How to be a modern Major General (Part I)

For someone writing his thesis for a Master’s in social anthropology, I don’t actually have as many anthropological readings in my references as you’d expect.  Look at all the disciplines represented in the books on my bookshelf:

  • Sociology.  This is partly because my department is a combined sociology and social anthropology department, which I rather like since I’m exposed to stuff I normally wouldn’t be.  Quite a lot of my migration readings were authored by sociologists, as in, for example, Stephen Castles and Mark Miller’s The Age of Migration (2003), which I’m using quite a lot.  However, the subdiscipline of migration studies is equally indebted to anthropology thanks to anthropologists’ work with diasporic populations.
  • Women’s studies/Gender studies.  I actually don’t have too many works from this discipline, but the fact that my supervisor is a Neomarxist feminist and the fact that I’m also quite partial to Women’s Studies means that such works inevitably are included in my reading list.  And, of course, the particular way migration from the Philippines is gendered also enters into why I’m reading Women’s Studies stuff, since maids and female nurses form a majority of the Philippines’ exported labour (and not to mention the mail-order brides).  So, que sorpresa, I have on my bookshelf Working Feminism (2004) by Geraldine Pratt, a Neomarxist examination of the context in which female Filipino migrants work in British Columbia.
  • Sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics.  I’ve got this because I explicitly examine how language enters into the expression of identity.  Sociolinguistics is actually a rather marginal field of study in linguistics proper, as is also anthropological linguistics in anthropology.  Still, the intersection of politics and language interests me, so I’ve been digging into readings like Codeswitching: Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives (1988).  It’s kind of nice to be participating in the project of keeping anthropology holistic (or inventing it to be so), but more on this issue in a later post.
  • History.  This discipline should pretty much be on almost any reading list, since it’s hard to imagine a subject in social science research that doesn’t deal with history on some level.  In my case, I’m mostly dealing with the history of US colonialism in the Philippines and the history of international migration.  The most heavily historical text I’m reading right now is The American Colonial State in the Philippines: Global Perspectives (2003).  I’d forgotten how annoying footnotes can be when there isn’t a bibliography in the back of the book and you’re only looking for one specific reference, but ah well.
  • Area Studies, more specifically, Southeast Asian Studies.  I’ve only got a handful of readings from this (semi-?)discipline, but they’re all really useful in situating the Philippines within its regional context.  However, my foremost text from Southeast Asian Studies, Imagined Communities (1991), is such a classic examination of nationalism that I would still be using it if I were, for example, studying Trinidadians instead.  And let’s not forget that Anderson’s theory of print capitalism has implications for how community is manufactured online as well.
  • Internet Studies.  I don’t know if that’s even an actual name for the discipline, so new is it, and in fact I’m not sure if it’s even considered a discipline yet.  This (ahem) thingy can also be called Sociology of the Internet, but that’s kind of a misnomer since economists, anthropologists, psychologists, and people trained in other disciplinary backgrounds also contribute to the literature about the social context of the Internet, as well as reading and discussing each other’s work.  Perhaps this might all be called a sub-discipline of Media Studies, though I think situating the social study of the Internet under such immediately closes certain fruitful lines of research, or at least makes such investigation less likely to occur.  But whatever discipline it’s filed under, Lisa Nakamura’s Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet (2002) is very prominent in my thesis write-up.
  • Cultural studies.  Boy howdy, I definitely draw from this discipline.  Stuart Hall’s work on identity is central to my thesis.  Questions of Cultural Identity (1996) is the number 1 book in my reading list, especially the Introduction written by Hall.

Now that I’ve listed everything so forthrightly, I would have to say that the majority of my readings aren’t from anthropology at all.  I don’t feel like doing it right now, but stay tuned and I will perform one of the rituals people in anthropology regularly engage in: the reflexive dance of disciplinary disciplining.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I recently received an email from an Australian psychologist researcher asking for participants to take part in a research study on blogging which investigates how and why people blog and how they explore their identity by blogging.  Basically it means filling out an online questionnaire.

