On fieldwork: digging too deep

Doing research online has sometimes quite unexpected results when you just begin googling for search words and end up clicking link after link. Today I wanted to search “memorial trolling” and “rip trolls”, which stand for a specific type of trolling with the intention to harass and disturb mourners in online memorials, such as in memorialized Facebook profiles or memorial videos on YouTube. One part of my current research is handling this area, but following the links and other material also resulted to discussions about the Deep Web.

I am very well aware of the disturbing material embedded in that area of the internet and with no desire to actually explore it, which is why I decided to see what others have thought of it and clicked a few YouTube videos explaining the concept and content of Deep Web. Unfortunately I ended up with the kind of sickening topics, and I do not wish to portray any of them here in detail, but only to note that the kind of evil this world holds has seized to amaze me. It just makes me sick to my stomach.

Jon Berkeley/Getty Images

When I explain – to anyone interested – about my current research of online violence, many of them usually ask my opinion what should be done to hate speech, bigotry, misogyny, bullying etc., and – especially – how they could be prevented and stopped. The interesting thing is, that these questions usually bear a small sign of hope, that it is possible to stop online violenceThat there is a way to end all the hate and malice. And to their disappointment, I usually answer in an elusive manner, since I do not want to ruin that small glimmering hope. I really wish there would be a way to just wave a star pointed wand and make it all better, but unfortunately the world does not work that way.

Of course there are laws, legislations and programs, apps and other ways to report, and often even catch the bad guys, but evil is like weeding. You plug one, there’s three more. Also, in my research, my intention is not to examine “how to stop them”, since it is not possible, but trying to create a deeper understanding of online violence, its complexity and nuances that are breeding new online cultures, both visual and textual. Online violence as a term is also very broad, which can contain anything from hateful commenting to actually violently harassing someone, such as with revenge porn. That’s why I have three case studies I will be conducting during this three-year project.

With this topic I also need to restrict myself for not going too deep and staying “at the shallow end”. It’s not only for my mental health, but also for my personal safety, since there’s no reason to bite the hand that “feeds” my research.

To get back to my initial topic, trolling, and to end this post on a lighter note, I have some great news as well: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (2015) by Whitney Phillips is finally out! I have looked forward for this since the first time I heard about Whitney’s work in 2011 and I immediately ordered a copy from for myself. So excited! Will definitely get back to the book when possible.

In the meanwhile: play nice, people.

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Postdoc project, here I come!

I can now finally announce it publicly, since it also can be found from the interwebs: I received funding for 12 months from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. I am beyond delighted for this, since FCF also funded almost my entire PhD project!

My new project will dive into a very current and difficult matter: violence in online environments.The aim is to create a coherent understanding of how hatred and violence are affecting online communication practices and discourses of hate, and whether these practices are bleeding from the online realm into offline interactions. The project is titled “It’s just talk…” – The Discourses and Practices of Online Violence, and will last approximately three years during which I will examine different aspects of visual and textual violence within three case studies.

Case 1. Twitter and hatred in 140 letters;

Case 2. Online misogyny and gaming culture;

Case 3. Trolling and violence in online memorials.

I am super excited to have this opportunity to continue almost immediately after earning with my PhD in August 2014. This new project also allows me to visit University of Stockholm and Existential Terrains program, which explores existential challenges and vulnerabilities that digital technologies both enable and restrain. The focus of the program is on digital memory cultures, death, mourning and managing the digital afterlife. I will be co-organizing and attending the programs seminars and workshops, in addition to lecturing and teaching about online ethnography – among other topics.

FCF was very generous to Finnish cultural studies this year. Many of my colleagues and friends received funding for their projects as well, such as Dr. Kirsi-Maria Hytönen (check her blog!) from the University of Jyväskylä and Dr. Ulla Savolainen from the University of Helsinki. We attended the annual FCF party at the Finlandia house on Friday the 28th of February, and went to celebrate afterwards together to a great local restaurant Kolmon3n. It almost sounds like a beginning of a good joke – “ethnologist, folklorist and anthropologist went to a bar..”

