My proverbial fingers

Last February, I attended a careers event on campus that my colleague Jana put together for our doctoral researchers. The event was opened by Professor Lo in Chinese literature, who provided an overview of what an ‘academic career’ is understood to be. His talk was so down-to-earth and witty that the audience, including myself, burst into laughter every five seconds or so. My favourite part was when he wrapped up his talk by saying: “I know you all are expecting a Chinese saying, so I am going to give you one.” I always feel that the media’s treatment of Chinese sayings, reducing them to after-meal fortune cookies, is such a disservice. I am a firm believer that proverbs are a true source for researchers’ conceptual frameworks.

Not quite in the context of research, but I have been thinking a lot about one particular Korean proverb lately. About a month ago, after a year of back and forth of peer review, an article of mine was finally accepted to be published in New Media & Society. Titled ‘The fragile beauty of peer-to-peer activism: The public campaign for the rights of media consumers in South Korea‘, the article is a digital ethnography of a media consumer activist network, called Eonsoju, in Korea. It was born out of a small curious observation on my part (blogged about here), but developed into years of my following the group around like a hound while presenting interim findings at a couple of international conferences in Cambridge (2010) and Singapore (2011). And now it has culminated in a journal publication. The whole journey typically exemplifies today’s ‘From Tweet to Blog Post to Peer-Reviewed Article‘ cycle of scholarly communication.

In Korea, we have a saying that all your ten fingers hurt the same when bitten [regardless their different lengths and shapes]. This saying is almost exclusively used to persuade someone that parents might appear to favour one child over another, but in effect all children are equally dear to their parents – regardless their achievements in school, for example. Perhaps this is true in the parental context, but I must admit I do feel emotionally partial to this Eonsoju article over my other articles. A little more proud than usual, so to say. I initially thought it had perhaps something to do with the journal’s reputed position in the field, but it seems there is more to it.

I have a huge admiration for ethnographic studies and particularly ones conducted by researchers who were trained in traditional anthropology first and have moved onto the digital context such as Gabriella Coleman, Annette MarkhamDaniel Miller, and John Postill. Although ethnographic research is the kind I want to do, I have always had a lingering self-doubt about whether I am qualified to call my work ethnography. I have even been a little apologetic for my lack of training in the discipline of anthropology. So, I guess I am proud of how I persevered(!) through this long journey that started in 2008. I can’t wait to see what readers will make of it, but as far as I am concerned, I feel as if I have grown up a little more as an ethnographer and feel a little more confident to embark on another ethnographic enquiry.

By the way, I am aware that chances are miniscule that the reviewers will come here and see this post. Nevertheless, whoever you are, thank you very much. I wish I could thank you in person. The quality of the feedback you offered was something that I promised to myself that I would ‘pay forward’ when I wear the reviewer hat.

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