It’s funny I should get this, since my research deals with the same issues.  Thankfully, I’m not being scooped since 1) I deal specifically with Filipino bloggers, 2) I’m looking at things from an anthropological perspective, and 3) my primary data collection method is the content analysis of blogs supplemented by in-depth interviews (and I really mean in-depth, I once did a seven hour interview for this project) and some light participant-observation.  A survey would have been nice, but I’m not really into quantitative analysis and it would just have been the cherry on top of my qualitative sundae.

Anyway, I’m off to do the survey and maybe afterwards I’ll email the researchers to say hi.  Laters.

UPDATE: I’ve just finished the blog and it says “If you know of any other people who maintain a blog who may be interested in participating in this study, please forward them the questionnaire URL.” So leave a comment if you want to participate and I’ll email you the URL.

Working in a coal mine

Well, actually I’m working at home. I hadn’t realized how not having an office, not living close to campus, and not having Internet access at home can change the way you work. No, scratch that, I knew the way I worked was going to change, I just hadn’t realized how much. I’ve never done too well working at home, I just find it too isolating. I can’t even check my email now unless I stand by my window with my laptop hoping to get some of my neighbour’s wireless (though I’m getting Internet soon). It’s not so bad, I do good work in cafes, but there’s only one decent cafe within 10 minutes’ walk from me (Tim Horton’s does not count as a cafe). I need a certain level of noise and activity around me: not too much, not too little, and not too many people I know to distract me. I was made for cafe work. If only I could afford to do all my work at a cafe, but buying a coffee everyday is bad for my body (I’m trying to avoid getting addicted to caffeine) and the coffees I like are the costly kind. Try tea, you say? I suppose, but even those add up.

Until I finally get settled down, I thought I might discuss you, my readers, whoever you are. I installed Google Analytics at the end of last month and it’s kind of fascinating looking at where exactly you’re all accessing my blog from: 43 visits from the US, 19 from Canada (most of those are probably me accessing the blog from different computers), 13 from the Philippines, 7 from Australia, 6 from the UK, 2 from Sweden, 2 from Germany, 2 from Belgium, and 1 each from France, Poland, Guam, Bulgaria, Austria, and Vietnam.

This is pretty cool, actually. Apparently Sarapen was accessed 5 times each from Las Vegas, from Portland, Oregon, and from Coburg in the state of Victoria in Australia. No one from Canberra? Come on, I’m considering applying to ANU for the Phd and I could use some insider information. I’m pretty sure the German visits are probably by orange and I think I know who the person from Poland is, if it’s just one person. A, is that you?

Almost a quarter (24.51%) of visitors to Sarapen access it directly, probably from bookmarks, while 11.76% come from s0metim3s’ blog, 10.78% find Sarapen through Google, 8.92% from a comment I left on the blog of one of my participants, 4.90% are directed from Aries’ blog, 3.92% from, and a very large number of one-time visits coming from the blog of someone who found me on LiveJournal, specifically this post.

Yup, that’s me writing a whole mess about the Japanese comic book Death Note. It’s actually rather interesting how you’d have no idea I was into this kind of stuff until and unless I tell you. Blogs are fascinating for how they give the appearance of intimacy and yet manage to hide quite a lot about the bloggers writing them.
Actually, I’m considering eventually expanding Sarapen’s purview: instead of focusing entirely on stuff that’s directly related to my research, I thought that every now and then I’d post an analysis of something just for the hell of it. I’ve already kind of promised to eventually blog about the new season of Battlestar Galactica, anyway. I don’t know, this might seem to take away from my research, but lots of times I end up making all kinds of weird connections across all kinds of stuff. I think the last time this happened was when I was reading Asia Times Online and suddenly got a reference to follow up and a new theoretical position to consider about a paper I was writing on terrorism.

Anyway, the purpose of this rambling post was mostly to let people know I was still alive. I’m not feeling too analytical right now, but keep on keepin’ on, peeps.

Ibalik, thanks for offering to host Sarapen but I think I’ll have to decline for the moment. It’s just simpler to stay here at right now since this is where my participants know where to find me. Maybe after I’m done my research and writing. I think I may stick with blogging after all.

Jose Rizality at s0metim3s. Rizal-age? Rizal-ness? Whatever, stuff about Rizal and Benedict Anderson, of Imagined Communities fame.

