26 April 2013

Possibly the Worst Sentence I've Ever Written.

I took some intense academic exams nearly two years ago. These were my "prelims" or preliminary examinations to mark the end of coursework and beginning of dissertation work. 

For eight hours a day, five days out of ten, I constructed responses to various questions set forth by my doctoral committee. I did not know the questions in advance but had a good idea of the content area. There was internet access. Google Scholar was a blessing. I prepared for several months, including one week in rural northwest Ontario, Canada, without electricity while my buddies caught their limit of walleye, bass, and northern pike. It was good time, eh!

I answered one "question" per day during the examination period. Each "question" included several questions or topics under a specific domain: knowledge and trust related to risk communication; social norms; social networks; trust and rigor in qualitative data analysis; and the role of place in environmental communications. I wrote thousands of words a day, extemporaneously, and turned in my responses at the end of each eight hours. It was a Friday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Monday. Or something like that. 

Not every sentence was a winner, to be sure. Upon re-reading, some don't even make sense. Perhaps the most heinous reads as such: 

Theoretical advances such as these are part of the push among social scientists and philosophers to move into broader notions of post-industrial risk societies where nonpoint-source pollution and faceless multinational corporations enjoy both the financial privileges of individuals in the political process and the diffusion of responsibility afforded by their complex multi-networked structures and non-expert individuals are seen as valuable contributors to the ongoing development and dialogue concerning the dynamic relationships of culturally sensitive understanding, knowledge generation, and the tenuous relationships of trust being carefully constructed through both honest debate and deliberation as well as pure propaganda. 

The point being: write for your audience but don't over-write. One of my ongoing academic goals is to let the tone of those prelim responses be the height of pretentious, academic writing. So far, so good. 

23 April 2013

Why Place Matters in Online Communication

A recent article in the journal Environmental Communication (Vol. 7, No. 1, p. 113-130) explores the role of place in online environmental messages. The authors, Paul C. Adams of the University of Texas and Astrid Gynnild of the University of Bergen (Norway) argue that place is "so central to being human" that trying to change environmental attitudes and behavior will rarely succeed unless the "power of place" is taken into account.

Adams and Gynnild are approaching place, in this paper, as a leverage point for online pro-environmental social marketing efforts. That is to say, communication efforts online that attempt to change attitudes and behaviors to be increasingly sustainable. This kind of post-consumerist work is becoming more common as people and groups all over the globe begin to realize that consumerism on such a massive scale is not only unsustainable, it is actively creating an environmental nightmare for future generations.

Place matters to online communication, suggest Adams and Gynnild (p. 116), for four general reasons:

P1) "Place is a dimension of the audience: media users vary from place to place in their level of familiarity with, and their responses to, environmental issues, to the geographical location of the audience is essential to understanding the process of interpretation."

P2) "Place is a dimension of the text: a video of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, a newspaper article describing lingering contamination at an industrial site, or a still photograph of a burning oil rig can all be considered place images in the media. Generic places (e.g., the developing world) or specific places (e.g., Madagascar) may serve as sites through which texts render environmental lessons more tangible and concrete."

P3) "Place is interactively drawn into communications: a computer user may choose his or her location on a map at the beginning of an interactive web application. Since such interactivity is highly variable and one's sense of place depends on many aspects of the technology and the user's relation to the technology, the place that emerges from communication interaction is a hybrid experience distinct from P1."

P4) "Place is a figurative dimension in social networks: a particular idea or message is felt to be "near," "close," or "right there" when it is on one's Facebook page, on a friend's Blog, or embedded as a link on a webpage one frequents. Chance of exposure in this case equates with proximity. (The figurative sense of place based on network adjacency is occasionally evoked as "virtual place" in the popular lexicon, but this term is complicated as it may also mean P2 or P3)."

As place is not just something "out there" but also a way of knowing, an epistemology. It is seen as both a process and a perspective, Adams and Gynnild point out.

As more and more of daily life is negotiated through technology's "cloud" the study of place as it relates to technology, modernity, and sustainability will become increasingly integral to understanding the ontologies (ways of being) and the epistemologies of modern people.

