An ethnography of a networked community as emergent creativity
This paper presents the methodological toolkit that will be used at the ELMCIP project to investigate creativity as expressed and experienced by online creative communities. Whilst creativity is often perceived as the product of the individual artist, or creative ensemble, it can also be considered as an emergent phenomenon of communities driving change and facilitating individual or ensemble creativity. The ELMCIP project will gather valuable information on the interpretation and the performativity of ‘creativity’ by electronic literature practitioners – both professional and amateur – within a transnational and multicultural context. To acquire an understanding of how such a community interacts, communicates and exchanges knowledge, within a transnational context, the research will adopt online ethnographic methods, involving multiple sites of observation, which are intended to cut across the dichotomies of the ‘local’ and the ‘global’. By ethnography, we mean the “decoding operation” (Apgar 1983) where the researcher is required to learn the verbal and symbolic languages of the community under observation and to decipher the codes that underlie its existence, from an insider’s perspective. This involves immersion into the community and a methodological toolkit to facilitate decoding through (participant) observation and in-depth interviews with community members. In the course of the ELMCIP project we will undertake three case studies into amateur and professional practitioners of creative communities in Europe and overseas (i.e. Brazil, USA, Canada and Australasia). The study will initially look at Furtherfield (www.furtherfield.org), a network of creative practitioners, theorists, curators and activists with a strong presence within both the globalised environment of the internet and the local environment of London, to research the concept of ‘creativity’ in an online (virtual) environment. Aside from its online existence, Furtherfield also exists at a physical location, the HTTP gallery (House of Technologically Termed Praxis). The ethnographic study, thus, will consist of interviews – both on- and offline – with members of Furtherfield and (participant) observation in both virtual and real space. For further insight to the researched community, there will a shared weblog or wiki used by both participants and researchers to communicate ideas on ‘creativity’. This will become the primary resource and the location of the research interface, with the participant(s) having access to and a voice within the ethnographic project. That the participants are, in the case of Furtherfield, working as online creative practitioners, with writing central to that, offers a particularly evocative context for such work.
Apgar, M (1983) Ethnography and Cognition, in Contemporary Field Research: A Collection of Readings, ed. RM Emerson, Waveland