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog

Well, I just conducted my first interview through instant messaging (IM) over the weekend (if you’re reading this thanks again CK!). I was going to blog about how different it was from traditional interviews when I realized that I actually have little experience with doing traditional interviews. Not the Platonic ideal of traditional interviews, anyway. The first set of interviews I ever conducted were in Spanish, a language I’m not that great in. I got the meanings of the words but I didn’t have the level of fluency necessary for the true back and forth rapport that the best interviewers are supposed to get. I only interviewed two people for my second set of interviews, one of them over the phone (I was doing their life histories). And now for my third research project and third set of interviews, I’m interviewing people for this blogging thing. I was going to do some face to face interviews, but now that’s gone and it’s all phone interviews and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol, also known as Internet phone). Anyway, I thought I’d compare the different kinds of interviews I’ve done.

Face to face interviews. With this one you get the most and the richest information. When you’re interviewing someone, you’re supposed to take notes not just on their answers but on the interview itself: your impressions of the other person, awkward pauses in the conversation, the tone in which things were said, and so on. You get the most of this kind of nonverbal information from face to face interviews. A lot of times you feel like you’re being deluged with a constant flow of information that you have to get down. And with face to face interviews, you can keep the whole thing going for a relatively long time (I think the longest I ever did was two hours).

Phone and VOIP interviews. Obviously, with this you don’t get as much nonverbal information. You can still tell a lot from voice, though. How is the participant feeling? Are they sick? How strongly do they feel about what they’re talking about? The thing is, you can’t keep this kind of interview going for very long. As a general rule, most people start getting restless if they talk on the phone longer than 30 minutes, unless it’s about a subject they’re interested in or they have a personal connection to the person they’re speaking to. So you have to keep phone interviews short and sweet. But they’re a lot more convenient for both the researcher and the participant.

Instant Messaging and Chat. Ok, so I’ve only done one so far. Still, here are my impressions:

  1. First, there’s a lot less information you can get that isn’t explicitly told to you by your participant. You can guess at how they’re feeling by their responses but it’s not a foolproof method (though it’s not foolproof in person anyway).
  2. It’s also hard to tell when someone is actually paying attention to you. The other person could be watching tv and you wouldn’t know it. It’s not so bad when they answer immediately, but when there’s a longer than normal pause, it’s impossible to tell if the participant is considering their response or have shifted their attention somewhere else. This is particularly bad because interviewers aren’t supposed to pester their participants and pressure them for answers, otherwise the person may just whip out a half-formed thought solely to satisfy the researcher.
  3. The nature of IM makes it easy for numerous conversational threads to form. The participant can type something interesting, then you think, “Aha! Better follow that up,” but then they go on to say something else entirely that’s also as interesting. Interviewers are supposed to give their participants enough leeway to explore interesting tangents, but then you have to keep in mind the interesting thing that was said several dozen lines back. And it’s even harder when there are multiple items of interest that come up.
  4. Connected to the previous point, it’s very easy to interrupt the other person when they’re in the middle of typing. When I’m using IM normally, I often interject when the other person is in the middle of typing, which adds to the number of conversational threads that come up. Often, it’ll be like two conversations are going on as I ask a question, then I ask another, and then the other person answers the first question and I respond to that while they answer the second question. It gets confusing until one thread ends. That is a definite no-no in interviewing, since you’re supposed to give your participants time to respond, and the constant appearance of more questions will make participants feel like they have to type faster to keep up. So what happened during the interview was that I kept starting to type and then deleting what I had when I saw that my participant still had something to say. I just had to keep watching out not to fall into my normal IM habits.
  5. Finally, you can keep IM and chat interviews going for a relatively long time, longer than phone interviews. This probably has to do with the fact that most people spend more time sitting around typing on computers than they do talking on the phone. And being on the computer means you can multitask, so you can keep an eye on the kettle you set to boil or play solitaire or something.

Anyway, that’s what my experience has been with interviews. Your mileage may vary.

I’ll go a little later

Wow, getting up early really does change your view of the world. It’s only 2:40 PM and yet it feels like I’ve already had a full and productive day of work. I’ve been running interviews all week and will continue to do them next week. I know that I said I haven’t been blogging much about my research itself. This is partly because I don’t want to influence any of the people I’m going to interview. When I recruit participants, I invite them to check out Sarapen for themselves as part of the proof that I’m a legitimate researcher and in hopes of starting a dialogue. But I can’t discuss my findings just yet or else my participants might start answering differently according to how other people have responded.

