Sunday, December 29, 2013
The discourse of online reviews
Camilla Vasquez's book 'The Discourse of Online Consumer Reviews', due to be published by Bloomsbury later this year, explores the linguistic features of this new online genre. Using an eclectic range of approaches, the discourse of these (often humorous) reviews is given a detailed treatment. In a compelling exploration of stance-taking Vasquez shows how the quest for the perfect product inflects the comments of these self-appointed reviewers. As she observes in the conclusion to the second chapter 'on our quest to have a "mind-blowing" dining experience, or with our hopes of finding the "perfect" diaper bag - we will continue to consume.' We see how reviewers work hard to position themselves on the expertise continuum, often evoking professional knowledge or the views of others to bolster their credentials - and, of course, all this is indexed in their written comments. Advice, warning and product endorsement all feature here as review-writers gain reader involvement and encourage interaction. Vasquez majors on reviews of specific items such as multi speed blenders, diaper bags and yoga mats, throwing in more general ones such as hotel reviews from TripAdvisor, movie reviews from NetFlix, and recipes from Epicurious for good measure. A highlight, for me, was the mushroom tortellini debate on the recipe site - witty, yet spirited - and this is lovingly analysed for the play of voices in the extended online interaction! Through their evaluations and short narratives these reviewers create a shifting online community of consumer advice, and Vasquez shows how they deploy discursive resources to achieve this. All this makes goes to make this book an essential for anyone who is interested in online discourse.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Saturday, December 07, 2013
The text vanishes
LRA conference provided a rich fare. Some familiar things were being re-stated, some key work felt yet further developed and some radically new ideas seemed to be emerging. Cathy commented that the text itself received relatively little attention, and it does seem that with a growing interest in mobilties, and embodiment and affect, new constellations of sociotechnical and sociomaterial engagements are coming to the fore. Any signs of the text have now become ghostlike. Especially since now they have become open, provisional and often multi-authored, and in some senses ephemeral. Karen Wohlwend said something like 'I don't really like to talk about texts anymore, it seems that the kids are producing contexts.' I liked this, and although you could see in her work, and in that of many others, things that looked like texts - texts that formed and reformed - they were marginal things, like pencil shavings to the real sharpening of meaning that was occurring. The frozen fixed texts we used to pour over, the multimodal designs we read into them now seem to move backstage, as we watch gesture, movement and the claiming or enacting of meaning making spaces through mobility and countermobility. But what if the researcher's gaze is actually produced as much by data capture tools as it is by new representational practices and related theoretical advances? Does the availability of head-cams, spy-pens and flip cameras simply frame the segments of reality that we study in a different way? Perhaps though, we are learning more about the contexts that we always knew were there. Perhaps we have started to neglect text, or maybe it is slowly erasing itself as a fixed thing, a thing of privileged interest. When early emergent writing was a hot topic, we ran those paper-based artefacts under the photocopier and poured over the products while they were still warm. The contexts we tended to capture back then, if we had the time, the resource, and the inclination were more about talk, the stretches of verbal interaction that we caught on dictaphone tapes and then lovingly transcribed. As different then as new literacies might be, so are the possibilities for data collection. If we remain true to our reflexive project we are duty bound to think about what is newly acknowledged as well as what is omitted, erased or remains hidden, and how this influences the construction of knowledge. Did the play of power and the enactment of inequality, for example, just slip from our gaze or, if we are attentive, are those same forces simply seen in new ways and understood afresh?
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
here's my first post), but what surprises me when I look back is that even then I was preoccupied with trying to make sense of writing. A lot has happened in the intervening time, but that fascination certainly hasn't dimmed. Blogging for me now is about condensing my reflections into something that's about the size of an average paragraph and then finding a still or moving image that can sit alongside it. The post may be more or less complete in its own right, or it may simply be work in progress. But always it's what Rosenblatt describes as a transactional process: '....always an event in time, occurring at a particular moment in the writer's biography, in particular circumstances, and under particular external and internal pressures. In short, the writer is always transacting with a personal, social and cultural environment.' (1989:163). And in posting on the blog, at times it forms the basis of something I'll write more about, extend in some way, but more often than not it's just a sketch, complete in itself. The piece of writing that I started the first blog with actually turned into a book chapter entitled 'Barbie meets Bob the Builder at the Workstation', but many subsequent posts have been of the moment, a passing observation or a whimsical thought. Nevertheless they all form an important expression of writing as exploration, as a transactional process.
Monday, December 02, 2013
The grassy knoll
Bradley Garrett's excellent ethnography 'Explore Everything', that brought all this back to me. In a strange sort of way it offered me an intelligent rationale for something that had seemed like a half-forgotten, and somewhat quirky adolescent pursuit. At that time, I am sure that we didn't know quite what we were doing or why we were doing it, we certainly didn't discuss it, we just did it. It was fun. Yet we were 'reclaiming the city', blissfully unaware of Debord, or the situationists, or any guiding theory or politic, for that matter. If it was covered in the underground press of the time, I certainly missed it and so did my friend. And so all this makes me think how we may often do quite reasonable, intelligent things without exactly knowing why - at least at the time. Either that or we have an astonishing capacity to make sense out of the most random of things, thereby dignifying our seemingly unending acts of human foolishness. But once something like this is given a name, explored in a thoughtful way, it seems to articulate the motive - or at least part of the motive that propelled it in the first place. That journey of reading and recalling urban exploring reminded me of how my longstanding interest in visiting and sometimes photographing ignored, dilapidated and abandoned buildings took on new meaning when I read about the ideas of 'ruin porn' and bunkerology, how my regular and random zigzag walks around Sheffield looked and felt different when they were rethought as psychogeography. Now, or so it seems, I know why it interested me in the first place. Did a name, a theory, bestow new meaning upon it? Or was the meaning there, already awaiting its later discovery - in some way immanent? Did the incoherent blind interest simply gain respectability through a post-hoc rationalisation? Or more likely, or at least more attractively to me as an academic, did the act of reflection, in a dialogic relationship with others who have done and thought about similar things, help in bringing into being new experiences, and new perspectives on old experiences? A new way of looking. And does all this - this process of re-thinking, help us in imagining possible future actions, experiences, diversions or misdemeanours? I don't know, but either way one thing is certain, I will continue to explore, in my own way, buoyed up by what I have read, what I have talked about and what I have thought. Perhaps, just perhaps, that constitutes an invitation, too. After all, those old Victorian buildings are still there somewhere, as are both our current and our remembered experiences and actions!
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