Information experience in a diaspora small world
Introduction. Leisure is considered important in the settlement and acculturation experiences of refugee and immigrant communities. Perceiving a gap in the literature which has taken a diaspora perspective, this on-going study looks at an online community converging around a leisure activity from a gender and diaspora standpoint, while looking to understand what would be experienced as information in that context.
Method. Employing a qualitative research approach, data was obtained through semi-structured interviews with fourteen participants and also through the collecting of comments posted on fan fiction blogs.
Analysis. Qualitative thematic analysis is being carried out using Nvivo software.
Results. Early observations by way of themes lend credence to the importance of social context and point towards the role of meaning making in the information and document experience of the participants.
Conclusions. Going beyond information seeking and problematic situations, adopting an experience approach can contribute towards conceptual and theoretical development in the field. The study also hopes to contribute towards literature that has looked at diaspora communities from a gender and leisure perspective.
Generally understood as free time, leisure is something we indulge in when we are not working, and includes hobbies. According to Hartel (2005), leisure has been viewed as nebulous, insignificant and without structure, even if it is ‘personally cherished and socially important’ (p. 313). Information behaviour studies have mostly focused on information seeking in formal, professional and work related contexts, but there has been an increase in studies which have looked at information seeking in everyday contexts, including leisure. Information studies that have looked at immigrants and refugees have been place based and focused on their settlement and acculturation experiences with an emphasis on information seeking activities in that context. The role played by media in the acculturation of immigrants have been noted by migration studies, as well as the consumption of ethnic media in helping immigrants maintain their cultural identity and ties with their home country. Quirke (2015) notes the importance of leisure activities in the settlement experience of newcomers into Canada. Quirke and Howarth (2018) found that sharing of information in leisure setting, through traditional storytelling in newcomer communities provided opportunities for the creation of social and bridging capital. Srinivasan and Pyati (2007) called for situating information behaviour studies of immigrants ‘within the dynamic contexts of globalization and diaspora’ (p. 1734), but there is a lack of information studies that have taken a diaspora perspective. Taking a gender, diaspora and leisure perspective, this research study looks at women belonging to the Indian diaspora who are part of an online community converging around a shared interest in reading and writing fan fiction.
Red thread of information
A purpose of this study is to understand how the gendered diasporic environments which are ‘privately public and publicly private’ (Papacharissi, 2010, p. 142), and have been named virtual zenanas for this study, are experienced in the everyday life of women belonging to the Indian diaspora. These online spaces can also be looked upon as small worlds and are occupied by the fans of an Indian television show, converging around the shared interest in reading and writing fan fiction, which are hosted on blogs. Even though women have been a part of migratory flows, their experiences and perspectives remain underexplored. Kim (2016) notes that in information studies there has been a lack of interest in the personal lives of women. Pollak (2015) on the other hand notes that very little is known about experience based and non-documentary information found in informal contexts. Experiences of the everyday has been neglected due to it being perceived as familiar, unremarkable and common. Heeding Kari and Hartel’s (2007) call to look at that which is pleasurable and profound, the everyday (Ocepek, 2018), the informal, as well as leisure contexts (Pollak, 2015), this study aims at understanding what Marcia Bates (1999) termed ‘the red thread of information in the social texture of people’s lives’ (p. 1048) and placing it in the overall context of leisure and migration.
Leisure as experience
Hartel (2005) introduced to information behaviour studies, serious leisure coined by Robert Stebbins. This could be seen as a framework to study those activities which are non-work, voluntary, and pleasurable and has been used to study activities as diverse as sport, hobbies, tourism and volunteering, among others. The need for skill and knowledge acquisition has been held as a reason for the usefulness of serious leisure as a concept in information behaviour studies. Noting the durability of the serious leisure concept, Gallant, et al. (2013) points out three aspects of the concept which imposes certain limitations. Firstly, the assumption is made that if one is participating in a certain activity, it is presumed to be a participation in serious leisure and one reaps the benefits of the same. Secondly the psychological aspects of individual leisure has not been fully grasped. Pollak (2014) notes that socially constructed and unacknowledged dichotomies limit the study and interpretation of serious leisure, like situating work and leisure in a positive/negative dichotomy. Thirdly the social context in which leisure activities occur has been neglected and the potential such activities can have in fostering social ties and identity building. With these limitations in mind, Gallant et al. (2013) argue for an ‘expanded view of experiences of leisure in general, and serious leisure more specifically, particularly the gendered and commodified nature of these experiences, as well as the potential for diversity and innovation’ (p. 94). Pollak (2015) adopted this view and looked at experience in general in a small rural context across the life, work, and leisure spectrum to come to an understanding of experiential information.
