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The last day of the OII SDP and saying goodbye

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On our final day, we began the session talking about creating CVs, applying to jobs, going on interviews, publishing, and so on. The session was led by the wonderful director of the OII, Victoria Nash. I haven’t written much about her because she is so busy, and humble, that she didn’t present her own work. However, she created and carried out a wonderful SDP, and we are all quite appreciative.

This last day, July 18th, also happens to be my birthday. The great people of the OII surprised me with a cake and cupcakes, and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. I felt so loved!


Delicious birthday cake and cupcakes!


After cake and coffee, Dennys Antonialli was our first student presenter for the day. He is a lawyer in Brazil and is researching transconstitutionalism and internet architecture. He asks, “is privacy a fundamental right?” He compared internet privacy politics in Brazil, Germany, and the US. In Brazil, for example, there is no data privacy law, but the citizens are not expected to be fully self regulatory. Data are stored in many places however, so if the data is stored on a US server, those protections are applied. Therefore, there is a new global reach of American “values” and “beliefs.” This argument is not just about the government either, Dennys explained. Internet users often say that they don’t care if the government has their information, yet they trust Google. Because the platforms change so rapidly, Dennys is arguing for a better framework.

The next student presenter was Caroline Jack. She spoke about her work conducting archival research from 1983-1999. She is exploring a digital tool called “Junior Achievement.” It is a program that was integrated into schools so students could use computers with management simulation software to experience meaningful business scenarios. The program actually switched from a hands on experience, to this digital simulation. She argues that this digital space was “filling the frontier gap.” First it was the West, then it was Space, and, for Junior Achievement, it was the internet. She is not sure yet if this is really propaganda or education. The game is clearly promoting specific types of capitalism, but at the same time she has found much more dynamic data through her work.

Our last student presenter at the SDP was Crystal Abidin. Crystal’s presentation was a nice twist seeing that a lot of people were talking about privacy over the past two weeks, and Crystal instead studies people who want to be watched–lifestyle bloggers. The lines between career and personal life blur, along with lines between things such as a paid advertisement and an opinion. The girls that Crystal lived with and interviewed are not really selling products, but themselves. They use tactics such as shock value, pedantic consumption, and personal illustrations to create social capital and become powerful women who develop careers for themselves in the digital space. Everyone very much enjoyed Crystal’s look inside lifestyle bloggers’ world. She tied for best presentation with Josephine Wolff!

For our last night, we all had dinner at a delicious Lebanese restaurant Friday night. Here are some pictures from the evening.




After dinner, everyone thought it only fitting to go out for some drinks to celebrate a great two weeks (and of course my birthday!). We passed the magical Oxford University Press on the way.


We ended up at an interesting bar and “dance club” where a group of swing dancers was teaching patrons the Charleston.


It was very hard to say goodbye to everyone, even though we had only been together two weeks. Hopefully we all made connections that will carry through our academic (and personal) lives.

On Saturday afternoon I flew out from Heathrow and headed home to Philadelphia. But first, I of course had to have one last pint before getting back to the US.



July 17th: EVE online, Personal politics, and Internet privacy

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Thursday morning I decided to take a walk around Oxford, see some things that I wanted to see, and buy some touristy souvenirs. Here are some pictures from the morning.


Breakfast at a cute little coffee shop on Turl St. — flat white and croissant!



The Queen’s College. Let’s be honest, I was nerding out to see it because it’s where Desmond visits Daniel Faraday …on Lost.



The amazing Bodleian Library.


The first student presenter for the day was Kelly Bergstrom, and she presented her dissertation work on EVE Online. Unlike other MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing games), all EVE players meet on a single server. The population of EVE gamers is homogenous. Almost all players are white males who are in their thirties and have some kind of technology-related job. The game is quite hard, especially in the beginning, so many start to play and stop soon after. The few that rise to the top enjoy bullying and hazing the noobs. Kelly studied the developers, the community, and academics to understand what it is about the game that causes such a homogenous population that performs in such a way. She calls them “assholes in space.” The players enjoy being jerks. She is using this space to understand why girls don’t play “hard” games. Some studies show that a lot of women choose “not interested,” but often there is no space provided to elaborate. What exactly does “not interested” mean when it comes to choosing a game, and why does this space of EVE Online attract/create such a specific player base?

