Post-holiday and back to the PhD

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Just back to work after a great holiday at home in Edinburgh. Managed to avoid Fringe stuff (apart from the crowds!), did some sketching around the city with my partner (who’s a criminology lecturer at Napier) and generally relaxed and caught up on sleep. I also managed to catch up on some reading – I’ve been reading Trouble on Triton by Samuel Delany and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, with Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack and Angela Davis’ Women, Race and Class as my current academic books I’m working through. By way of a “completely mindless escape from the PhD” outlet, I’ve also been playing some Elite Dangerous on the Xbox.

Now that the summer school teaching has finished for the year (which was great fun, apart from the marking), I’ve been mostly working on research assistant work and helping out with some work on the SCCJR website. I’m keeping my hand in with programming on the side by doing little projects, but it’s not enough to really feel satisfying. I do find it interesting going back to this sort of programming, which I did more of in my Chemistry undergrad – it’s very different to the statistical programming I’m more used to from my previous work as a statistician (which was mostly statistical/economic analysis and database stuff in SAS and R).

PhD work is going really well – after a minor drought, I’m managing to get more interviews again. I’m now up to 15, with two more pencilled in. This means I’m also faced with a pile of transcription work – while email interviews tend to be less in-depth and exploratory, they have the big advantage of transcribing themselves! As ever, though, people have been extremely generous with their time and I’ve been really enjoying the interviews. Some really interesting questions have been coming out – in particular around the idea of maintenance and expansion. As these technologies move away from proof-of-concept or tools for expert users and become large infrastructures on which people actually depend, the types and patterns of work, working practices, and the organisational structures and cultures involved change as well. It’s a shame that so little research within criminology (even of the critical variety) that tackles online spaces gives any thought to infrastructure, or to the processes by which these technologies are crafted and shaped – this is to my mind where a lot of the key questions are to be found.

I’m hoping to write up an actual summary of my findings so far soon (once I’ve got out from under the transcription mountain). The next steps for me fieldwork-wise are to continue making email approaches to people – I’m also hoping to attend CCC again in December, where I’ll hopefully have a chance to speak to more Tor people in person about my research. I’d quite like to carry out some observation on the Tor IRC channels, but I would like to get to know more people in the community and build up more trust first – I don’t want people to feel I’m acting disingenuously, or to disrupt what is one of the Tor Project’s main working/communication platforms. I’d also like to ask at some point about the possiblity of writing a bit in my research about the public mailing list discussions and the trac archives, though this could prove tricky in terms of consent and anonymity. It may well be the case that I’m not able to find a satisfactory solution for this, in which case I’ll just focus on the interviews and publicly available documents. If it were posssible to analyse and discuss these in an ethical way then I think this would add a lot to the research (my initial thoughts were to refer to discussions anonymously and use paraphrasing, and to seek direct permission from contributors where actual quotes were sought).

 

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