Ethnography is a “particular method or sets of methods” which in its “characteristic form it involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s lives for an extended period of time; watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions — in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research” (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1983: 1). Ethnography therefore allows insight into the knowledge and meanings behind the composition of cultural groups and individual behaviours by gathering empirical data on human societies and cultures. The focus on the Web as an area of research requires a re-evaluation of what we call ethnography. more...

In Tearoom Trade (1970/1975), Laud Humphreys’ writes about the homosexual relations that took place in various “tearooms” (i.e., public bathrooms) in an unidentified American city during the mid- to late 1960s. By pretending to be a simple voyeur, Humphreys explains that he systematically observed these activities and even recorded the license plate numbers of a sample of tearoom participants. While the systematic observation part of his study permitted an understanding of the rules and roles, patterns of collective action, and risks of the game associated with impersonal gay sex in public restrooms, his tracking down and interviewing a handful of the subjects allowed Humphreys to better understand the identity, lives, and rationality of those men involved in the so-called tearoom trade. While the author defended the ethics behind his research early on, he was still stunned by the backlash it received. Yet, even years after Humphreys’ death, the ethical issues that his study provoked continue to reverberate in the social research community. In response to such issues, I will use this post to critically evaluate the strong and weak points of his book. more...

It is only hours since President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden, resulting in celebrations across the United States (in the streets, on Facebook and elsewhere). I want to point the Sociological Lens at this spontaneous and widespread cultural celebration not to argue that it is wrong or right to cheer for death, but to ask, in these first few hours, why. Beyond the obvious points surrounding Bin Laden’s involvement with the events on September 11th, 2001, I think he symbolized much more. Ultimately, what people are cheering about is the momentary return of the familiar black-and-white world of good and evil that we understand.

Gidden’s and others have discussed how our modern world is becoming increasignly unknowable and Bauman discusses ethics based on some universal good and evil as out of date. Gone are the days of World War II where we went to war against the “bad guys” and when you killed them you won. September 11th, 2001 sparked a “war on terror,” a war on an ideology rather than a country, that has been unending and unclear. It is also unclear for many why we went to Iraq -a conflict that has dragged on without clear objectivies and metrics for victory. About all the United States as a country could agree on is that Osama bin Laden is a bad guy and should be captured and/or killed, but even this dragged on for years with many wondering if we would ever capture him. This all creates a listless feeling of confusion about war and geopolitics that upsets Americans used to the Hollywood version: we know who is good and evil and the winner is clear.

This pent up confusion was cathartically relieved last night when the news broke. The world finally succumbed to the movie script where there is a bad guy and there is some clear result. However, this brief moment of clarity will pass and we will quickly move back into a world where geopolitics is confusing, winning and losing won’t be clear and neither will be just who we are fighting and why. After Bin Laden, who will be the new symbol to ground our naive presumption that the world, who is good and who is evil, is simple and knowable? more...

Before you ask: I did not make this picture up.  It is a screenshot taken directly from my email.  And, yeah, this is probably a bit of inexcusable narcissism.

I, like millions of other Americans (OkCupid has 500,000 active users, eHarmony has had more than 20 million registered users in its history, and sees more than 20,000 users register each day), have turned to the enigmatic world of online dating.  Being a less than affluent Ph.D. student, I naturally turned to the free option: OkCupid.

What has struck me most about online dating is the penchant these sites have for quantifying everything.  The latest, and perhaps, creepiest, instance of quantification is OkCupid’s announcement that is has developed an algorithm to determine other users’ subjective experience of your attractiveness.  The following is an excerpt from the email I received:

We are very pleased to report that you are in the top half of OkCupid’s most attractive users. The scales recently tipped in your favor, and we thought you’d like to know.

How can we say this with confidence? We’ve tracked click-thrus on your photo and analyzed other people’s reactions to you in QuickMatch and Quiver.



Photo credit: Tim Pierce


If one’s religion teaches that abortion is murder, is the believer then obligated to stop abortions from happening, by any means necessary? Today, a Kansas judge decided that this is not a viable defense strategy under the law. On May 31, Kansas resident Scott Roeder is accused of shooting and killing Dr. George Tiller.

Roeder had wished to use something that has been termed the “necessity defense,” which would justify using lethal force. Although the judge’s reasoning for not allowing the defense is not spelled out, a guess would be that it would open the door for other potential killers to use such a defense. Also this week, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the implementation of a new law that would require women to answer a number of demographic and relationship questions, the answers to which would be posted on a publicly-accessible website. Critics argue that, while the information is ostensibly anonymous, those living in small towns could be identified.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for anti-abortion advocates to use laws to advance their agendas. With the separation of church and state in the U.S., they must use other tactics. In the murder case, the judge likely did not wish to set a pro-murder precedent. In the Oklahoma case, the information was supposedly going to be used to identify those populations at risk for unwanted pregnancies. Yet anyone familiar with ethical social science methodologies would never gather information that would cause potential harm to human subjects (in this case, identification and negative outcomes that could result).

