This blogpost focuses on the methodological challenges of studying the dynamics of technologically and computationally mediated publics, especially regarding young people’s experiences. The method we discuss in here is part of a larger set of qualitative methodologies developed by Annette Markham as part of a six-year (and ongoing) study of how youth experience social media (authors). In this larger study, youth produced, among other things, videologs of their experiences, after being trained in auto-elicitation and ethnographic methods (discussed in Markham, 2016). As a further step in reflexive auto-ethnographic analysis, the method we outline consists of asking participants to engage in a phenomenologically grounded analytical editing process of these videologs.
In this study, we find that as participants edit their own videos, they add information and depth at a level beyond what we researchers can bring in our own analyses. This tool is a productive way to get closer to the granularity of participants’ lived experiences.
Video and Phenomenology
We rely on phenomenology premises, whereby we are experimenting with ways of getting at individual’s understandings of their social media. From this stance there is no such thing as the view from nowhere. The body always carries its experiences and memories with it as a mental panorama in its perception (Merleau-Ponty, 2012 , p. 25). We connect phenomenology to film, drawing on Barbash and Taylor (1997), as “Film is a quintessentially phenomenological medium (…) It has a unique capacity to evoke human experience, what it feels like to actually be-in-the-world (p.74-75).
In this particular substudy, we focus on video editing as a reflexive tool for what MacDougall (2006) talks about as looking with a camera. Although neither the use of film in ethnographic inquiry nor visual analysis is new; however, the use of video editing–a very common digital culture practice–has been largely underexplored as a qualitative analysis tool (Rehder, 2016).
Screen recordings, image capture, and other common daily practices by so-called digital natives provide a basis for participants to create rather than simply archive information about their lived experience. As they do so, they engage in a nuanced form of rhythm analysis, putting themselves “in a sensory state that is at once one of vacancy and of heightened awareness” (MacDougall, 2006, p.7).
Creating the empirical material
This is part of a largescale 6-year project by Annette Markham, who, along with Meghan Dougherty at Loyola University Chicago, has been helping youth develop methods to analyze their own social media use (Markham, 2016). Using multiple qualitative methods for archiving their everyday experiences, participants engaged in close observation of their own social media experience. They generated data from detailing their social media use, logging how they were being tracked by marketers, and recording their interactions in various ways. They also disconnect from social media for certain time periods, producing audio, visual, and textual fieldnotes. After several weeks of observing and collecting material, they analyzed it, using various qualitative methods and under guidance of the researchers.
Discussion: Video editing as reflexive analysis
Below, we provide snippets of explanation interspersed with fieldnotes produced by one of the co-authors, Gabriel Pereira, during the process, to hint at what it’s like to engage with this method. It’s impossible to effectively showcase the method in writing.
Following Lefebvre, we situate the participant’s body-as-editor as a key instrument in analytical process. One important quality in filmmaking is the possibility to capture bodies in time, and review them later on in different speeds.
“The theory of rhythms as such has received solid support from the possibilities of reproducing rhythms, studying rhythms by recording them, therefore of grasping them in their diversity: slow or fast, syncopated or continuous, interfering or distinct. Putting an interview or background noises on disc or cassette enables us to reflect on rhythms, which no longer vanish whenever they appear.” (Lefebvre, 2004, p. 69).
When Gabriel has been recording the material themself, both the memories of the impression captured by the body in the field and those captured by the camera will in combination allow Gabriel to re-immerse in the fieldwork when doing analysis in a video editing-suite. By regaining a level of saturatedness, Gabriel is engaging in a phenomenologically-based analysis method.
I review my face and voice again and again on the screen. It’s uncomfortable, but after awhile I let go of that feeling. After a couple of hours of trying to make a coherent short piece, I realized I had completely lost track of time. I found I was continuously moving back and forth. Scanning, thinking, reflecting. Reversing, scanning again. Flipping from window to window. Back and forth. Back and forth. At first I was afraid to do anything except just move around.
The confrontation of the embodied experiences in the social media user’s body and the recorded audio-visual expressions generates a phenomenological readiness, whereby the body works with the editing technology in a rhythmic fashion.
Clip, move, adjust. Clip. Move. Adjust. Clipmoveadjust. After awhile, it’s so natural I stop thinking and realize I’m just creating. Not into a final form, but through many forms, over and over.
The video editing suite functions alongside and with the participant-as-editor. Once it becomes natural and intuitive, the user can stop thinking about the techniques. Experience becomes rhythm, guiding and also following the participant. By cutting, pasting and trimming video, Gabriel makes sense of the experience in an a way that is experimental and temporal. In another fieldnote, we can see a reflexive stance emerging:
I wanted to try to find something in what I was saying, so I had to listen to it several times to try and get to an understanding of it. I think I felt that when editing, when cutting and pasting pieces of video I was not only trying to create something, but also looking for something, experimenting, investigating, trying to make sense of my own experience, to frame it, to show it. Images and memories of creating the original videos guided me, helping me navigate and somehow put together the pieces of this “puzzle.”
The body of the participant-editor, the responsiveness of the editing software, the experience of editing, the analytical mindset: all these are involved in setting the rhythm of the analysis. Drawing inspiration from Max van Manen’s notion of phenomenology (2007), the key is to immerse oneself in the moment and let a state of readiness emerge, wherein these elements “reverberate with our ordinary experience of life as well as with our sense of life’s meaning” (p. 26).
Video editing is a powerful, phenomenologically embedded, deeply embodied, and self-referential way of seeing and looking. As a tool for social research, it also gives voice to participants: “Perhaps a phenomenological text is ultimately successful only to the extent that we, its readers, feel addressed by it — in the totality or unity of our being” (van Manen, 2007, p. 26). We find this to be an ethically important mode of enabling young people in networked publics to study their own lived experience in an increasingly complicated world of global networks using tools readily available to them.
Barbash, I., & Taylor, L. (1997). Cross-cultural filmmaking. UC Press.
Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: Space, time and everyday life. Continuum.
MacDougall, D. (2006). The Corporeal Image: Film, ethnography and the senses. Princeton University Press.
Markham, A. (2016). Future Making: A case for ethnographic research as ethical intervention. Accession Full Professor lecture, April 7, at Aarhus University, Denmark.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012 ). Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge.
Rehder, M. M. (2016). Sibling presence : A phenomenological study of separated young siblings’ everyday life focusing on technology, materialities and bodily experience. Copenhagen, Aarhus University
van Manen, M. (2007). Phenomenology of Practice. Phenomenology & Practice, 1(1), 11-30.