The second student presenter was Sander Andreas Schwartz. Sander spoke about his dissertation studies in personal politics and social networking sites. Sander investigated political debate on Facebook by Danish citizens. He noted that the politicians’ Facebook pages were echo chambers by design. The politicians and their teams would carefully survey the Facebook pages, deleting posts that they felt did not represent the candidate in the way they intended. He also noted that the space provides a poor architecture for debate and leaves little room for outsiders to take part in the discussion. I commented that there seemed to be an underlying assumption in his presentation that Facebook is, or should be, a democratizing space. Whether or not Sander believes this to be true, I would argue that we must realize that Facebook promotes a very specific type of identity. I suggest he look at all of what each political follower does on the site, not just how s/he performs on the politician’s page. The users’ friends can see that they are participating, which already means that they have made the decision to make this identity a part of their Facebook self. Therefore, we should be analyzing their performances in the full context.

Lastly we heard from Dorota Glowacka. Dorota spoke about her dissertation work: “Positive obligations of states to protect privacy on the internet: Online reputation management tools.” Dorota is a lawyer in Poland, and she works on freedom of expression. She is looking to find ways of diminishing the impact of “unwanted content.” She is very interested in the current debate regarding “the right to be forgotten” and spoke about deleting content from servers that is “unlawful” or “no longer relevant.” She sees reputation as connected to privacy and privacy to be a human right. I agree with her that this “virtue of forgetting” is important, especially when it comes to identity, because we need the space to reinvent ourselves and start anew. She cites the notion that the worst thing you’ve done equals the first thing that comes up in a Google search. I do agree with this. However, I also think that we should be teaching people to create spaces for themselves online that present their creative, positive, professional, etc. sides. If we just keep teaching people to hide or that maybe their bad content will be erased eventually, we are not really getting at the core.

After OII time on Thursday night, a few of us visited The Eagle and the Child for a pint; this is apparently the pub at which Tolkien used to write!


Tolkien’s old haunt.



Inside The Eagle and Child.

July 16th: Oxford Internet Survey, Rumor Diffusion, Big Data, Privacy, and Data Protection

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For our second Wednesday at the OII SDP, Grant Blank spoke about the 2013 Oxford Internet Survey which is a comprehensive look at British internet life. He and his team administered surveys to and conducted face to face interviews with a random sample of the British population. They found that there are evolving conceptions of internet “cultures:” hackers, homesteaders, hobbyists, cyber-culture/digital-culture, and digital natives. And, they found that there are four ways that people generally feel about the internet: enjoyable escape, instrumental efficiency, problem-generator, and social facilitator. They then also grouped the individuals into five clusters: e-mersives, techno-pragmatists, cyber-saavy, cyber-moderates, and adigitals. Overall, the 2013 trends included: steady diffusion, persistent digital divides, rapid rise of mobile computing, stable social network site use, and persistent none-use and ex-use.

Our first student presenter was Jieun Shin, and she presented some work from her dissertation: “Rumor Diffusion in Online Social Networks.” To understand how rumors spread across Twitter, she explored 66 political rumors that spread during the 2012 US presidential election. She found that, among other things, communication patterns are more important than just who is following whom.

The next student presenter was Francisco Grajales, and he spoke about big data and privacy. Along with a team, he had previously completed a survey asking people from a health website if they were afraid that their data would be used by a third party. The survey then asked those same people if they would be more comfortable sharing their information if they were promised anonymity. Although people were afraid of their data being used, they were also pretty open to giving it up if they knew it was anonymous. He called this a “paradox.” However, I am not sure how this is a privacy paradox. People do not want their data to be used against them, or not anonymously. However, if the data is stripped of identifying facets, then that information may be used to help them, help someone else, get them a good deal or shopping recommendation, etc. He proposed a new model that allowed people to opt-in to sharing more information and to be compensated for their contributions.

Our last student presenter for the day was Stacy Blasiola who is just beginning her dissertation work regarding privacy and social networking site platforms. Stacy’s research is very similar to mine, so I very much enjoyed hearing her speak about her work in its beginning stages. She wants to understand, when it comes to different platforms, what users’ expectations and beliefs are. Hopefully, we can work together in the future (and of course cite each other)!

