Graphic Scholarship Symposium

 

Graphic Scholarship Sympos

Excited to be presenting here later in the year.

https://britishcomicsscholars.wordpress.com

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/bccs-comics-scholarship-symposium-tickets-23847434318

‘This is not a door’: thoughts on directions in representation

Collecting a few quick thoughts, ideas and references, starting with a ‘sign’ above a ‘door’…

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During a Minecraft ‘virtual models’ discussion session, I noticed that a player had placed a sign above a door. It read ‘this is not a door‘. Asking why he had placed this particular sign here the player, <Castaway112>, simply insisted, ‘because it’s not a door’. Another player, <yoloface23jr>, repeated this assertion and, after my own comment that ‘so, everything is not always as it seems in Minecraft…’, we moved on elsewhere in the game and in our discussion. I wish I had pursued the issue further, but I didn’t.

Here, months later, returning to this screenshot of door (the ‘not-a-door’ door) provides me a ‘way in’ to thinking about representation. Recalling this sign now I am reminded of this image by Rene Magritte called ‘The Treachery of Images’.

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Of course (of course?) it’s not a pipe – it’s a picture of a pipe; a representation. Similarly, <Castaway112>’s door ‘n’est pas une porte‘; a number of other possible (imagined) responses could be…

“It’s not a door, it’s a picture of a door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a Minecraft door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s pixels on a screen.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a sign.”

“It’s not a door, it’s some writing about a ‘not-a-door.”

Each of these possible answers return to the idea of representation, albeit from different directions (I’m resisting saying ‘layers’ as layers don’t feel very rhizomic). Throughout this project I have considered issues of representation;  how I am representing the lived experience of others, how different  ways of collecting and representing data have implications and, specifically, how comic strip transcription can represent a scene differently to a textual transcript.

horse funeral comicDeleuze and Guattari’s (1980) rhizome as an ‘image of thought’ has underpinned my thinking, itself a representation of a way of thinking about stuff (and one which includes itself). This has led me to, increasingly, exploring and representing my own thinking visually. For instance, in the following panel from a longer comic strip I use text and images to explain the idea of approaching the club’s soundscape as a rhizome, as an alternative to pursuing a more linear, chronological reading (or ‘listening’). Nick Sousanis’ ‘Unflattening’ (2015), which challenges ‘the primacy of words over images’, helped me to consider using images to explore metaphors of thought.

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Also in relation to the the soundscape of the club and considering the challenges of representing (and, in particular, visualising) sound, I have producing a number of visual representations (or non-cartographic, composite maps) of the club’s sound, drawing on John Cage’s (1969) anthology of unconventional music manuscripts.

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Here I was also recently inspired by Jon Dean’s recent presentation which included his representation of a particular soundscape, performed simultaneously verbally and through composite sound. I must also credit Diane A Rodger’s recent talk on underground comic strips as part of #focussheffield – in particular her drawing of ‘Rivelin Valley’ in Sheffield helped me to consider how a drawn composite image of a place can effectively represent a location in a particular way.

So, what is this door that’s not a door? It’s likely that I will never fully know what it represented for the player. But for me? I suggested at the beginning of this post that it was a way in: an introduction. But equally it could provide a way out: a conclusion. Whatever it is, for me, at this point, it definitely represents the challenge of representation.

This is not a door

References:

Cage, J.  (1969) ‘Notations’ Something Else Press, New York.

Dean, J. (2015) “Submitting Love?” A Sensory Sociology of Southbourne. Qualitative Inquiry. 1-7.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia

Magritte, . R (1929) ‘The Treachery of Images’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Rogers, D. A,  Blog here: https://missytassles.wordpress.com/

Sousanis, N. (1995) ‘Unflattening’. Harvard University Press, London.

Comic Explorations: Comic strips in qualitative research

This short post was written for the blog for the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University, following my recent presentation there. 

During my recent LRDG talk I shared data from my ethnography of an after-school Minecraft Club in comic strip form. Here I will briefly elaborate on how comic strips came to form an integral part of this project. My adoption of the comic form was not a case of me bringing an existing skill to my project; rather it arose as a need that emerged from the project itself. I use comic strips in two main ways: as a form of transcription, and as a means of exploring theory.

Comic Strips as Transcription

My first use of comic strips followed the funeral of a virtual horse. During their Minecraft play, children role-played a funeral for a horse that had ‘drowned’. This was captured using video (in the room) and a screencast of my screen (in the game). When I attempted to produce a multimodal transcription of this episode, using text alone, I felt that my written output did not represent the nature of the events I had observed; it felt like a reduction of what I had seen. As I gradually added visuals to my written account I realised that I was creating a form of comic strip. Rethinking my approach to transcription led me to produce around 25 more such comic strips, based on episodes from the club, identified by me and the participants.

horse funeral comic

Comic strip transcripts have been used by others (Plowman and Stephen, 2008). My particular take on these combine visual data relating to the on- and off-screen action seen in the club, alongside the children’s speech and additional scene-setting comments. The ‘Horse Funeral’ comic uses mainly on-screen visuals, whereas some of the other comics draw more heavily on action in the room; an additional example of this technique can be found in Bailey (2015).