Research design and method
Following an approach adopted by Ocepek (2016), a qualitative research method inspired by institutional ethnography, which is ‘designed to explore the social relationships that construct the context around a given phenomenon through the descriptive analysis of the localized lived experience of research participants’ (p. 15) is adopted for this study. Viewing leisure as an experience, a preliminary model of a reconceptualised small world based on a literature review will be used along with a combination of information experience as a concept, Latham’s (2014) model of document experience (from a user/reader perspective), Gorichanaz and Latham’s (2016) document phenomenology, and Gorichanaz’s (2018) first person model of documentation (creator/writer perspective) as a theoretical framework is employed. Sköld (2013) using a document and documentation approach in studying virtual gaming communities, argued for putting the analytical focus on documents rather than on their latent information. This would help bring to light the important role played by these documents, in the socio-cultural life of these virtual communities. A characteristic of these virtual spaces is the pervasiveness of mediated practices through the use of new media technologies, and this requires viewing both the virtual spaces and the mediated practices as documents. The new media ecology enables documentary practices like blog posts, comments etc., and hence viewing them as documents ‘accentuates new media as infrastructures that do not solely carry informative traces of the activities of virtual communities, but in effect are an active and formative part of them’ (p. 11). Adopting a similar approach, for the purpose of this study, the blogs on which fan fiction is hosted and the mediated practices supported by these virtual spaces like posting comments, replying to comments, posting various media etc., has been viewed as documents.
Bruce, et al. (2014) holds that information experience can be understood as a ‘complex, multi-dimensional engagement with information’ (p. 4) in real world contexts, and ‘integrates all information related-actions, thoughts, feelings and has social and cultural dimensions’ (p. 34). According to Davis (2015), information experience has three dimensions comprising of people with their world views, backgrounds, emotions, feelings and thoughts; information in its innumerable forms; and the context in which the experience occurs, whether physical or virtual. Information experience from a document perspective has been termed as document experience. The broad research question is: What does experiential information look like in the diaspora small world? The data was collected through semi-structured interviews with fourteen (14) participants (fifteen (15) were recruited but one dropped out) along with a purposive sampling of comments posted on five (5) blogs. The study is currently in the data analysis stage.
Early observations and discussion
Small world for the purpose of the study has been defined as having sites where a primary activity takes place, supported by mediated practices and is characterised by social ties, a sense of community and world view (Kizhakkethil, 2020; Kizhakkethil and Burnett, 2019). One of the themes that has come up in the data analysis is comfort/being comfortable pointing to the importance of social ties and a sense of community. In the interviews, when asked about what they have gained from their experience of this small world, participants were frequently seen to use the term learn, pointing not just to information sharing but to meaning making as part of their information and document experience. The theme of comfort/being comfortable also highlights the role and importance of social context in the same, through the presence of social ties and a sense of community that emanates from it. Participant 1 described her experience thus; ‘More than the story and characters I’m enjoying the rapport shared between readers and writers. I’m learning from them how to be more positive towards life and people’. She went on to give examples of what she considered positive behaviour, and had this to say; ‘I don’t read fiction because I want to learn, but, I can learn while reading’. Participant 3 talking about interacting with others had this to say; ‘it feels nice to talk about general stuff or even learn more about different cultures, in some cases’. When asked to elaborate she went on to give an example using her experience surrounding a story titled ‘sea mist’; ‘we spoke about festivals, various places, or discussed about sarees’. Due to the heterogeneous nature of Indian culture, many felt they were learning about various aspects of it, in interacting with others belonging to states different from their own.
Participant 15 when asked about her experience of interacting with others on blogs, especially those in the diaspora like her, had this to say; ‘Learning is the key. The interactions help to learn more about the culture and the background related to it’. Participant 4, a writer, said this about her experience of being a part of this small world;
‘my biggest takeaway is just the fact that I do have the ability to put something, build something, nurture something for so long and actually finish it, you know to see it developed. So it’s something that I’ve learned about myself’.
Participant 2, another writer used these words to describe her experience; ‘it has helped me realize a possibility and a talent that is worth my time and attention. It has helped certainly in introspection, and self-improvement’. Participant 15 further went on to describe her experience this way; ‘brains have started working again. Jokes apart, it’s a deep delve into why I read; what I read and how it is transforming me as a person’. Echoing similar sentiments, Participant 10 said, ‘my skills to read and interpret have actually sharpened. I have learnt that situations in life (just like sections of a story) can be interpreted in many different ways. A simple fact, but sometimes we do oversee it’.
Silverman (1995) drawing on Dervin (1981), posits that information as well as meaning can be referred to as a process of negotiation between two parties wherein meaning and information are not transmitted but rather created. Meaning can be said to be ‘in the eyes, head and heart of the particular beholder’ (p. 161). In relating this to visitor meaning-making in museums, Silverman (1995) highlighted the active role of a visitor in creating meaning out of her museum experience through the context that she brings along, and is also influenced by the presence of companions, leisure motivations and self-identity. These ideas have informed the document experience work put forward by Latham (2014) and the usefulness and confirmation of the same can be perceived in the early observations above. Information itself could be seen as a meaningful experience in which one can discern aspects of Buckland’s (1991) typology of information; as a thing (the document itself) as a process (meaning-making viewed as a process) and as knowledge (perceived changes to oneself). The early observations also lend credence to viewing fiction as informative as argued by Ross (1999) and Broussard and Doty (2016) among others, as well the usefulness in adopting an experience approach, to understand meaning-making in all aspects of human life.
This study will address a gap in the literature which has considered the transnational nature of diaspora populations. Understanding the information experiences of diaspora populations could help to better design services offered by public libraries for example, to immigrant and refugee communities. Viewing leisure as an experience, could also provide a fresh perspective in how informal, everyday contexts can be studied. It is also hoped that this study can contribute towards further conceptual and theoretical work in the information and document experience arena.
About the author
Priya Kizhakkethil is a doctoral candidate with the Department of Information Science, College of Information, University of North Texas, 3940, N. Elm St., Denton, Texas 76207, United States. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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