For the second half of the day, Ian Walden joined us to speak about privacy, data protection, and cloud computing. Privacy laws encompass different cultural values and practices, a constellation of legal rights, private and public realms, and permitted interferences. Gmail, for example, works under the assumption that people realize everything will be scanned by them. I really enjoyed how he explained data protection laws as DIFFERENT from privacy rights. This is because data protection is about everything, not just the things that are considered “private” offline. Really paralleling my dissertation, Ian expressed the important fact that anonymization will be key going forward because what “content” is has changed and expanded.

Day 7: Formal modeling, Transdiegetic information, Social movements, Religious studies, and Healthcare discussion boards

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On our second Tuesday, Greg Taylor started the day with “Formal Modeling in the Social Sciences.” It seemed that the group generally very much appreciated and respected Greg’s take on “big data” and computer modeling. He first stressed the fact that models are only simplifications and abstractions of reality; the world is complicated and thus we need to distill it down to something understandable. He is drawing from economics and how the scholars in this field do their research. Greg had a simple, but great graphic on one of his slides. Assumptions –> Calculation –> Results. The “math” part comes in for the calculations and results. He explained that as long as the math is right, this is right. However, the assumptions that the researcher begins with is the most important part. All of the calculations can be correct, but if assumptions are not realized or if a researcher is not reflexive, this is when problems can arise, especially in quantitative research studies. At the end, Greg argued that modeling can help us understand underlying social functions.

Our next speaker was the much anticipated Luciano Floridi. His talk was titled: “Transdiegetic Information: What it is and why is matters.” I, of course, enjoyed his introduction to what “real” philosophy is and should be, including his statement that “facts and formulae are not enough,” we need analyses of open questions. And, this is philosophy. #preach  Instead of using the binary “online/offline,” Luciano proposes that we use “onlife.” He is right; it is silly to think that we ever actually log on or log off anymore. He uses diegesis (recounted story) as a lens to understand the information that is afforded in technological environments. Once the provider plays with what information the user can see and interact with, the provider changes the experience. He used media such as Apocalypse Now and House of Cards as traditional one-to-many-model examples and then showed how these are similar to what we can now do with participatory media technologies. This interaction, he says, can erase the distinction between diegetic (internal) and nondiegetic (external) information. Thus, he introduced the term transdiegetic. Information is transdiegetic is it can move seamlessly between diegetic and nondiegetic spaces in a dynamic way. Therefore, our new media technologies blur distinctions between reality and virtuality and human, machine, and nature; alter the nature of information from scarcity to abundance; and shift the priority from entities to interaction.

Our first student presenter was Emily Stacey whose presentation was titled “The Pamphlet meets Application Programming Interface: Social movements and the digital age.” Emily is interested in applying social movement theory to political protests. She believes that transmovements help people to mobilize because they can transcend borders and traditional boundaries. She spoke about “hashtag activism” and how networked horizontalism brings in different groups without one over another. For example, Emily conducted studies regarding “#sidibouzid” and “#Egypt/25Jan.” One finding she presented was that movements are faceless, but not leaderless. She is now working on developments in Ukraine–she has much more great research to come!

Our next speaker was James Cho, and his presentation was about networked individualism and American Evangelical Christians. Drawing from scholars such as Heidi Campbell who discusses “digital religion,” James is interested in the online and offline blurring for religious norms, and he wants to understand the intersection of religion, identity, and politics.

Our last presenter was Ellen Brady. Her research focuses on actual vs. perceived privacy on healthcare discussion boards. These healthcare discussion boards allow patients to find peer support, and they are then empowered to control the flow of their health information. Ellen is very interested in methods and ethics. She presented some intriguing findings regarding patients who really wanted to tell their stories and not be anonymized. But, she also told stories about patients who outright told her that her research was awful and that they did not want to be involved in any way. The nice aspect of these anonymous spaces is that if something goes wrong, users can go away for a few weeks, open a new, anonymous account, and regain the digital peer support. Of course, this is not possible in other online spaces, and even the site itself, along with it’s third-party affiliations (because of IP addresses and cookies), knoww it is the same user behind the screen.

