Research Update

Hello to all out there in cyberland!

Averie from the Boler Research Team here to post a little update on our progress.

We are headed into the last month of our year-long Graduate Research Assistantships working on Dr. Boler’s SSHRC-funded project about “Youth, Social media, and Social movements” — there are still so many things we would love to accomplish with this project!  Here’s an update on some of our exciting progress over the last months.

In our last research update, we were just entering the transcription phase of our project — we had 13 interviews with women (and a few men) who participated in the Occupy movement in California. We started by transcribing all 13 interviews (some with multiple participants) by hand, using some awesome free transcription software called f5.

Then came the coding! We engaged a “Grounded Theory” approach to coding, which we’ve been reading up on as a team. However, our process also bears some resemblance to a more general inductive approach, such as the one described by David R. Thomas in this article.

Grounded Theory

Protestor with a provocative sign at Occupy San Francisco
Protestor with a provocative sign at Occupy San Francisco

Coding in grounded theory requires researchers to constantly be “stepping back” from their data to ask important questions of it. These questions are usually emergent, arising from our readings of the data rather than from the application of some pre-existing theoretical framework to the data. (Charmaz, 2006) Coding in this way usually involves more than one “phase”. In the first phase (sometimes called “initial” phase or “open coding”) general categories and themes are drawn out of the text based on individual words, and phrases. Further steps in this process focus on discovering theoretical frameworks that apply to the larger categories and themes that have emerged in one’s data (also called “axial coding”) and then finding a narrative that combines your various categories and frameworks (also called “selective coding”) (see Cresswell, 2009).

What We’ve Done

So far, every interview has passed through an “initial coding” process by at least two Research Team members. Every member completed this step a little differently, but the general process was to read through the transcript at least once, making small notes and memos about things that emerged and “stood out” in the text, and then to go back through, taking note of three levels of codes: a) larger “themes” or codes, b) smaller (more specific) sub-codes, and c) in vivo codes — specific words within the transcript that were especially significant, specific pieces of terminology, etc. Usually, the team member would then read through the document a third time, to add to the codes they assigned, or re-group certain sub-codes.

After this initial process, the team members created a “summary” sheet for each transcript they coded that included emergent codes, important questions and memos, and significant quotes from the interview participants.

Where We’re At

Right now, we’re at the tail end of combining our data from the initial coding phase and creating a larger list or “codebook” to use in our further analysis of this qualitative data. We’ve been working with the super interesting mindmapping software MindNode as part of our effort to visualize the responses we received from interviewees. This is a time-consuming and mind-bending process at times, but through a lot of hard work and collaboration, we’ve come up with a mindmap that is really getting close to something we can translate into a streamlined list of codes to work from. These codes will be theoretically “bigger” (more abstract) than those that emerged from our close readings of the interview texts.

a snapshot of our mindnode
a snapshot of our mindnode

Where We Want To Go Next

Our final step is to start coding our data using qualitative data software Atlas.ti. With this software, we can link specific lines of text to larger theoretical codes and begin to draw connections between these various codes. Comparing different segments of data will help us commence our analysis. This happens through the iterative process of constantly going between the details in the interviews to larger concepts and themes and always back to details, spiralling carefully towards theoretical analysis of our research questions and themes!

Emergent Themes

Here are some sample emergent themes from our interviews that stand out thus far:

  • How the blurring of online/offline networks and communications produce new hybrid social movements
  • New visions and practices of participatory democracy
  • Visions of social change: reform vs. revolution
  • Definitions of the movement: as a brand, as a model for society, as a social movement, as a social outcry
  • Horizontalism as an ideology vs. horizontalism in practice: the promises and challenges of commitment to consensus and to a “leaderless movement”

Disseminating Findings

On April 12, Dr. Boler presented  some of our work as an invited panelist at the 4th Transmedia, Hollywood conference in Los Angeles. She  is also presenting our work as well at the American Educational Research Association in San Francisco on April 27.  Team members are applying to present our work at upcoming conferences such as Dalhousie’s Social Media and Society Conference and  Dr. Boler has been invited to give a keynote on our work at the  the fourth international Transforming Audiences Conference University of Westminster, London September 2-3, 2013.

Let us know what you think about our emerging themes by liking us on facebook (“SocialMediaMoves”) or by following us on Twitter @socmediamoves !!


Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: a practical guide through qualitative analysis (Chapter 3). London, Sage.

Creswell, J.W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (Chapter 9). london, Sage.

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