adventures in social media engagement
The positionality of the researcher has long been of debate. Within ethnographic research into cultural practices, a world of nuance arises in the possible relationships of researcher and researched. We are engaged in complex processes of reconciliation between the under-represented communities whose stories we aim to tell (Shaw 1999: 108; Orsi 2013: 5), and the power an academic position confers to “define reality for others” (Hufford 1999: 298). The resulting implications for the researcher are further complicated and enriched when public interest in our work is mediated in online environments. As scholars we are often ill-equipped to ride fast-moving flows of misinformation and meme, rumour and trolling.
Towards the end of my doctoral research, an academic term from my thesis became caught up in the increasingly heated spaces of yoga-related social media. In this article, I step back from the situation to share a snapshot of what happens when academics go viral, and to deconstruct the little-understood processes of subcultural evolution at work. I ask: what can we learn from these encounters about the nature of boundaries between scholar and practitioner, researcher and researched, professional and personal? And how might academic discourse and engagement evolve to meet the challenges of an online economy of knowledge?