I must mention that for lunch on Tuesday I got to eat more delicious pie from Pieminister. As you can see, I was spoiled with a veggie pie filled with goat cheese, spinach, and sweet potatoes, mushy peas, mashed potatoes, and gravy!!


Day 6: Big Data, Python, Libraries, Community Managers, and Cyberactivism

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Monday was day 6 of the Summer Doctoral Programme (SDP) here at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and it kicked off our second week. We heard from Ralph Schroeder again, but this time he was joined by Eric Meyer. They spoke about “Big data and the future of knowledge.” It was an interesting talk because, while they agree on some things, the two also have very different theoretical standpoints. They conducted interviews with social sciences regarding big data and big data methods. They are exploring if the (big data) tail wags the (research) dog. That is, are a lot of people just doing big data studies now because there is so much data available? And, are people just creating models that fit the data available instead of actually using relevant data to answer important questions?

Next, Jonathan Bright gave us an introduction to using Python to collect social media data. Although this session was similar to what I am already doing through my position at Temple’s Digital Scholarship Center, I still found his lecture and point of view interesting. Accessing the Facebook API, we explored which news items cause the most social reaction by tracking article shares. I appreciated that at the end of his session, Jonathan made it a point to note that he was wondering if he should even teach us these methods. He isn’t sure how ethical scraping is seeing how easy it is for “just anyone” to gather information about many people. Two things as comments to this. First, people should be aware that this is happening all the time. The only way to do this is to teach people about the process–let them see it for themselves. Second, not just anyone can do this. You first need knowledge that it is even possible, and you then need the skills to be able to do it …return to my first comment. If more people just had a simple understanding of how coding and scraping works, perhaps we would have less ambiguity when it comes to our data and “privacy.”

Our first student presentation for week two was Jennifer Thiele, and she presented her research on broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Jennifer works in Wisconsin as a public library director and spoke about the trouble with getting reliable internet in rural areas like where she lives and works. The public library group she works for almost had a federal grant to build a fiber optic infrastructure but the state rejected the grant for a reasons that made no sense to Jennifer and her team. There is certainly a need for access in these areas, especially with job centers closing down, but there is no incentive for telecommunication companies to go out and develop in rural areas. Jennifer’s research is interesting because she is applying notions of the disappearing public sphere to understand libraries as public spaces.

The next student presentation was Jenna Jacobson. She presented her dissertation work on young adults working in social media. Jenna is interested in self-identity, personal branding, and community managers. Jenna argues that this new field of social media community managers is changing the landscape of labor. (Seventy percent of the community managers are millennials.)  There was some good discussion surrounding personal identity versus the identity that you must use to manage a space that is not your own. Also, many people commented on the fact that millennials had to essentially make up this new position because the economy is not great and when they graduate they cannot find jobs.

The next presenter was me! I won’t go into detail, but you can check out my current “The Structured Self” project (both my dissertation and the complementary website) here. (I may write a separate blog post focused on my presentation and the great comments I received.)

Monday night a small group of us had dinner at a great pub and somehow placed fourth in trivia …which we thought was pretty good considering we are in one of the smartest cities in the world. :)


Day 5: Internet Governance, Social Theory after the Internet, Information Literacy, Identimacy, and Weibo

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I should start with the fact that on Friday, the last day of week one here at Oxford,  I had a delicious flat white and scone with clotted cream and jam for breakfast. <dangerous>

Our first speaker was Stefaan Verhulst, and he presented his work regarding innovations in global governance. Stefaan, who is co-founder of The Governance Lab at NYU, explained that this topic is important because how the internet governed will ultimately determine its potential. Issues he discussed include access, content, code standards, trust, and trade. Because digital media allow spaces to cross borders, online governance have global, social, and economic consequences different than offline transactions. Stefaan proposed different models that may help in the internet governance debate such as direct governance, rough consensus, multi-stakeholders, and a layered approach. Now, however, he explained that governance is just the “oil spill” model, or very reactionary. Additionally, narratives in news media complicate the issues even further. We see fragmentation, loss of trust, obstacles to innovation, and lingering unresolved issues. Stefaan’s main conclusion was that the field really needs more research and evidence.