Comic Strips as Methodology

My use of comic strips spread beyond transcription to the development of my methodology. The pages below begin a longer exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) image of thought, ‘the rhizome’, using my own staged screenshots from the game itself. The rhizome was fundamental to my methodological approach, which I called ‘Rhizomic Ethnography’.

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Where Minecraft screenshots felt insufficient, I turned, nervously, to pen and paper. Drawing did not come naturally, however the process helped me both to exemplify and expand my thinking. This chimes with Sousanis’ (2015) assertion that such techniques can lead to an ‘unflattening’ of ideas. The act of drawing pushed me well beyond my own comfort zone, also giving me an unexpected emotional attachment to the ideas I was seeking to explore.

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References:

These comic strips were produced with the help of the application Comic Life: https://plasq.com/apps/comiclife/ios/

Bailey, C.(2015) ‘Free the Sheep’. Literacy, Early View[online]: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lit.12076/full

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.(1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Plowman, L. and Stephen, C.(2008) ‘The Big Picture? Video and the representation of interaction’. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4)541 – 565.

Sousanis, N.(2015) ‘Unflattening’. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.

 

Reflecting on the Power of MOOC

I was recently pleased to be invited to contribute to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called ‘Exploring Play’, created by Sheffield University and hosted by Futurelearn. What was initially proposed as a written contribution turned into a short video segment. Whilst initially (internally) reluctant about appearing on video, I figured that I needed to overcome this aversion – partly as I had actively relied on my participants allowing me to film them, and also as it provided an opportunity to showcase some of the visual data I have collected during my Minecraft research.

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I named my contribution ‘The diversity of social play in a Minecraft club’. This drew upon three examples of the children’s play (in fact, the same three examples present in a recent poster – below)  in order to act as an overview of the kinds of play the children engaged in during the year-long Minecraft club that I ran last year, as a means of exemplifying the kinds of activities that are possible in such contexts. My contribution formed part of week five’s focus on virtual world play and, aware of the negative press that is often generated around such pursuits, I suppose I also saw this as a good opportunity to dispel the myth that video game play is necessarily isolating or anti-social – not by arguing a point but simply by presenting examples of children’s creative play that arose in and around the game.

banterbury tales poster

The comments generated during the course this week have been brilliant, and these alone have convinced me of the value of MOOC participation, both as a contributor and a learner. There are currently more than 125 comments posted in the discussion thread related to my video, from a wide range of participants from different backgrounds (academic and non-academic), from across the globe. As a means of broadening engagement with my research, therefore, it has been excellent. The MOOC’s open nature, and its wide focus on play in general (rather than on virtual play specifically) means that the video has been seen by many people for whom videogame play was an unfamiliar or even negative concept, with a number of the comments reflecting that their own views had been challenged or changed by what they had seen. Some were even quite emotional about the content of parts of the video, and the (very) few voices dissent were considered, considerate and open to discussion (the polar opposite of the usual comments stream I have seen on many other online sites, in fact!).

You can view the course (and my small contribution in Week 5) by signing up (for free) here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/play/2/

The Banterbury Tales: Social Play in an After School Minecraft Club Poster

Here is my poster for the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences Research Showcase event, taking place on November 11th at the Winter Gardens in Sheffield.

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(And if you spot any typos please don’t tell me as it’s gone to the printers now!)

banterbury tales poster 

Banterbury is Over

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So, after 26 weeks (32.5 hours!) of researching Minecraft Club, last week was the final session. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I am pleased to have reached the landmark that is the end of my fieldwork, and a little relieved that I will finally end up generating data! I now have a 500gb external hard drive (and a backup, of course!) full of videos, screencasts, photos etc. However, I will definitely miss the weekly sessions with the children. I intend to carry on with the club in a slightly reduced form next year, but this particularly group of children will be at their next school by then. The final session of the club brought with it some of the emotions I used to feel at the end of a term as a teacher – particularly as I have known many of these children since they started the school seven years ago.

The session itself was slightly different to usual – I took the opportunity to show the children some of the video and comic strip data I had been working on (I was relived that this went down very well!). The children then used the electronic whiteboard to play me and each other some of their favourite Minecraft related videos from Youtube. Most of the children also played the game as usual, continuing their creations in the virtual world until the very last second.

As a ‘thank you’ for participating in the club I supplied cakes and typed a letter to the children and their parents.

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And although I suggested in the post title that Banterbury (their virtual world) is over, it may not be entirely. One of the children approached me the week before with a request for access to the Minecraft Map files in order to enable them to continue using them at home. I made these available to all of the children – although they will not be able to play together – either in a single location or on a server –  in the same way as they have during the club it’s interesting to speculate about the possibility of Banterbury’s continuing expansion, beyond my gaze.

But for me, certainly, Banterbury and this Minecraft Club are now places from the (recent) past, dependent on the particular set of people and circumstances that bought them into being. And as I dive headlong back into the data it brings with it memories of the brilliant group of children who made this project possible. Their reactions to the data I showed them during this session were positive and I’m confident that I will be able to represent their ‘lived experience’ in a way in which they would approve.