Narrowing the focus

My aim this week has been to start to narrow the focus of my work. After speaking with Martin at our first meeting, I wanted to pick one of the themes and really take a good look at it with a view to framing my research question as clearly as I can. At the same time two things happened. Firstly the talk by Horvat mentioned in my last entry, and secondly Sam Carroll put me onto this article by Papacharissi building on Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in EveryDay Life to look at the web. I found it interesting not so much because of the (fairly dry) discussion but because of the way her questions were framed:
RQ1: What are Web page characteristics through which virtual actors pursue self presentation online?
RQ2: How are the characteristics of personal home pages related?

Now, her methodology was quantitative and (in my opinion) a little limited because of it, but it did get me thinking about the notion of self as being central to what I’m really interested in. So I started re-reading some of Goffman on presentation, and thinking about the destinction between the classical (Cartesian) notion of the stable self and more recent ideas about fractured/constructed selves (e.g. Dennett), Goffman’s ideas about self-presentation, and Althusser’s stuff about interpellation. I finally tracked down the one copy of Althusser’s Lenin And Philosophy in the ECOM library and read his famous ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’ article. Interesting — it reminded me of a lot of political science stuff I read as an undergrad.

Althusser is on about individuals (selves) being always-already subjects. He says “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concreate subjects”. So for example when a police officer says ‘Hey, you there!’ and someone turns around, the fact that they know that it is really them who is being referred to means that they are a subject, and that they know it. The other example he gives is Christian ideology, which addresses individuals in order to transform them into subjects.

Castells is similarly coming from a political science perspective. I remember reading his stuff when I was doing International Relations. He has a bit to say about ‘self in the informational society’, saying that the net is actually completely at odds with the ‘self’, and even quoting Alaine Touraine “in post-industrial society, in which cultural services have replaced material goods at the core of production, it is the defense of the subject, in its personality and in its culture, against the logic of apparatuses and markets, that replaces the idea of class struggle”. This stuff is definitely up my alley with my politics background and pretty interesting in the light of my topic.

I decided that there would probably be enough just in the notion of the self to investigate with respect to DRALE too. How do these budding lawyers establish their identity as lawyers? What characteristics of the system interpellate them as lawyers? How do they employ this system, and how and to what extent are they defined by it? I can think of a lot of examples within the design of DRALE to look at — for example the agency provided by the letterheads for each of the teams. The authentication of students by typing in their name and password. The counter-signature process. The system as an actor/actors, the roles of the staff involved, and so on.

Small steps

Today I decided to give the University’s Link Generator a try. I decided that if I am going to try to collect together useful articles, along with bibliographic information, I need to settle on a method of organising things pretty early. The Link Generator does a good job of storing links to articles in one place, and if it works, it makes more sense for me to collect article links there than try to duplicate them here. On the other hand, I sort of like the idea of having my own links here (for searchability and integration with other stuff) so it’s an open question right now.

I started with a search on ProQuest — no particular reason other than I had heard of it before. I used the terms role and playing and online to see what it would turn up. Around 217 hits. I went through and marked anything that looked like it related to higher education or something more general that was of interest, and got it down to 27 articles. Unfortunately on closer inspection almost all of these have very little to do with computer-based or online role-plays at all, so I will either need to improve my searching skills if I’m not going to waste a fair bit of time.

I decided I should look closely at a few higher education journals and search them for online role-play stuff too. All of this is just to get a background picture of what’s going on with online role-plays rather than looking at the more central theoretical issues, but I feel as though it’s time I went back and did some basic literature stuff like this, if only just to get back into the habit of reading. It’s also giving me a chance to test out things like the Link Generator and this blog, so I think it’s worth it.