is as if writing anthropology were some arcane practice for which fieldnotes stand as a reluctant proxy.
19 That is to say, the manner in which our accounts and the circumstances they describe elaborate each other.
20 My apologies to Woolgar if I have just re-invented the Time Relay Inversion Camera (Klystron), (Woolgar [editor] 1988, p. 34, note 16).
21 Dr D. R. Watson (personal communication) has pointed out that a journal Video Sociology edited by A. Blumenstiel was available a number of years ago. Unfortunately, this journal has now ceased publication. Publishers might serve sociology well by presenting back copies of the journal on CD-ROM. It is my hope that some readers may attempt to re- establish the work that Blumenstiel began. We should also note the work of J. Driessen who employs video-tape materials in his analysis of the work of a governmental land management agency . Driessen uses tapes to re-present the practical actions of the personnel within the context of training films. We might, following the ethnomethodological orientation of the present work, note that Driessen's tapes form a gloss wherein the work of the personnel is re-presented to them. The folding back of the text illustrates just what that text and work was comprised of as a series of practical actions - this is similar in character to what Garfinkel and Sacks (1970 ) refer to as 'Rose's gloss'.
22 However, we might say that the term 'data' which is so often used to describe these materials parallels the debate in anthropology regarding fieldnotes. In the latter case, Sanjek (1991) has argued that fieldnotes are often the bearers of experience from 'the field' and that researchers are reluctant to allow others to examine their notebooks since they constitute a 'warts and all' anthropological self-disclosure.
23 Significantly, Jarmon's thesis is also relatively cheap to reproduce - copies being available for as little as US $6.
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