05 July 2013

questions about my field and research.

This is me IRL, sort of.
Some academics have 'thesis beards'. I have 'fieldwork hair'.
Over the past 18 months of fieldwork, colleagues, research informants, academics, the twittersphere, and an assortment of fleeting strangers at cafes have asked about the how and why about the what that I do. Since I've formally ended fieldwork last week (Or have I? Does fieldwork ever end? Does it?!), this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the journey with responses to a bunch of FAQs. Welcome to my universe, sort of (I think).

About my motivations

Why are you still in school?!

Because I really love school and being surrounded by books (or computers, these days). Yes, I'm still in grad school and this was largely motivated by my experience in Sociology and Gender Studies during my undergraduate and honours days. My honours project looked at scripts of femininity and homosocial desire among a group of women on the Internet. I discovered that I was madly in love with research work and signed up for grad school with grand master plans! I'm about to enter my third year of grad school pursuing my PhD in Anthropology and Sociology.

So you just write a really long paper and get a PhD?

Technically, yes... a really long monograph length ethnography based on my work. There are other milestones along the way that I have to meet in order to stay in graduate school and submit on time.

Why 'commercial blogging'?

Because thinking about it makes my brain hurt in a good way, every single day. The commercial blogging sphere is a young entrepreneurial and homosocial community that is female-dominated and also feminine in nature. The commercial blogging sector was debut by women in their mid-teens to early 20s in 2005. They were self-taught and mostly based on trial-and-error, or by modeling after successful predecessors. Today, the commercial blog industry is fast becoming an established sector with corporations set up to groom and manage bloggers as talents, be brokers between bloggers and corporations who want to engage them, and support their endeavours through professional photography/cosmetic&beauty/writing sectors. I'm not sure what you think but this seems like a pretty impressive feat to me especially considering that these women usually work disparately and yet somehow maintain a loosely bounded community simultaneously. 


About my methods

So what exactly do you do?

I conduct 'fieldwork', which is Anthropology's term for living among people to learn about their culture. I spent Oct-Dec 2011, and Feb-Dec 2012 immersed in the virtual worlds that these women bloggers engage in. That is a lot of time spend trawling through and participating in blogs and a plethora of complementary social media platforms. I track their online output and respond to them in my different capacities.

I also spent Jan 2012 and Jan-Jun 2013 in Singapore with these women in a capacity of roles including a personal assistant, a blog intern, a fashion intern, a copywriter, a copyeditor, and a shadow blog manager. A digital advertising firm was also very generous to have me intern with them to learn about the backend processes. I had planned short trips to neighbouring South East Asian spots where similar/related industries were beginning to emerge or were already thriving but did not manage to fit all of them in during the previous leg of my fieldwork.

Do you just spend all your life on the Internet?

On top of all the physical world f2f (face-to-face) stuff, yes I live on the Internet. During fieldwork, I tracked the online happenings of the community every hour, even on my mobile if I was on the go. It was the last thing I did every night before bed and the first thing I did when I got up in bed. (Yes, that meant that I slept with my phone all throughout fieldwork!)

You mean you actually meet these bloggers in person?

Yes I have and I still do! I think many people ask me this question because they worry for my safety (thanks guys?) or wonder if these women bloggers actually exist or are a figment of someone's imagination (i am pleased to report that they are actual human beings).


About bloggers

Why are all of them women?

This is a very good question that deserves its own blogpost (a draft is in the works). In short, commercial bloggers are historically linked to the emergence of blogshops. Both business sectors are distinct but interdependent. Blogshops are online shops originally hosted on readily available web log platforms such as Blogger, LiveJournal, WordPress, and Tumblr (the platforms and interfaces may have evolved over the years but the sector's origins and modes of interactions are still referred to as the 'blogshop' model). In Singapore, these blogshops debut selling primarily apparel and accessories for women. They were started and run by women for women in a homosocial environment out of which the commercial blogger was birthed. I would say commercial bloggers today are primarily women because of the historical trajectories more so than because the labour involved is gender partial.

Why exactly do they do?/ How do they earn their money?

The specific genre of blogs that I study for my dissertation are 'lifestyle' bloggers. In essence, these women are diarists who recount and document their experiences; they also try to seamlessly weave in products and services from advertisers into these posts. Their revenue may come from 1) selling ad space on their blogs and social media platforms; 2) selling advertorials which are personalised editorial style advertorials; 3) hawking their preloved (a euphemism for used) wares; 4) running a blogshop along with their commercial blog; 5) modeling for blogshops.

Are they the same 'in real life' and 'online'?

Having been asked this question hundreds of times, I shall answer this according to the subtle implications imbued.

1) If you're asking me if their physical appearances are the same, then yes and no but mostly no. It is almost an industry standard to tweak one's photo to improve your complexion, skin tone, enlarge/reduce features, etc and bloggers are honest about it. There are a handful who unabashedly juxtapose their 'before' and 'after' photographs all the time. This is not about deceit or pretending to be someone you're not. Bloggers are merely presenting their ideal selves(sss) to an audience who is aware of the 'backstage'. Of course, there are a handful of bloggers who will deny that their photographs have been doctored but these are few and far between because the industry is small enough for one to be found out.

2) If you're asking me if their postures are the same, then yes and no. Interacting with these bloggers in a virtual space via text and images (and the occasional video chats) will never be exactly the same as interacting face-to-face in a shared physical space. Depending on the blogger's personality, the former OR the latter may be more intimate and natural, but this is not to say that one is more authentic or genuine than the other. You are not the same person in front of a figure or authority, or a parent, or your partner, or a best friend, or a child. All presentations of ourselves are different depending on our audience, the ambience, and even our erratic moods. The nuances are simply different facets of the same person. 

I should also add that these bloggers may intentionally adopt different personas that intersect physical/virtual platforms. Simply put, I could perform my blogger face on the internet or in a physical setting meeting with fans. I could also perform my non-blogger face when doing non-blog related activity on the internet or in a physical setting with personal friends. This code-switching is complex and multifaceted but is more a strategy for emotional and impression management than deceit.

3) If you're asking me if their characters/personalities are the same, then I don't have an answer for you. The bloggers I have been with may look upon me in different capacities depending on our relationship, and our interactions will differ as such. To some, I am a detached researcher gathering data (although as an Anthropologist I would hope that I have avoided this to the best of my abilities); to some, I am an interested outsider whom they want to show the ropes of the industry to; to some, I am a third party with a clear perspective of the industry whom they come to for advice or to discuss their careers; to some, I am a personal friend whose research work is secondary to our friendship; to some, I am merely a woman in their age cohort who they can relate to. It really all depends.

Now that you know all the tricks of the trade/secrets, I bet you're gonna be a successful blogger!

Well, I don't claim to know *everything* about the industry but I do hold a fair bit of confidential and prized "insiders'" information that I will guard with my research integrity and with my life! I do run personal blogs apart from this space but I wouldn't consider myself a blogger in the sense of a personality or a career. I am simply a person who blogs. I also have no desire to monetize my blog or be a commercial blogger at the moment. Researching this stuff excites me so and hurts my brain but gives me a sense of satisfaction every day. My short term goal in life is to produce an awesome possum dissertation and graduate in time!

1 comment:

  1. Being famous is great. But it's better to be normal. Most artists know how difficult it might get to satisfy their fans. Even though fans are interested in only autographs and photos.