Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Virtual Ethnography, social networking and blogs

Random thoughts from the Bolton conference

This is the first of a few posts of reflection on my current research. I am also trying to figure out how to upload my Bolton's presentation within a post. "Enjoy" this note on Virtual Ethnography.

Virtual Ethnography is based on the assumption that cyberspace is organised around the same social rules and norms as “real world”. Despite the old debate on whether Virtual Ethnography should be considered a real, viable disciple or not, this new field of research is spreading in the context of Internet study.

Virtual Ethnography applies to my research as the construction of identities is the golden thread for the whole project. The starting point is the definition of diversity. In the first stage, the exploration was linguistic: an inquiry about the language or, even better, the metalanguage used by the participants, all within the Autistic Spectrum, to define themselves. I soon discovered that the participants’ effort was not only linguistic. It was a narrative about themselves, an attempt to make sense of their past . Their discourse was a storytelling experience, sought and demanded in every synchronous conversation. I therefore slipped into the asynchronous, blogs and the strictly linked social networks. I am focusing on Facebook, in such a rapid expansion after its creation in 2004. People in the Autistic Spectrum colonised this territory, substituting the “outdated” forums with the more dynamic interchanges of pages, walls and online discussions. While Facebook is a magazine, the blog is the journal, the book, the autobiography. The blog allows a fuller narrative, the poetics and rhetoric of disability and difference. The search for meaning is more complete, more feasible. While the blog is the field for making sense of experiences, the social network allows new connectedness, new rapports that do not include face-to-face contact and non-verbal cues. The Internet is the realm of anonymity, avatars, dishinibition, is talking to lines of text, a reality constituted of words. Written communication gives security and shelter from the scary reality of face-to-face communication.

Virtual Ethnography can explore the online communication praxis that allows people with communication impairments to overcome a potential disability. There is no disability in the online world. John Suler defined the virtual interchange of written text as the ideal territory for people who love to write: people with Autism and Asperger Syndrome typically define themselves as good writers. The “word reality” is therefore a new territory where it is possible to interact with new methodologies and dynamics. The Virtual Ethnographer is a real ethnographer.

But more to come...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Going to Bolton

Next week I will be in Bolton to present my research at the CyComp 2010. I will post here a draft of my presentation before I leave. It looks like I will be the only presenter focusing on Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and Computer-Mediated communication, which is quite interesting.
Although time for the presentation will be scarce (only 15 minutes...) I will add a few slides about the new stage of my research, all this virtual ethnography I am doing on blogs and Facebook. I am a bit overpowered, I did non expect so much raw material! Which, of course, is good. It's reassuring to see how much and how well people with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome write. It really looks like Cyberspace is giving everybody a democratic chance to get your voice heard. No results yet, apart from the conclusions from the first stage. I will talk a bit of that in my next post. For the moment, a lot of methodology and exploration, which is good. Keep an eye for more news.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

David Jordan's Documentary

Documentary about Asperger's Syndrome made by David Jordan and showed on RTE in 2005. David here defined Asperger's Syndrome as a "social dyslexia", which is a great definition of the diversity.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A few words about this blog...

I am Martina Di Renzo and I am doing a PhD project on Adults with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism, with a focus on identity construction and experience in online communication. I'm here in UCC (University College Cork), Ireland, School of Applied Psychology. Dave O'Sullivan is my primary supervisor, Angela Veale the second.
I have finished the first stage of my research, which was focused on synchronous communication and introduced the whole notion of Computer-Mediated Communication as a tool to overcome communication impairments before they become disability. I had written a very interesting article out of this stage, which unfortunately has been rejected. Twice. Really, journals don't know what they're doing. I don't give up and the article will be re-submitted soon. The next stage of my research, just started, will focus on the experience of being an adult with Autism and how this experience is communicated in cyberspace, through Blogs and Social Networks. It will involve Virtual Ethnography as starting point for the inquiry and the data gathered will be analysed through IPA. I am revamping my beloved website that followed me since of the beginning of this long research. Check it out at
This blog is a companion of that website. Here little by little I will start to narrate the development of my research stage on blogs and virtual communities. At the moment I am exploring interaction among people with Asperger and Autism on Facebook. It's pure virtual ethnography and from this experience I will extract a presentation for the Bolton CyComp conference in July. Bear with me, and I'll tell you more.