Category Archives: technology

Using aerial photographs

Aerial photography has been around for a long time ~ indeed there was a time living on the Canadian prairies where aerial photographers took pictures and then sold them to farmers, a sort of self-portrait of their homestead. My grandparents proudly displayed such a photograph in their living room and as a child I found it a fascinating perspective.

Google Maps provides an interesting resource for using the aerial perspective to examine constructs such as land use and housing patterns. For example, John Hill in this blog post looks at housing patterns, particularly suburban housing patterns that show an evolution from the sterile grids of suburbia characteristic of early suburban development, a pattern Thomas Jefferson laid down in the 18th century. His analysis of housing patterns illustrates an evolution that considers issues of density, community, and aesthetics based on the housing patterns (grids, fairway housing, fly-in homes, canal homes, cul-de-sacs, gated communities, tract mansions (what some folks call McMansions) and so on) we see in aerial photographs. This analysis clearly illustrates changes over time, concluding with suburban planning that reflects a contemporary interest in being ‘green,’ developments that encourage transit use, walkability, mixed-use spaces, and energy efficient construction.

See also Context and Perspective

Researching the virtual world

The explosion of social media has opened a new space in which human interaction and social life unfold, and perhaps are differently constructed. As the social world goes digital, social scientists are challenged to adapt research methodologies and methods to this new space, one where thousands and possibly millions of people interact.

A literature that provides guidance on how to do research in growing and includes books like:

Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online by Robert V Kozinets
Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method, edited by Annette N. Markham & Nancy K. Baym

And journals devoted especially to the topic:

A key consideration in research in this new space are ethical issues of privacy, consent, and research participants’ rights. Some references that deal with these issues are:

Banks, W. and M. Eble, 2007, Digital Spaces, Online Environments, and Human Participant Research: Interfacing with Institutional Review Boards, in Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues, H. McKee and D. DeVoss (eds.), Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 27–47.
Brown, R. & Gregg, M. (2012). The pedagogy of regret: Facebook, binge drinking and young women. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 26 (3): 357-369.
Buchanan, E. A. and Zimmer, M., Internet Research Ethics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).
Burden, K., Shuck, S., & Aubusson, P. (2012). M-Research: Ethical issues in researching young people’s use of mobile devices. Youth Studies Australia, 31 (3): 17-26.
Morrow, V. (2008). Ethical dilemmas in research with children and young people about their social environments, Children’s Geographies, 6 (1): 49-61.
Zimmer, M. (2010). “But the data is already public”: On the ethics of research in Facebook. Ethics and Information Technology, 12 (4): 313-325.

Sage advice on recording & transcribing equipment

The following from my UBC colleague Steven Talmy:

For multiparty talk such as that in focus group interviews, I find it best to use both a DVD recorder for picture and a high quality digital audio recorder. The video, though optional, can help with gesture/gaze/proxemics and so on, while the audio recorder provides the primary data source for transcription. Any DVD recorder can provide picture; for audio, I’ve found it’s better to spend a bit more for good quality. I have been super happy with my Roland Edirol R-09HR, though I don’t think they’re still making them. Something like the Zoom H4n looks like it would be a good replacement.

You upload your audio files from SD card to your PC/Mac, save the master, and work with a duplicate file for transcription. I’ve used several transcription applications… For audio, I use Audacity for microanalysis (freeware). For less fine-grained audio transcription, Express Scribe is great (freeware). I use a footpedal with Express Scribe, along the lines of this one: .

Other options for audio transcription apps: Adobe Audition: (pricey!!); F4 audiotranscription: (freeware); Sound Writer and Voice Walker (freeware; but old apps); Transcriber AG: (freeware).

There’s also Dragon Naturally Speaking, which is a talk-to-text application, but it’s not great for interview transcription (you have to listen to your audio file, repeat what it said on it, which DNS then transcribes… and with the latest versions of DNS (11 and 12), there are some unresolved problems with Word integration).

If you wind up wanting to do video transcription, then Transana is in my experience the best out there ($50).

Street Ethnography

Street ethnography is an emerging research approach that focuses on public exterior spaces… sidewalks, parks, neighbourhood spaces. Both the ethnographer and the ethnographic participants are moving through these public spaces and so are engaged with each other in informal ways as both use these spaces in a fairly equal way. The tools for street ethnographers include neighbourhood walks, going along with ethnographic participants, and photography.

