MIDAS examined methods used to research the digital body through six ethnographic case studies, three in Digital Arts – Design, Fashion, Performance, and three in Social Science – Social Interaction Studies, Psychology, and Education. Since the focus was on the methodological ethos and routine practices related to researching the body in each site an ethnographic approach was adopted. This perspective is necessary to gain a detailed analytical understanding of these social worlds through attention to what people do, why they do it, and how they talk about it [Brown, 2013; Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995] is most apt for the time and pace required to develop interdisciplinary ways of working, notably the need to ensure interpretative validity and sensitivity across disciplinary contexts. It is also a method familiar to both the arts and social sciences. Ethnography was combined with multimodality, to capture the visual and multimodal context of the arts and social science (Jewitt, 2013). Combining these perspectives enables a focus on material objects, spatial features, the body, and visual phenomena to investigate how meaning is realized through diverse modes. This affords a focus on the non-linguistic and expands the realm of what counts as data, which in turn helps to create meaningful analytical dialogues and gain insights by combining different forms of data – this is essential as modes of interaction are used and valued differently in the Arts and Social Sciences.

Case Study Sites and Participants

The six case study sites were chosen to provide a range of theoretical stances on the body, the digital, and methods within either the Arts or Social Science. They were selected using three criteria: working with the body or bodily interaction; everyday use of digital technology; and a site of methodological innovation. In addition to meeting with associated tutors and technicians, individual participants were selected by the case study co-applicant using the above criteria and to represent different stages of the site’s research ecology.

The six case study sites are introduced here:

Data Collection

Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted across each case study site for 8-10 months. Ethnographic methods, notably immersion in the site, observation, field notes, as well as informal and in-depth interviews were used to create a cumulative account of the social world of each site. Field notes paid close attention to the meanings that participants attached to their actions to ‘allow the world to speak back to us’ [Lofland et al., 2006:p 84]. Field notes were produced in-situ on iPads to enable written notes, photographs, audio recordings, and video recordings (as appropriate) to be combined. The fieldwork focused on four key areas: setting (e.g. people/roles); the body (e.g. terminologies, key concepts and theories in use, related practices); the digital (e.g. available technologies, metaphors, how/when technologies feature in practice, relationship to the body); and methods (e.g. key approaches, concepts, concerns and interests). A template, developed from initial fieldwork, was used to support consistency across the case study data collection.

The first stage of fieldwork focused on the site at an institutional and group level – the general activity of the site, and teaching sessions related to research methods, the digital and the body. The second stage of the fieldwork captured the everyday research practice of key participants at an individual level – their making and research practice (e.g. supervision and data analysis sessions, rehearsals, and seminars), and outputs (e.g. final shows, portfolios and papers). To support the data collection ‘to hear with greater acuteness, and to observe with a new lens’ [Emerson et. al, 2011: p. 20] the project team engaged in weekly ethnographic reflection and discussion and explored emerging themes with participants via a series of four project workshops.

Data Analysis

The fieldwork materials were assembled to explore the project’s analytical questions and to develop and refine themes and categories relevant to its focus on body, digital, and methods across Digital Arts and Social Science. During the second fieldwork phase emerging topics were reviewed and developed into ‘sensitizing concepts’ to provide a general ‘sense of reference and guidelines in approaching empirical instances’ [Bulmer, 1954: p. 7]. These provided the seeds for theory development and paths for further fieldwork and data collection. Each case study was written through an analytical process of immersion and iterative engagement with the related fieldwork data. This process involved open ‘coding’ (annotation) of the field notes as well as more focused conceptual ‘coding’, theoretical notes, and memos to elaborate ‘codes’ [Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw, 2011]. Attention was given to significant practices, rules, norms, and organizational structures, repeated actions, revelatory moments, inconsistencies and breakdowns, and how events unfolded in/over time. Through this process the fieldwork materials were assembled to explore analytical questions, and to develop and refine themes and categories relevant to the three major areas of MIDAS (body, digital, and methods).

The cross case study analysis worked with these themes to tease out the variation across the six case studies using a constant comparative method [Glaser and Strauss, 1967]. This involved allocating segments of data to thematic categories, building collections of data around these, and comparing these segments to map the range and variation of a given category across the data, in order to specify themes related to how the body, the digital, and methods feature and are organized in Digital Arts and Social Science. Through this analytical process of persistent methodical interaction and immersion with data the analysis moved from ‘data, topics, questions’ to ‘empirically based propositions or answers’ [Lofland et al., 2006: p 198]. This comparative analytical phase helped to identify the synergies, tensions and points of connection, for research methods across the Digital Arts and Social Science.

The project co-applicants provided participant validation via comments and contributions to the case study, emerging themes, and analytical directions and conclusions. Participants also contributed to these via a series of workshops. A degree of triangulation was achieved by looking across different types of data and different researchers’ analytical views of data.


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