Next, we heard from Ralph Schroeder and his “Social theory after the internet.” He asked, how does the internet fit into current social theories?. He argued that internet research is skewed toward findings that support the internet is for social good. However, Ralph explained, while the internet may change the social, it is not always for the “good.” There is now a social divide and a political divide of the elites vs. the people that is magnified by social media. The US is much less participatory, and people have limited attentive space and that some people cannot see beyond this space because they are “lazy.” Clearly, I had a bit of issue with him calling those people who are essentially not media literate lazy. There are many people who are not privileged enough to have the time, effort, money, and so on to be “literate.” Therefore, we cannot put all of the onus of people to, completely on their own, realize the media are fighting for our “eyeballs.” His presentation was definitely interesting, albeit quite different from my own research stances.

The first student presenter was Ameera Mansour, and she presented her dissertation proposal regarding how information literate mothers are in online forum spaces. She is working on two research questions: (1)What does it mean to be information literate in a social media community? and (2)How do people appropriate social media in their everyday lives? She presented some sites for potential case studies and noted that she will be conducting an online ethnography.

The next presentation was: “Females’ perspective on emergence to adulthood: The role of information communication technologies” by Megan Lindsay. By trying to understand both identity and intimacy online, Megan has coined “identimacy” as her key area of investigation. Speaking with females, 20-30, Megan will explore how ICT experiences influence identity and intimacy. Her work is in conversation with academics such as Archer and Donati, both critical realism scholars. She proposes that identity is both embodied and emerges in society and that identity is formed within powerful structures. But, our personification gives us agency. I found a lot of overlap between what Megan studies and what I study; a lot of her methods are similar to narratology methods, for example. Additionally, I found her definition of intimacy to be extremely intriguing: your partner agrees with you when you talk about yourself. S/he proves that s/he knows you and, at the same time, is validating the way you have chosen to write yourself into being. I think this can say a lot for why we feel so intimate with people on a site like Facebook–an easy click of the “like” button or a short comment as validation suddenly creates a feeling of digital intimacy.

Lastly, we heard from Wilfred Yang Wang and his work on He noted that there is a special tension between the nation state and local places in China, specifically Guangzhon. Wilfred is interested in geo-ID, or the idea that there is a sense of self and a sense of belonging to a geo-place. Weibo is a digital place, but it is not without borders. This sense of place is not static, and Wilfred will be researching how users experience geo-ID online and where Weibo comes into the equation.

After the scheduled sessions, a few of us had a chance to sit down with Judy Wajcman. It was a great experience, all of us discussing our different research areas and getting Judy’s insight. Here we are with her!


Friday night ended with a delicious dinner at the Indian restaurant 4500 Miles from Delhi! ::drool::

Day 4: Feminist Theory, Digital Humanities, Computer Security, Information Literacy, and Digital Folklore

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On Thursday, day four of the SDP here at University of Oxford, we first heard from the wonderful Caroline Bassett. Her presentation was titled “Are there too many things? Gender and new media.” She is interested in exploring where the terms of digital engagement intersect with gender. She argued that we need to recognize that technologies are still inherently masculine. Although, internet history and feminism have a lot in common. Namely, they are both easily forgotten! Instead of some fight in this time of “post-feminism,” we instead just see a culture of women “leaning in” (Sheryl Sandberg?!). Using social media means necessarily using that which is given instead of communicating more. Resistance is just seen as a political act in this age, and it is implemented often to just gain the celebratory fanfare that comes with the act.

What I loved most about Caroline’s talk was that she pointed out multiple times that our questions are really about the social as noncritical, not about some internet problem. It is our relations that have become a problem, and we thus should not be blaming the technology. Facebook is really big data, not some social space as we would like it to genuinely be. I thought that all of the great points she brought of (all of which I cannot fit here) tied in nicely with my connection between Butler, Althusser, and the way algorithms hail us online more generally, and on Facebook more specifically. This is a weird space, since we almost necessarily must turn to these interpellations as soon as we check in on our News Feeds and Timelines on Facebook. Caroline pointed out that algorithms do not work without people. And this point is so important–just because we talk about the implications of the internet does not mean that we are technological determinists. We must remember, though, that online spaces are conceived, paid for, designed, built, and maintained by people. Therefore, we instead need to understand this co-constitution–how do humans evolve with technology?

