CfP: Researching with and on digital messaging spaces | Special section: Thinking with method.

Responding to Alan Latham’s call to ‘talk about the nitty gritty’ and ‘fine grained detail’ of research, we wish to propose a Methods Special Section for Area which tackles the prosaic as well as more remarkable experiences of ‘doing’ research and analysis with and/or on digital messaging spaces. The embrace of digital technologies as both the subjects of and means to research within geography and anthropology is well established. And, whether by design or by accident (of the pandemic), instant digital messaging spaces are increasingly central to ‘the field’ and our method. More specifically we mean spaces which persist over a period, as a place of return characterised by one-to-one and/or group interactions that happen in, or close to, real-time.* This shift provokes novel as well as familiar questions about digital fieldwork praxis; about the decisions we make, the boundaries we draw and the ethical practices we implement, why, and with what implications for us, for research participants and technologies, and the discipline.

Learning from Pink et al (2016) we embrace a non-digital centric approach that is open and reflexive. But, be it discussing a romantic liaison on Tinder or Blued, using Telegram for activist purposes in Hong Kong or Belarus, understanding how gig-economy encounters take place in and outside of apps, or witnessing any one of the seemingly mundane conversations that occur daily, the methodological processes involved are never as straightforward as some research publications suggest. In this special section we hope to make visible the ‘lies’, ‘fabrications’ and silences that typically ‘flatten’ the messy, contradictory, and fallible nature of research in practice. In order to achieve this, we are interested in hearing from early career and established researchers eager to think and write candidly about their use of digital instant messaging spaces for research in the following ways, and beyond.

Mobility: How do researchers access, return to or are denied access to messaging spaces? What is the role of messaging in other forms of human and non-human mobility?

Time: What are the effects of time and temporality on messaging sites as spaces of research? What are the challenges of negotiating these?

Scale: With what degrees of success/failure do researchers navigate the scales involved in messaging spaces or engage in research with messaging spaces across scales?

Ethics: What are the thorny ethics of conducting research in and accessing public, private and semi-private messaging spaces and how are these approached in different contexts?

Boundaries: Where smartphones are ‘our homes’, how do researchers protect participants’ and their wellbeing, sustain notions of privacy and draw boundaries around the field. How do geopolitical or transnational events effect research in messaging spaces?

Collaborations: How do informal and formal partnerships enable, compromise and shape the research process, and what role does digital messaging play?

Please get in touch with us and if:

  • You would like to propose a paper for the Special Section. Please send a 250-word abstract outlining the contents of your proposed paper and how it would speak to this    theme, by Wednesday 16th June 2021 
  •   You don’t want to propose a paper, but have an interest/expertise in this area and would like to stay in touch as the collaboration develops

We look forward to hearing from you,

Philippa, Carwyn and Lipika


*Including but not limited to:

IMS such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Signal, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, QQ, Line, Viber, Discord, QQ, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat;

Closed messaging spaces of sharing apps such as Uber, AirBnb, Deliveroo, MyFanSpace ;

Work messaging spaces such as MS Teams, Slack, TaskRabbit;

Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Grindr, Blued;

And many, many more…