This link to the article leads to a paywalled page from the publisher, Taylor & Francis.

17 April 2013

2013 Journalism Pulitzer Prize Winners

The New York Times list of 2013 Journalism Pulitzer Prize winners demonstrates the inherent value of quality journalism. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists.

Journalism Pulitzer categories, as listed by the Times, include Investigative Reporting, Feature Writing, Breaking News Reporting, Explanatory Reporting, National Reporting, and International Reporting. Two other categories, Local Reporting and Public Service, were written up in the Times as such: 

Brad Schrade, Jeremy Olson and Glenn Howat, The Star Tribune, Minneapolis
The Star Tribune’s series “The Day-Care Threat” documented how the number of infant deaths at Minnesota child care facilities had risen sharply in the five previous years and identified several possible reasons. The reporters also looked at reforms that had happened elsewhere that might have helped in Minnesota.
The Pulitzer board noted that the series resulted in “legislative action to strengthen rules.”
Finalists: Ames Alexander and Karen Garloch of The Charlotte Observer and Joseph Neff and David Raynor of The News and Observer of Raleigh, both in North Carolina, for a joint project; David Breen, Stephen Hudak, Jeff Kunerth and Denise-Marie Ordway of The Orlando Sentinel.


THE SUN SENTINEL, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The Sun Sentinel won its first Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series by Sally Kestin, 48, an investigative reporter, and John Maines, 57, a database editor, that examined the driving speeds of off-duty police officers in South Florida. Using data from highway tolls and GPS technology, the reporters found 800 police officers from a dozen different agencies driving at average speeds of 90 to more than 120 miles per hour.

As a result of the series, there was an 84 percent drop in the number of officers driving more than 90 miles per hour and many of the officers faced disciplinary action.

"I think we really ended up saving lives," Ms. Kestin said.

Finalists: California Watch and The Washington Post

13 April 2013

Place-Based Conservation: Social Science takes a View from Somewhere

Thankfulness for Google Alerts! Every day I get a new list of "sense of place" links from both Google and Google Scholar. Most of the time I don't have time to sift through them all but, recently, one book caught my eye and held my attention: Place-Based Conservation: Perspectives from the Social Sciences.

Of the many themes in this collection, more than one approaches the philosophical. An overarching theme in Daniel Williams' (an editor and author in this volume) and others' work is the notion that an Enlightenment approach to science - one of dispassionate observation and objectivity - is essentially impossible in the social sciences and creates quite a narrow view of the world. The so-called "view from nowhere" needs to be countered by an emplaced, embodied "view from somewhere."

As Williams et al. write in the introductory chapter (p. 11), "Entrikin (1991) suggested recognizing intermediary forms of knowledge between somewhere and nowhere...." This position is one that Entrikin described as "betweenness," one informed by "scientific discourse while also being historically and spatially specific."

The whole of this book focuses on the value of place-based conservation - a scientific approach to natural resources management taking into account local knowledge, emergent and multi-scaled goverance, the many dynamic levels of social-ecological interaction, and the growing importance of place-specific meanings.

Place-based conservation then "involves a fundamental repositioning between the scientific/technical view from nowhere and a more appreciated and enriched view from somewhere." Here, place is recognized as a fundamental organizing framework where knowledge is given context and nuance relative to the flows of a changing world and our evolving role within it.

# # # #

See also:

Entrikin, J.N. (1991). The betweenness of place: Towards a geography of modernity. Baltimore: The
 Johns Hopkins University Press.

Sack, R.D. (1992). Place, modernity, and the consumer's world: A relational framework for geographical analysis. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

09 April 2013

Five Fundamental Elements of Ethnography

Five fundamental elements of ethnography -

1. learning to introduce theoretical concepts gracefully and without jargon
2. evoking a sense of place
3. representing people as whole and embodied selves
4. rendering voices in the text with rich vividness
5. figuring out how best to bring the ethnographer into the telling of the ethnography

From Ruth Behar's review of Kirin Narayan's book Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Checkov (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Behar's review was published in the journal Cultural Anthropology (Vol. 54, Issue 2).