Twitter and the internal conversation

My notes on Rainford, J. (2016). Becoming a doctoral researcher in a digital world: Reflections on the role of Twitter for reflexivity and the internal conversation. E-Learning and Digital Media, 13(1-2), 99-105

In this paper Jon Rainford brings together two of my favourite things, the internal conversation and Twitter. He uses the framework of the former to analyse how the latter is used by doctoral students. He frames Twitter as a potential solution to the problem of loneliness which is an inevitable challenge for the increasing numbers who are not full time PhD students. From pg 100:

Study for a doctorate can be thought of not just as completing a qualification but of ‘becoming’ (Barnacle, 2005; Barnacle and Mewburn, 2010). For full-time students, this becoming is often negotiated in shared physical spaces, however, for many students, this full-time mode of study is not possible. This has led to more diverse modes of study: part-time study for a traditional PhD, one of the more employment focused professional doctorates, or combinations of full-time and part-time study. With full-time work and part-time study, it can be easy to feel on the outside of the academy looking in. However, regardless of the mode of study, isolation is seen as one of the biggest challenges to doctoral students (Ali and Kohun, 2000)

He talks about this as a ‘virtual common room’ which is available to those who do not have access to the face to face encounters that full time study affords with those with similar experiences. The virtual common room is more diverse for not being confined to a particular institution and for the quantity of responses which a single query can solicit. These exchanges can perform the same function as face to face conversations, helping clarify a matter for the person initiating them. But Rainford stresses the significance of their enduringly public character, as it means that “the digital footprint of them remains long after the conversation is over“ (102). This can leave doctoral researchers exposed, as he writes on 102:

In terms of a democratization of knowledge this may be a benefit, but it also means that for new scholars, their emergent thoughts are etched into permanence if these communicative dialogues take place on Twitter. It is also important to note that in the context of some professions such as health care, discussing certain issues may be inappropriate and break rules of professionalism (Chester at al., 2013). In the early stages of doctoral becoming individuals often need to seek answers to questions that expose their naivety. This can create real anxiety when the networks that doctoral researchers draw upon may be those who offer future employment

I found his focus on the conversational dimension of twitter very thought provoking, even if it obscures the role of content on Twitter a little bit. It made me wonder if the extent to which twitter is dominated by self conscious ‘content’ is a variable which tracks what the platform have come to describe as ‘conversational health’. On 103:

Framing the role of Twitter in internal conversations through a communicative mode of reflexivity means that at least one other person is needed to enter into dialogue with. For this reason, Twitter excels over other SNS for reflexive deliberations as it is predicated on shared conversations, not just shared content as on services such as Tumblr or Pinterest. That being said, its ability to support these conversations is reliant on developing a suitable network of possible interlocutors

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