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square-eyeUnraveling Religious Worldviews: The Relationship between Images of God and Political Ideology in a Cross-Cultural Analysis by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader

by kiddingthecity

It sounds more and more likely that the Police have something to do with the death of a newsagent at the rally in the City of London. Many witnesses have come forward and most importantly there is The Picture: the evidence, the forensic clue, the probatio, the real stuff judges love and on which the surveillance culture of the streets in this country has been built upon. Mr Tomlinson is on the floor, surrounded by police officers, his hands near his head as he had been struck on the head. He looks dazed in the photograph as if suffering from concussion. Besides, at the same time that the man collapsed, police had begun an unprovoked assault upon a crowd that wanted to go home after being penned without facilities for over 7 hours, and it seems more than likely to me that Mr Tomlinson may have received some kind of push or blow. The police instead claim that the man was a passer-by who suffered a sudden heart attack, and that they tried to intervene in order to save him, despite the launch of ‘missiles’ from the protesters.

policing Ouch, you have been framed!

I understand that photos and videos can deceive, and that they rarely hold the truth. On the other hand, inevitably, they carry some sort of attachment to the real: the man was there, the police were armed in anti-riot gear, and they were pushing demonstrators back at that time. Suspicion, at very least, is a legitimate stance.

But this post is not about what happened at Bishopsgate on Wednesday evening. Nor it is a discussion about the meanings of documentary photography. Instead, it hopes to show how awful is the pretension in place in the UK since 16th February 2009: to take a photo of a policeman or police woman without their permission is a new offence, section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000, inserted by section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008.

The one above is a beautiful example of just why the Police and Politicians want it to be a criminal offence to photograph and video police on the street.

In addition, throughout the day of the anticapitalist demonstrations, police photographers pointed camcorders and cameras with powerful zoom lenses at us: the CCTV-man was protected and instructed by two officers around him all the time. This was a clear attempt to intimidate people and the implied threat being that you were being watched (remember the Panopticon?), and that your attendance was itself a criminal act worthy of surveillance.


Visual Research Ethics at the Crossroad (paper)

square-eye3Video-surveillance and changing nature of urban space

liveby kiddingthecity

… Is s/he British? Is this person happy? Intelligent? These are some of the strong questions participants were asked to cast their vote about when faced with the anonymous picture of a stranger in latest Christian Nold‘s provocative installation. Over 14,000 people in one month cast their vote in the ‘Community Metrics’ in  Nottingham (UK) and decide ‘live’ who of the volunteers should be deported: a sort of ‘friendly fascism’, a dystopian version of Facebook, a tease out of many reality TV shows.

The installation prompted me to read again (that’s what is good about radical art!) Emmanuel Levinas’ ideas on ethics: for the French philosopher, whose family was wiped out by the Holocaust, ethics begins with the direct encounter with the face of the Other. This action is ethical because, rather than knowing, and hence objectifying the other, by way of static representation, in the face-to-face encounter, ‘The face of the Other at each moment destroys and overflows the plastic image it leaves in me…the Other signals but does not present themselves’.

This opens a big problem for representation, especially visual, to the extent that the object of representation ‘always falls under the power of thought’. There is a sense in which, by making an image of this overflowing, by reducing the Other to a set of conventions, a-priori categories, and image-repertoire, we might be perpetrating a form of violence, which hence deny the alterity expressed by the face of the Other.

square-eye7 Watch Nottingham ‘Community Metrics’

square-eye7 Read Calhoun’s critique of Online Communities

lancelets_embryo_4_cellsby theoryforthemasses

In the past week considerable debate has emerged over the birth of a set of octuplets to a California woman. Controversy has surrounded both the doctors who facilitated the births as well as the mother herself, who is single, unemployed, and has six other children. The attention that is being paid to this family by both the media and ordinary people who are eager to share their opinions on fertility treatments and parental responsibility has created nothing short of spectacle. In his work on media, culture, and spectacles, Douglas Kellner suggests that popular media spectacles often tell us a great deal about the values, experiences, and conflicts of our times. From this perspective, the octuplet birth may cast a light on such issues as the role of biotechnology in pregnancy and childbirth, medical ethics, and the role of the state in regulating the clinics and doctors who facilitate multiple births. The hostility that has been directed toward the mother of fourteen also suggests contemporary notions about what constitutes “appropriate” parenting. At the same time, however, the woman has been praised by some for her decision not to terminate her pregnancy. We may compare the octuplet birth spectacle, then, to a microscope through which we can take a closer look at the issues, conflicts, and problems that are present in contemporary society, but not always visible to the naked eye


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square-eye5R. Bennett and J. Harris on reproductive choice