IMG_0515

Despite these fantastic news and celebrations, the current economic climate has left me worried about the future of Finnish culture studies – as well as my own future income. A degree does not bring you a job, when the current demand is that a) you should have job experience of +4 years from the job field in question, b) getting a doctorate is not considered as job experience, c) there are at least 100 other applicants for the same position, d) research as job experience is not either understood what it actually means or it is considered as “too much” as job experience, e) you usually should have the doctoral degree anyway.

The media and many bloggers have also discussed the matter and wondered why the Finnish education system is backfiring its students, since education is not the most valued trait of an applicant. Job experience is also extremely difficult to gain when you are young and still in the middle of finishing schools – unless you are the kind of greedy multi-tasker who doesn’t value their free time and personal relationships as high. Also, it’s also not unheard of that some students decide to pursue a doctorate since they cannot find employment. It’s a vicious and irrational circle.

But.. all’s well that ends well? At least for now, for this year. Now there are articles to be written, fieldwork to be conducted and research to be made. Life is good.

 

“I would like to thank the Academia..”

Näyttökuva 2014-7-24 kello 9.48.08

There it is. Tweeted about it right after opening the box. Fresh from the printing house: my thesis. Beloved, difficult, painful, joyful, wonderful thesis, that should represent how I have developed as a researcher, studied a new growing phenomenon, and written it all inside those thin blue covers. My thesis. Finished, done, ready. There is a lot of “should have done this differently”, “maybe more references would have been good” and “why didn’t I choose a proper cover image”, but there are always plenty of shoulda coulda wouldas when looking back a project this long.

A couple more weeks until the defence. Yaiks. My stomach goes upside down even thinking about it.

You are welcome to attend!

Save the date! Thesis defence in five weeks

Time flies when you’re having fun? No, not really. These last five weeks before the thesis defence feel agonizing, although I have made all the arrangements ready for the afterparty, or karonkka as in Finnish. The catering, the outfit(!), the venue, accommodation, food and drinks, even the playlist is ready, but I still need to write the thank you speech and, of course, the lectio praecursoria, which is my opening speech at the defence.

The good thing is that the nightmares are gone. I had the most awful nightmares during the spring when the book was in the preliminary examination process, but now they are gone. I think of the defence and the lectio though, wake up in the middle of the night to write something down that in the morning is incomprehensible, but I think that is pretty much normal.

Anyway, the official announcement from the university has to wait until the end of the summer holidays, which in this case will be just a week or so before the actual defence. I you feel like attending the event – it’s open for public! – feel free to join the Facebook event I created. The event begins at noon (after the academic fifteen minutes) and will last about two to four hours (depending how strict my opponent will be). After the defence there is coffee and cake served as well.

Welcome! Feel free to share this event to anyone interested!

_____

Ja sama suomeksi!

Väitöstilaisuuteni lähestyy ja enää jäljellä vain viisi piinaavan pitkää viikkoa. Kaikki järjestelyt ovat jo tehtynä majoituksista, tarjoiluista ja jopa musiikista lähtien, jolloin enää ovat järjellä vain kiitospuheet sekä se erittäin tärkeä lectio praecursoria eli aloituspuheeni väitöksessä.

Virallinen väitöstiedote tulee yliopistolta vasta kesälomien jälkeen eli heinä-elokuun vaihteessa, jolloin itse väitökseen on vain noin viikko. Mikäli olet siis kiinnostunut tulemaan kuuntelemaan väitöstäni Poriin, olen luonut Facebookiin tapahtuman tätä varten. Tilaisuus on siis kaikille avoin ja väittelemisen jälkeen tarjolla on kakkua ja kahvia.

Tervetuloa! Tapahtumasta saa jakaa tietoa kenelle tahansa kiinnostuneelle!

The spring issue of Thanatos is out!

I have had the privilege of being the editor-in-chief of the spring issue of Thanatos, which has been a theme issue of internet and death. When I took the job last autumn, I realised it would require a huge amount of work exactly the same time as I would be doing the final revisions for my own thesis, but I always seem to overestimate my ability to multitask and think of myself as a superwoman. *grin* No, not really, I knew I would have time to work with the writers, since I also had an amazing editorial board to work with me.

This was my second time working as the editor-in-chief, and much easier than the first time in 2012. The call for abstracts reached fascinating projects and talented people all around the world, and from PhD students to professors. It also showed the need for this type of theme issue, and there will be another published about the presentations from the Death Online Conference held in Durham in April. Interesting times!