Next, Kathryn Eccles explained what the new field of Digital Humanities is. She (and others) completed studies to understand the usage and impact of digital resources. The found that digitizing resources (1)transformed access, (2)enabled new ways of drilling into materials, (3)provided a new means of engaging students, (4)enabled distance learning, and (5)fostered serendipitous discoveries. More to come on this presentation via my contributions to the Temple University Digital Scholarship Center blog!

The first of our student presenters was Josephine Wolff who explores and designs socio-technical defense for computer systems. She works with computer threats and mitigation at MIT. Josephine spoke about some security issues at MIT and the ways that they went about trying to fix both their security issues and their image after the JSTOR and Schwartz case (which, if you don’t remember, tragically ended with Schwartz committing suicide). Types of security include firewall, password complexity, password expiration, and restrictions to off-campus access. Threats include comprised accounts, copyright infringement, compromised hosts, compromised accounts, and unsolicited emails. An interesting example that Josephine explained was cases of very “real” looking unsolicited emails. Clearly, if users believe the email to be real and enter their passwords into the fake site, password complexity and expiration do not matter at all. I enjoyed Josephine bringing a completely different vibe to the SDP. The way that she thinks about a different level of structures and digital spaces allowed for a lot of great conversations between the two of us over the course of the program.

Chris Leeder presented his dissertation work on scaffolding students’ information literacy skills. He helped students to gain information literacy, evaluate online credibility, and learn through computer-supported collaboration through a website that he designed and had programmed. He found that students use a lot of blogs and, notably, first Google results when trying to find information online. I found Chris’ work to be very practical, and he is already getting ready to start a postdoc at Rutgers so congratulations to him!

Last for the day was Gabriel de Seta who presented “What is internet culture?” By exploring China’s every day internet use through anthropological methods, Gabriel concluded that we should no longer use the word culture, but “folklore.” This is because users on sites like YouTube and Tumblr “play with” slang and create a “carnival-like” space that provides an extra space in society to do so.

After our sessions at the OII, we took a kooky, but fun, ghost tour around Oxford. Here I am with a “birthday hat” getting my arm “sliced” by the guide, Bill Spectre. Clearly, it is good that I didn’t go into acting.


After the tour some of us SDPers went for delicious thai!


MOOCs, Global Censorship, Audiences, Facebook Photos, and Augmentative and Alternative Communication

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Although I haven’t written much about it, today started as usual: an early morning run, a right English breakfast, and too much weird, decaffeinated, instant coffee from a canister that I bought from Tesco as to not bother our hosts everyday for decaf.


Trinity College – picture from my morning run!

We heard first from Rebecca Eynon and her work conceptualizing learning and interaction in MOOCs. MOOCs add a new complexity to higher education, but we cannot forget the history and work that has been done in this field–many of the traditional work regarding education still applies in these digital spaces. Rebecca and her team were trying to develop profiles of the online learners that reflect how interaction happens. They then want to take these profiles and understand how interaction is related to learner progress and course outcomes. Rebecca took three steps to produce an interesting study. First, she conducted a network analysis and found that forums harbor crowds, not necessarily communities of learners. She also found, however, that certain sub forums do seem very important for some participants’ learning. Next, she completed qualitative interviews with 30 participants and found that there were four emergent themes: problem-solving, professional profiling, lifelong learning, and connecting and formal accreditation. Finally, she conducted a content analysis of 6500 forum posts. Within each post she and her team coded for knowledge construction, communicative intent, emotion, topic, and relevance. Their work is still on-going; they are finding it hard to agree on “valid” data since there are so many moving parts in the MOOC world. However, I found her research to be extremely interesting, thorough, timely, and practical.

After a coffee break (more weird decaf), Joss Wright spoke about his work on global censorship analysis. Focusing on China’s Golden Shield, Joss wants to understand not only country censorship, but also more localized filtering. He spoke about the different types of censoring: DNS poisoning, IP header filtering, IP content filtering, proxy filtering and the different ways of researching these methods: user reports, direct investigation, automated testing, and remote analysis. What I found intriguing about Joss’ talk was his discussion on the legality and ethical questions surrounding accessing blocked websites. Judging if a site should be blocked is often purely cultural and contextual. In the states and UK, we believe it to make perfect sense that child pornography sites are blocked. In other countries, perhaps it seems just as valid to block sites regarding gay rights. In other words, there are some sites that are blocked for serious legal and societal reasons. Therefore, accessing them could lead to negative consequences.