Also, thanks to the fact that interviews have become my top priority, I’ve been reading the books that I really should have finished reading by now but kept setting aside. So the reading I procrastinated on before I’m doing now because I want to procrastinate on something else. I’m reading lots of good stuff that I really could have used earlier. But remember, the early bird may get the worm, but the lazy worm will live another day. Of course, in my case it’s the lazy worm that gets eaten. Maybe the bird is also lazy?

I see you seeing me

Well, after speaking to my supervisor I managed to convince her that interviews would be nice to have. She was right that I already had a lot of data and doing too many interviews would get in the way of the December deadline I’m shooting for, so I’ve taken out the face to face interviews and am planning on just doing them over the phone. I’m also planning on doing probably less than ten.

Now, I’ve just found out that I’ve gained a couple more readers. Yay me. However, I feel compelled to state a few things up front.

First, this research blog is not meant to be a long-term project. It’s a part of my research, and when the research ends, so will this blog. In my proposal, I state that I plan on keeping the blog alive for at least a year after my research is done, so expect Sarapen to still be up by December 2007. However, just because the blog will be up doesn’t mean I’ll still be posting. Maybe, maybe not, it depends on when I lose interest and when I start not having enough time to update.

Second, the audience for Sarapen was originally supposed to be the Filipino bloggers that I was reading. Since I’m going to start contacting those bloggers now, it seems that they will once again be my target audience. My new readers are anthropology people, I’m guessing, since they were led her either by the antropologi post on me or by the anthropology posts I’ve left at various LiveJournal communities. So if it seems that I’m going light on theory, it’s because I am. I’m trying to write in a way that will make my project accessible to the non-anthros that I want to speak to. That’s also why I keep linking theory to personal anecdotes.

Third, another reason that I set up Sarapen was to gain some insights into the minds of my participants. I’m keeping a reflexive diary so that I can keep track of my reactions. For example, discovering that I have readers has prompted me to start posting more often. I’ve never posted more than twice in one week, but now here I am doing exactly that. I also keep the reflexive diary so I won’t have trouble finding out exactly what actions I, the researcher, have done that have affected the subject that I’m researching. I think I’ll come back to that in a later post.

I’ve been discovered

There I was, blogging away in quiet obscurity, confident that my blog was only being read by me and whichever of my friends ever bothered to look. We’ve all got our own research to do and I see them all the time anyway, so I’m not suprised that my comments = 0. Happily engaged in online intellectual wankery, I suddenly find out that I’ve been outed by Lorenz, an anthroblogger I read occassionally on You can find the other blogs I read in the My Bookmarks link on the right, though lately I haven’t been reading those blogs very regularly. I only found the post about me because I Googled “sarapen” on a lark. Surprisingly, this blog was the first result, my Sarapen blog on Blogger was number three, and the antropologi post was number five.

It’s also funny to relate how Sarapen was discovered, I actually posted something about an anthropologist working with Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan over in LiveJournal’s Anthropologist Community. That turned out to also be something Lorenz blogged about, then he (or she? they?) mentioned that the issue had also been discussed in LJ. Then I suppose they followed the link to my LiveJournal page, and from there followed the link to here, the real blog.

Anyway, I’m kind of embarrassed to be discovered since I don’t like how long and rambling my previous posts have been. My first couple of posts were edited, but I decided that practice didn’t fit entirely into blogging’s spirit of spontaneity. Lately I’ve just sat down with a definite subject in mind but let my mind and fingers roam as they will. I haven’t been liking the excessive verbiage that’s been resulting. I think that any essays that I write from now on will have to go through some rethinking before being posted online. I was already thinking of doing that in the first place.

I set up Sarapen partly hoping to use it to communicate with the bloggers I’ve been reading. I’ve only contacted a few so far, but I planned for things to intensify once I started interviews, so I thought it would be nice if there was already something for the bloggers to look at. I’ve been blogging with this future audience in mind. However, I’ve just met with my supervisor and she was pleased at how much data I’d gathered while she was in New Zealand. She told me that I might not even need to do interviews, since I’ve already got so much and I’m supposed to be finished writing by December anyway. So now I’m wondering who my target audience will be.