ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Narratives Mediated by Gadgets: Ethical and Methodological Implications

Kimberly Fisher

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 1 - Law Building, Room 024
Date: 2012-07-12 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-04-03


Time diaries collect rich detail of daily activities, and are widely acknowledged to gather more accurate accounts of behaviour than decontextualised estimations. In recent years, researchers have experimented with a range of gadgets (GPS trackers, accelerometers, and skin connectivity sensors as examples) that may improve the accuracy of diary accounts. These gadgets promise to open some of the black boxes of conventional diaries, revealing distance covered, energy expended, or biological markers of stress. Nonetheless, gadgets also change the context of narrative reporting, both by limiting the ability of participants to moderate some elements of their accounts, while also opening new possibilities for people to shape the details of their behaviours researchers record. New technology also introduces ethical risks which paper diaries do not present. This paper draws on focus group interviews with participants in a pilot survey comparing diaries collected through a conventional interview about the previous day with diary interviews complimented by GPS maps generated by a tracker which participants carried on the observation day. This paper explores the experience of participating in gadget assisted diary survey with the aim both of informing survey design and the interpretation of resulting narrative accounts.