A good illustration of street ethnography is, Urban Fieldnotes, a mash-up of research and street style blogging. Blogger Brent Luvaas, a visual and cultural anthropologist & Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Drexel University, describes Urban Fieldnotes this way…

Urban Fieldnotes is a street style blog documenting fashion, style, and dress on the streets of Philadelphia and beyond. It is also a blog about street style blogging, an experiment in auto-ethnographic research and open-source fieldwork that is part of an ongoing project entitled “Street Style 2.0: New Media and the New Politics of Fashion.”

His research project is connected to the rise of street style fashion blogging as a form of amateur ethnography that challenges prevailing modes of expertise in the fashion world. Just to make sure you know this is research, he also says…

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, but please note that any comments posted to this blog may be used in future presentations and publications, both print and digital, by Brent Luvaas.

Street style blogs are plentiful, but perhaps one of the mostly widely read is The Sartorialist, but Luvaas provides a long list of street style blogs from around the globe. Others he might have included are Advanced Style, which focuses specifically on ‘older folks’ and Bill Cunningham’s work for the NY Times. And there are an increasing number of models come street style bloggers, like Hanneli Mustaparta and Christine Reehorst.

There isn’t much written about street ethnography, although R. Weppner’s 1977 Street ethnography: Selected studies of crime and drug use in natural settings is a good resource, if you can get your hands on it.

Clever visual representation of FB data

While I’m not sure exactly how this translates to research or evaluation, this display of the spread of an ‘idea’ (more accurately a Facebook post of Marvin the Martian) is interesting and compelling. Having recently struggled with meaningful ways to present social network data to project staff this makes me wonder if there are similar animated ways to illustrate the nature and evolution of SNA maps.

Perspectives & context

As interpretive researchers we observe in order to make sense. And we know that our perspective matters in what we see. The kind of perspective I am talking about here is not so much our personal lenses, but the circumstances that allow (or don’t allow) us to see. If I am in an airplane I see in a particular way… I get the big macro picture. The patterns that are apparent from 30,000 feet up are not so easily discernible if I am on the ground. From the air one gets a sense, for example, of the nature of land sharing and use for agriculture. It is also possible to enjoy a joke that is accessible only from this same perspective.

When one is driving or walking in that same space, the perspective changes and one gets a micro view, but necessarily loses sight of the bigger aerial perspective picture. What might have been a solid mass of colour or shape from the air now is discernable as individual plants and flowers. What seemed like lines drawn between fields become roads.

In both cases we see something valuable, indeed something complete from that perspective. But only one perspective gives us just that… a complete picture from one vantage point. In doing research we want to capture social phenomena from as many perspectives as possible, to give as thorough an account of the phenomenon as we are able. Knowing that there are always other perspectives as yet unexplored.

To illustrate just a couple more perspectives for this example, consider a GPS map or a road map.

Being aware of the possibilities of multiple perspectives should not be seen as a limitation, but rather an opportunity to think outside a single researcher, research framework, or methodology when we strive to understand social phenomena as fully as we are able.

simple word counts & data displays

While simply counting words and phrases doesn’t provide a deep analysis of text, it can be a start in identifying basic themes or ideas for further analysis. This example from the NY Times is a simple count of frequently used words and phrases during the Republican party’s convention. The intermediate analysis value lies in part in the graphic illustration of the word count and the quick reference to examples of full text where those words/phrases appear. The graphic quickly orients the viewer to the fact that the candidates are most frequently mentioned (as is the anti-candidate Obama) ~ not to surprising, but also to those ideas that are most present in the speeches, for example, work, business and jobs are the main theme followed by leadership, families and god. Clicking on any word or phrase then highlights it in context in excerpts from variou speeches.

discussion of qualitative data analysis software

Just published issue of Forum: Qualitative Social Research focusing on qualitative data analysis software from multiple perspectives.

The KWALON Experiment: Discussions on Qualitative Data Analysis Software by Developers and Users
Vol 12, No 1 (2011)
Edited by Jeanine Evers, Katja Mruck, Christina Silver & Bart Peeters in cooperation with Silvana di Gregorio & Clare Tagg

analysis of video & audio data ~ Transana open source software

Thanks to Sylvia, a student in my research class, for pointing out this software.

Transana is software for professional researchers who want to analyze digital video or audio data. Transana lets you analyze and manage your data in very sophisticated ways. Transcribe it, identify analytically interesting clips, assign keywords to clips, arrange and rearrange clips, create complex collections of interrelated clips, explore relationships between applied keywords, and share your analysis with colleagues. The result is a new way to focus on your data, and a new way to manage large collections of video and audio files and clips.

Works on WIndows or OS X and developed at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.