Jill Hopke

Environmental Communication. Social Movements. Mobile Media.

Tag: prelims

Be a Better Version of Yourself: Advice on Doing International Fieldwork

One of the fun things about preparing for my prelim exams was the opportunity to dig through old notes and I found a few “gems.” What follows is some advice on doing international fieldwork I drafted after spending ten weeks in Ecuador conducting research for my masters thesis, which is a case study of a community radio association headquartered in Quito, Ecuador. I ofter it here in case it might be of use to readers. In particular, I’d like to give a shoutout to my friend and colleague Jackson Foote who will soon be embarking on fieldwork in Chile. 

Be a better version of yourself.

Learn how people greet each other, social norms, etc.

Be prepared to make a total fool of yourself (often…).

Expect a rough adjustment period in the new place (setting, country, social situation, etc.). Stay in touch with people at home so you don’t go too crazy. Remind yourself often that it was your choice to be there and undertake the project and that things will probably get better!

Be honest about who you are—your values and worldview—but think about how what you say and how you present yourself will be perceived with in the cultural context of the country you’re in and the people you are with. (Talking about the Bush administration, views on abortion, difficulties of getting visas to visit the United States, etc.)

Be a good listener (not just when think you’re “on” as a researcher because in a sense you always are when in the field). Also, remember that you’re being judged holistically, not just on how you act in an interview or when presenting your research pitch, etc. How you act in social situations is probably more important than when you’re searching for sources at a library, etc.

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Social Media and “Consent of the Networked”: The Troubling Implications of “Internet Freedom” within the Private Domain

As I near the finish line in what has been a marathon to prepare for my prelim exams, I picked up two “final” pieces of literature. One is the latest April 2012 edition of Journal of Communication, a special issue on Arab Spring and activists using social media in other locales to organize for political change. The other is Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, by Rebecca MacKinnon, published by Basic Books earlier this year.

I study alternative and “participatory” media, which has been traditionally defined as platforms such as community radio, zines, radical newsprint and more recently Internet projects like IndyMedia. However, one thing I’ve been pondering of late is the implications of new media technologies, most notably social media platforms. Can they too be considered means of “alternative media”? If so, under what conditions? Clearly there are differences between activists developing their “own” tools and infrastructure vs. using corporate owned and controlled platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flicker, etc.). But as the examples of Arab Spring, #Occupy, and #wiunion among others illustrate, activists are using all available tools to coordination protest actions and mobilize support, often parallel to more traditional “alternative” media projects (e.g., the Occupied Wall Street Journal or the Spanish 15M movement’s N1 social network). The questions are under what conditions are activists making these choices, how are they using both “old” and “new” media tools to organize and what are the implications?

Social Media, Networks and Political Protest
The April 2012 issue of Journal of Communication, features articles centered answering questions of how activists are using new media to demand political change, from the relation between Chinese blogs and print media, resisting “networked authoritarianism” in Azerbaijan to, of course, the role of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and more.

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Research and the Art of Human (un)Predictability

Our behavior is predictable. We leave digital traces throughout the course of our daily (mediated) lives. So accepting the premise that human behavior is not random, the next set of questions is to understand what laws govern our actions. As Albert-László Barabási explores in Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do (2010), human behavior is governed by natural laws and through studying artifacts of digitality we “come to see the rhythms of life as evidence of a deeper order in human behavior” (p. 11).

Featured in Bursts, the case of art professor Hasan Elahi is old news by now but still worth revisiting given on-going debates over privacy and ownership of the data we share about ourselves daily (Facebook being the current headline maker). Following 9/11 he was tracked by the FBI and in an act of creative resistance he made his whereabouts freely available via the Internet. He raises questions of who owns our data? What gives it value? If we share “everything” does it become meaningless in the vast quantity of data?

We can learn from Elahi about how to find humor and art in the uncontrollable. My favorite excerpt is, when asked during a FBI polygraph if he belongs to any groups that want to harm the United States, he replies “I work in a university.”

Barabási raises the ethical issue of the role of research in understanding new information technologies, writing “Technology has outstripped our ability to use it responsibly, and I could not ignore the possibility that the fruits of our research would soon become part of some malicious Vast Machine-like enterprise” (p. 221). Do we take Elahi’s approach under the premise that information loses its value once it is freely available. What then are we “sharing” and via what platform? To me the difference between making one’s life into art and using a commercial social networking platform. Sure we are more connected but at what cost? And, do we have a choice to opt-out? I believe increasingly that we do not.

Then as researchers we have an obligation to understand the place of digitality in our mediated lives.

A History of Cultivating Opportunities for Women in Science at UW-Madison

One of the fun things about preparing for prelims is taking the time to step back and reflect on all I’ve learned over the past four and a half years. One particularly gratifying service learning project that I’ve had the chance to work on while in graduate school was producing a 50-year anniversary video for UW-Madison’s Expanding Your Horizons program that seeks to engage middle school girls in science and technology fields. Its objectives are to:

Increase interest in science through hands-on experience;
Awareness of math and science-related careers; and
Bring young women with “limited opportunities for success” in positive experiences in math, science and technology.

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Prelims or bust!

2011 has been an interesting year to say the least. I am proud of all that we’ve done in Wisconsin to stand up for workers rights and defend the democratic process, as well as my small part of it through the TAA and our Defend Wisconsin project. For an excellent collection of essays check out this volume “We are Wisconsin” edited by my friend Erica Sagrans, one of the many people I’ve had the privilege to get to know in 2011.

While the past year may have been about protesting in many respects, I also finished my doctoral coursework, submitted several research papers to journals (and a few revisions!), co-authored a book chapter on mobile phone use in Colombia (details forthcoming) and was inducted into the UW Teaching Academy.

But 2012 is all about “prelims,” or the preliminary exams that I need to pass in order to become a doctoral candidate. The way it works in my department is that I’ll need to take five eight-hour long open book exams over the course of two weeks, one for each of my dissertation committee members.

I’m embarking on this intellectual journey hopeful that it will be an opportunity to step back and reflect on all that I have learned over the past four and a half years. Many people have told me that coming out of prelims I will feel smarter than ever. For a reflection on this, see this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Personally, here is some of what I find invaluable:

Camille and Allison at Redamté.

1. Study buddies. I’m lucky to be in a graduate program that fosters research collaboration. While graduate school is very individualistic in many respects I have always tried to approach it in a collective spirit so that we all succeed. Along those lines I have had the honor to slog through these years with many fellow students who have become good friends and constant sources of inspiration, intellectual and otherwise. Plus, you make me laugh (especially the lovely ladies pictured here). Thank you!

2. Mentors. I am also fortunate to have the professional mentorship of many excellent scholars and practitioners in the field of communications who believe in my abilities as a scholar and human being. Thank you all! I really could not do this without your support and encouragement.

3. Organization. Because eight hours isn’t that much time.

4. Healthy habits (eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise). Because there’s truth in the saying “You are what you eat.”

5. Creativity and a computer. Enough said.

Hopefully I’ll end this year “as smart as I’ll ever be,” well on my way to completing a dissertation and Wisconsin will have a new governor.

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