After a delicious Lebanese feast lunch (the best lunch yet!), our first SDPer presentation was from Emma Dahlin. Her research focuses on conceptualizing audiences–what is an online audience?!?! Using the ANT perspective (which researchers use to investigate how humans and technologies interact), Emma employed ethnographic and praxiographic methods to study the practices of an online audience discussing Dr. Who. Emma is in the early stages of her dissertation, and I found her aspiration to create a new definition inspiring–I understand the pain of trying to introduce a new definition!!

Next, Azar Eftekhar presented her dissertation research on how individual influences influence visual presentations on Facebook. Azar is in the cyberpsychology field and used The Big Five scale to compare personality with photos posted. After much survey collection and photo coding, Azar concluded that certain personality types exhibit different practices online. She also argued that her findings are in line with the main tenants of uses and gratifications theory in that Facebookers use the platform to play out their personality traits. Of course I have much to say about this study. It is very close to the work that I do with visual culture, anti-anonymity, and social networking sites. However, it is also quite different in its reliance on quantitative methods and uses and gratifications theory. I enjoyed Azar’s presentation, but I also could write a whole blog post just on my conflicting thoughts. (I just may!) :)

Finally, Meryl Alper presented her dissertation work on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). As Meryl explained, these are devices that give “voice” to those that cannot speak (think Stephen Hawking’s talking device). She is particularly interested in children ages 3-13 and interviewed the parents of 20 kids to understand how communication and technology plays a role in their lives. I should include that they are all using a semi-expensive app on an iPad that allows them to have a “voice.” As early findings, she noted that parents talk a lot about the case. However, her findings are different than those who write about a case being a fashion accessory or a status marker. Instead, children need cases to be of a certain type–perhaps to more easily carry the iPad or to keep it stable on a table. Additionally, how a school system (who has issued the device to a student) cases the device speaks to how they feel about the child. Although short on time, she also mentioned the dichotomy of families who speak of communication vs. fun and communication as fun.

Today there was much more critical discussion from audience members. I am excited because I think that people are finally getting comfortable enough to critique work to all of our benefit! But, I am also a bit nervous since I have yet to present, and I know that my new ways at looking at issues (in particular anonymity vs. privacy) will possibly enact a, I’ll call it “lively,” debate.

I decided on an early night with some SDPer comrades, and had amazing pie, cookies, and Spanish peaches from The Covered Market.


“Matador” pie with gravy and minty mushy peas!
Love you Pieminister …you evil, evil, place …



Ocean big data, mobile devices, and hanging out with the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute

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Today’s meeting started with two presentations from doctoral participants.

Stephanie Steinhardt discussed her research with the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). The OOI is the US’s direct response to climate change. What I found to be most interesting about Stephanie’s research was learning that, traditionally for the OOI, PI’s would build their own devices, pull up their findings on their own, have the data for themselves, and move on. Now, with big data methods, much more collaboration is taking place. Consequently, Stephanie explained, we see more large-scale infrastructures, governance, investment, scientific roles, and labor politics. She hopes that this research helps to better inform the public and alter popular opinions that dismiss climate change as merely “myth.”

Second, we heard from Becky Faith. Her dissertation work is titled “How does socially excluded young women’s use of mobile devices impact their capabilities?” Mobiles are central to many poor women’s lives. They use them to communicate with family and friends, but also to completely substitute for the home computers that they do not have. For example, many use the mobile phones to inform themselves about health and wellness. Her qualitative interview findings were very interesting, and there were some great discussions in the room focusing on consumer culture, economic status, and the need for certain goods that others may judge as “frivolous purchases.” Some women found their phones annoying because they wanted to get off the grid, but many other women relied on the phones, even if they had no data plan and had to search for wifi, to speak to their families, look for jobs, and find a place to sleep for the night.

