Promoting a New Research Method: Netnography Considered (Part 1)

This is true. On March 26 of last year, a woman I had never heard of before named Maria Xenitidou, or just “Maria X” contacted me. She is a British post-doc, a Ph.D., and so I feel justified in calling her “Professor X”. Or perhaps, since the X-Men are Legend, “The Young, Female Professor X.”

Not Maria XSo, Maria, the Young, Female, Professor X, contacted me out of the blue with an email. She began by telling me that she had “recently undertaken a project with colleagues at the University of Surrey in which we are trying to locate innovations in social science research methods.” Her purpose? They were interested in identifying innovative research practices in the social sciences outside the UK, in other words, research practices that had not  yet filtered through to typical research methods courses. And, the reason she was contacting me was that my work “had been identified as involving innovative research practices especially with reference to netnography.”

That was pretty exciting. A completely non-marketing, non-consumer research group of scholars was interested in my work. These were sociologists and cultural scholars for the most part.

I wrote Maria back. We talked. We interviewed (on Skype of course). And on the basis of the material I sent her and our interview, she wrote up a very interesting document about innovative research practices that included netnography. The document was published. And then she invited me to a Research Methods Festival in Oxford at the University of Oxford on July 5th. In particular, to a smaller Workshop at the beginning of the Festival called “The Process of Methodological Innovation Workshop.”

The Festival was timed to directly follow EACR. By “coincidence.” Or, perhaps, if you are a Jungian, by synchronicity. That amazing synchronicity.

So of course, thinking that I would already be in England, and that I’d never been to Oxford before, I said yes. And I am very glad I did.Here is the University of Oxford

The session she assigned me to was called “Promulgating New Methods” and my mission (PhD students and post-docs like to hand professors missions, by the way) was to offer ideas and experiences about “Concentrated Activity, Networks and Diffusion Mechanisms of Methodological Innovations.”

That sounded heavy. Weighty. Meaty. I like heavy.

So I put on my Thinking Hat and started to ponder what I had learned in 15 years developing, tooling-up, and blabbing about this new methodological approach of netnography. What I came up with, and what I presented, was a way of thinking about what I do, about my approach to scholarship that I wanted to share with you here in blogglyand. But first, we continue the Oxford thing. I had to write something to present.

 In one of those annoyingly parenthetical postmodern fragments of titling, I named the presentation: “Netnography: Prom/ot(ulgat)ing a New Method.” The idea was that Promulgation, Professor X’s mandate to presenters in my slot, is always also Promotion. Science is always marketing.

Gratuitous Wisconsin Badgers Shot…That observation of course must be credited to J. Paul Peter (my department Chair when I was at the University of Wisconsin) and Jerry Olson, who wrote a wonderful, now-classic article in the Fall of 1983, during the dark depths of Marketing’s Crisis of Legitimacy. Under apparent attack from the challenge of qualitative methods, and like many of the academic business fields that were undergoing scientific rationalization in the face of the Gordon-Howell Report and the Pierson Reports, the field of Marketing “Science” was defending its legitimacy and honor by insisting that it was, indeed, as scientific as any other field, thank you very much. While so many people were writing and debating about whether Marketing was a Science, Peter and Olson came around the back door with a big rubber Foucaldian hammer and bonked those “positivist/empiricist” dumbbells on the head, arguing very convincingly that we were asking the wrong question.

It is not “Is Marketing a Science?” that is the interesting question, their 1983 article in the Journal of Marketing asserted. It is “Is Science Marketing?” And of course, it was and it is.

This inversion is what makes that article so interesting and, indeed, timeless. They showed how scientists regularly:

  • use marketing strategy to target their theories and their work (where will this fit?),
  • use positioning to show differentiation from extant scholarship (how is this new?),
  • and employ marketing mix variables (the good old 4 Ps of product, place, price, and promotions) to effectively “sell” their theoretical innovations and their new view of the world (how do we get people to read and cite this work?).

So it was drawing upon this perspective that I decided to think about how I had Promoted the approach of netnography on an unsuspecting and obstinately ambivalent world over the last 15 years. (I didn’t need to recap Peter and Olson very much, since it is 2010 and of course no one believe that science is “the truth” anymore, everyone knows it is just a language game and a social construction. Right? Um, not.)

Waves that Overlap…like Metaphors that SinkAfter a brief introduction to the method, I introduced the four waves or strategies that I used. They overlap and still overlap. They are not exclusive discrete steps. They are not a how-to. They are merely observations collected and organized for the format of the talk about how I can in retrospect think about sharing and diffusing a new qualitative approach.

The first wave, perhaps the most obvious one, I called “Legitimation Through Academia.” I will provide the details on that Wave in the next blog posting, as the context stuff goes into full swing.

How do you promote and promulgate a new research method? In four fuzzy sets of initiatives or four overlapping waves, as we will see. And these sets will set the stage for me to make some new declarations for this blog, and open the door to some new envisioning of what the heck it is that I am trying to do.

Thanks, at least in part, to the Mysterious Young Female Professor X.


One Response

  1. October 15, 2010

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