More interesting times ahead for myself, since I will be defending my own thesis 8th of August at the University Consortium of Pori. The defence is open for public, so feel free to attend! Pori is located on the West coast of Finland and accessible by train or by bus (for example 3,5hrs from Helsinki). Since I am a digital culture scientist, I will try to broadcast the entire defence online via Bambuser or something similar. More details will be announced closer to the event. The thesis will be also published online, and yes, it is in English for you all who do not have the pleasure of knowing Finnish.

Without further ado, below is the official announcement of the spring issue, enjoy!

Thanatos vol. 3 1/2014

THEME ISSUE: Death, mourning and the internet:  death cultures in web environments

In this spring issue of Thanatos, we portray a wide collection of on-going research from across the globe. Digital technologies – or as in this case mostly internet applications – are being appropriated in various ways to mourn and honor the memory of loved ones and in coping with the difficult emotions caused by loss and bereavement. The current internet, the Web 2.0, can be described as social since the most popular websites currently used focus in the self-produced content of individuals who share pictures, moments, memories and stories of their everyday lives. Experiences related to death – both as a social and cultural moment – are also produced in various ways, such as in memorial websites, memorial videos, memorialised profile pages and shrines in virtual worlds. In this context, the social internet provides solace and comfort despite geographical or time distances, as well as a private space to explore social and cultural taboos, such as abortion or suicide.

The theme issue of Thanatos, “Death, mourning and the internet: death cultures in web environments”, brings together scholars from sociology, anthropology, communication sciences, digital culture, design and psychology in a collection of three articles, three research reports and five research reviews (along with two book reviews), which illuminate fascinating thematics on mourning online.

We wish you enjoy the issue!

The Finnish Death Studies Association (FDSA) was founded March 28th 2011 in Helsinki by scholars interested in the field of thanatological research. The aim was to create an organization that could create a more public interdisciplinary dialogue about death and dying in Finnish society. More about us: http://www.kuolemantutkimus.com.

Thanatos (www.thanatos-journal.com) is a peer-reviewed, multi-disciplinary and a scientific web-journal published by the Finnish Death Studies Association. We publish twice a year a journal that consists of articles, short and long research reports, book reviews, columns and seminar reports. The primary publication language is Finnish, but we do accept manuscripts in English and Swedish as well, however, the costs of proofreading are the responsibility of the author. The journal is peer-reviewed, which means we use fellow scholars in determing the potentiality of the manuscript for publication.

With kind regards,

Anna E. Haverinen
Editor-in-chief for spring issue 2014

PhD student

Digital culture
University Consortium of Pori, University of Turku
anna.haverinen(a)utu.fi

The elicitation of ethnographic knowledge

Four of my virtual world research idols, Tom Boellstorff, Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce and T.L. Taylor, published in 2012 a fantastic method and how-to book of ethnographic research in virtual worlds, and I managed the get my hands on a copy only recently. The essential message of the book Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method (2012, Princeton University Press) is crystallising the meaning of ethnography as a research method, and, for example, how much of it is constituted by participant observation. In my personal research I have struggled with defining my work as ethnographic for exactly that reason that there has been little (or none!) participant observation in how my informants have grieved and remembered their intimates in online environments. The research subject itself has made difficult (but interesting) limitations methodologically, since about half of the research material could be described as “community bereaving together” and other half as “an individual bereaving alone”. I cannot join a a group of bereaved if I have not known the deceased or the people in the group, neither I can attend in situ how a single person uses different online environments to bereave and remember, whether the environment is a Facebook page, a blog, a memorial website or a virtual world. Also, since my approach has been holistic and I have been interested how mourning and death ritual are practiced in the Web as a whole, it would have been impossible to participate and observe in all of the environments in question.

I have discussed this matter previously as well (and continue the discussion in my upcoming PhD thesis), and decided that mostly my approach has been autoethnographical, observative and reflective, but not participatory, since participating would require other people present as well, whether virtually or actually. Boellstorff et al. are adamant in their book about the necessity of participant observation in order to call a research method as ethnography, but I disagree with them in some parts. In their personal researches (and the book in question) the research terrain has been in virtual worlds, which exclude social networking sites and other websites. I believe ethnography is more than just participant observation, but a method that combines contextual understanding and vigorous implementation of multiple approaches in order to understand a specific phenomenon as rich as possible. Mere interviews do not suffice, mere outside observation without “native” perspective do not suffice, neither mere participant observation, but I would call for the complex interplay between emic and etic perspectives, the inside and the outside views with all means necessary.