After our own sessions, we joined the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute at Jesus College. Ryan Heath, the European Commission’s Spokesperson, talked about net neutrality, an update of the Commission’s past five years, and what they hope is to come in the next five years. He admitted that the commission needs a “big vision.” He spoke a lot about the fact that private interests can just simply not be ignored–“you can’t achieve change within the digital world if you don’t work with private interests.” I found Heath to be honest at times, but also still obviously a well-trained spokesperson for Neelie Kroes.

After a lunch break in the park, James Waterworth, Vice-President, Europe for the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), spoke about the economic stakes of governing the net. He claimed that the internet has caused a mass disruption in the EU, mostly due to the fact that there are fewer borders when it comes to exchanging goods. Five years ago there was a certain immature pleasure in this disruption. However, citizens and companies now finally realizing that a single market could prove inconvenient. He argued that the EU is headed for “german-style” economic policies.

Waterworth, also spoke about net neutrality and brought in a discussion about “platform neutrality.” However, he also then spoke about search engine neutrality, and seemingly just kept adding the word neutrality after other digital concepts. I would be interested to know if you use other “X neutrality” terms.

Although different from our OII SDP topics, it was nice to see another similar Summer Doctoral Programm happening at Oxford.

I leave you with some pictures from my early morning run!

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OII SDP Day One – Geography, Evaluation, Vlogging, and The Capability Approach

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Today was the first of our SDP meetings. I discovered that there is some merchandise I would like to purchase. :)



After going around to do the typical academic introductions, Mark Graham, OII faculty, presented some of his recent research regarding internet geographies. Focusing mostly on Wikipedia, he spoke about the uneven user generated content (UGC) representation of both specific places in the world and of people from those places, specifically the global south. Much content creation and editing is included about European states and the US, and much content is written about these places, but they dominant the UGC culture. This can be dangerous when sites such as Wikipedia and Yahoo claim to be “the sum of all human knowledge.” The sites are virtual mirrors that reflect very specific realities back to not only those who have never experienced these places for themselves, but also to people who live there. You can see his work here.

One question I thought of while listening to Mark speak was about the structure of a space like Wikipedia. Western countries have a very specific tradition when it comes to relaying knowledge and telling stories. We believe it is the “right” way of retrieving “valid” information. However, other cultures relay knowledge and share narratives in different ways. For example, a culture may value telling stories and using many very culturally specific terms or metaphors. These may make no sense to outsiders or when translated to other languages. Therefore, perhaps a space like Wikipedia just simply cannot support a different kind of knowledge production and sharing. I wonder how this kind of research could be carried out and what the implications would be for Mark’s, and other internet geography, work.

We had three student presentations today. The first was Misha Teplitskiy, and he presented his research on evaluating scientific findings. Using peer review data from sociological journals, he is trying to understand how fruitful and predictive the peer review process actually is. I found that a question he posed at the end of his talk to be very interesting: what does this all mean when we start to think about the internet and a post-peer review culture?

Second was Renee Powers who spoke about her time conducting an online ethnography of Youtube vloggers. By both participating in a 30-day, vlog every day, challenge, and subscribing to 25 participant’s accounts, she found some interesting results surrounding why people vlog, how they think about privacy, and the unpleasantries surrounding vloggers seeing that they are so open with their lives. She even shared one fascinating story about a male who was harassing her through multiple-media and the seasoned vlogger who apologized for this misogynistic behavior. One aspect that she found extremely creepy about his harassment was that he found her on Facebook, even though her vlogging self had no direct connection. This reminds me so much of my own work with “anti-anonymous” online spaces. Vlogging, unless you hide your face, obviously makes it quite hard to be anonymous. You can follow her vlogging updates while she dissertates @ReneeVlogs.

Lastly, Luiz Costa spoke about “privacy, data protection, and capabilities in a world of ambient intelligence.” Specifically focusing on the capability approach, he explained that he is trying to foster some objective process of curating online rights. Generally, he is attempting to find a framework to evaluate individual well-being. Luiz is an acting lawyer, and I found his perspective very enlightening. Further, as someone who only really works with US legislation, it was interesting to learn more about the processes of European law, digital spaces, and human rights.

After a great first session, we had a wonderful welcome dinner at Nuffield College. You can see the awesome dining hall below!