Social media connections – can you help me with my research?

Whilst wading my way through my literature review, I’m also starting to think about the research I will be undertaking next year, and am keen to find a social media site to focus on for my study.

I am interested in if/how social media affords the opportunity to shape, influence, deconstruct and do all sorts of interesting and disruptive things which challenge the received comfy and paternalistic order of things, that was once (and still largely is) perpetuated by large institutions such as the NHS. The new NHS Confederation briefing alive and clicking gives a glimpse into the potential (and threat in the eyes of some) of social media to niggle away at this relatively snug world. In my discussions, opinions vary from dismissal through to downright horror, with the odd bit of curiosity and occasional enthusiasm in the middle. I think it still holds ‘hobby’ status for most people i.e. not to be taken that seriously… but that is beginning to change.

In my research I really want to get to the heart of what is happening in terms of relationships and connections (or not) between people experiencing mental health difficulties, mental health providers and mental health professionals online. I’m interested in themes of power, Iabelling, stigma and identity. The sorts of questions I’m interested in are:

  • If/how are social media influencing and shaping relationships?
  • What does it mean for those involved?
  • To what extent do social media enable people to throw things out of kilter and re-order the shape of things?
  • What disruptive forces are at work (for example, humour)?
  • Is it just more of the same in a different context or something fundamentally different?

I hope to undertake a ‘virtual ethnography’ to explore these questions in depth. This is just a fancy way of describing a researcher spending a period of time immersed in a particular setting, trying to understand relationships and meanings for the people who are participating in it*. Rather than being aloof, the researcher gets stuck in and participates themselves, reflecting on what it means to them as much as what it means for others. I hope to explore, understand and make explicit the ways in which people are making sense of shifting relationships in an online environment. 

So… I would love to hear from people using social media (for example, a blog) who might be interested in their site participating in my study: I am primarily interested in social media sites created by experts by experience rather than those created by institutions, and in sites where people using and providing mental health services connect together. If you run such a site, or can recommend one, please leave details in the comment box below or email me victora.betton@googlemail.com

*Hine, C. Virtual Ethnography (Sage Publications, 2000)

A big thank you to @salma_patel for having a read through this post and sharing wise words and useful comments 🙂

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