Boellstorff et al. (2012, 7) list four types of virtual world characteristics: 1. they are places and have a sense of worldness, 2. they are multi-user by nature, 3. they are persistent, i.e. they continue to exist whether the user logs off, 4. virtual worlds allow users to embody themselves, usually avatars (even if “textual avatars”, as in text-only virtual worlds such as MUDs). According to Boellstorff et al. social networking sites and other similar websites are not virtual worlds, because they lack of worldness and embodiment. However, this could be easily debated whether Facebook profiles and, what I would call a Facebook presence, are in fact embodiments, partly fictional characters/avatars presented in a social networking world, where the embodiment of the user is mostly textual, but also connected to the visual material shared and engaged with on the site, i.e. holiday photographs, (bathroom) selfies, baby pictures, puppy videos and LOL cats. They all create a sense of a social presence, which can for example lead to blocking or hiding a Facebook friend from your feed, or engaging with them actively online.

Nevertheless, the book Ethnography and Virtual Worlds is a fantastic volume from talented and inspirational researchers, and I look forward reading more about their work. These types of publications provide important insight in current anthropological research, which is moulding itself both epistemologically as well as methodologically.

Chairing the discussion panel “Ethnology meets Technology” at the VIII Ethnology Days 2014

The ethnology days THICK GRIP ON DATA? – Ethnological Intepretations and Analysis | VIII Ethnology Days 2014 by Ethnos Association takes place this year in Helsinki 13.-14.3.2014. I will be chairing the panel “Ethnology meets Technology” panel, which will be debating about the relationship of ethnology towards different technologies, from internet to mobile phones, from house hold appliances to transportations. Some of the workshops in the seminar are in Finnish only, but this panel is in English for the enjoyment of those who have not the pleasure of knowing Finnish.

The panel members will be the Director of Development at National Board of Antiquities, ethnologist and a carpenter Carina Jaatinen and Jukka Jouhki, anthropologist and a Senior Researcher at the University of Jyväskylä.

The panel starts at 2.30 pm on Friday and you can follow it live here!

You can also comment the panelists and join the discussion in Twitter with #ethnologydays2014.

Exciting times

Exciting times. The thesis manuscript will be going to the language check in a week. After that it is only a matter of two or three weeks until the review process will begin. Can not believe this is already(!) happening. Nine and a half years ago I stepped through the doors of the Department of Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä. The campus is the most beautiful in the entire country with old maple trees that turn to bright red, orange and yellow in September. I remember thinking to myself when watching the tree leaves covering the pavements all around and after a couple of years of going through the entrance exams, that one day I will defend my thesis. I will get my PhD. Didn’t know the topic or even the field (I was really into Mayan indians those days), but I was determined to finish my undergraduate as soon as possible and find a topic that would interest me to the extent of a PhD research.

And now it’s only a few more months. *yaiks!*

A colleague is almost finished as well. We’ve been rooting for one another in Facebook for the past weeks and I’ve used my little side blog as well. We’re awesome!

Newest issue of Thanatos is out!

The second issue of Thanatos (Finnish Death Studies Association) in 2013 is a theme number about media and death. The editors-in-chief, Johanna Sumiala and Outi Hakola, describe the issue as following:

“The idea to publish this special issue on Media and Death originated in a one-day workshop organized by a group of Finnish and international scholars specialized in the study of media and death. The workshop was held on June 6th, 2013 at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in collaboration with Human Mortality project. In analysing media and death and the related mediatized practices of death in different media contexts several questions were raised by the participants during that day. Whose death matters in today’s public culture? To whom does it matter? Under what conditions does death matter? What is at the centre of the contemporary ritualisation of public death? From what source do these mediatized practices of death draw their power?” (Sumiala & Hakola 2013)

Thanatos has also a brand new look! I am part of the editorial board as well as responsible of the layout, and this time I decided put some more thought on the look of the journal. Also, in order to be able to download the entire journal instead of just individual articles, I needed to make a new layout anyway.

Click here to access the issue!