Wanted to post some progress..

So I am progressing, slowly but surely. Thesis writing is hard. Haha. Excuse the blank headings in the middle, this is probably the roughest draft that I have ever posted. I just can’t wait to look back on this once I am finished my thesis to see how far I have come. Enjoy 😛



Chapter Four: Methodology

This chapter outlines the methodology undertaken in this study in order to test the research question established after the review of literature. Content analysis and netnographic methodology will be discussed as well as the ethical implications of these methods when conducting research via social media channels. 

Unlike offline support groups, OSGs transcend geographic boundaries (Chung, 2013). Online support groups based on social media platforms have a great potential for a much larger and diverse group composition (Lowe et. al.,2009), which in turn allows members to potentially access a wider variety of information, advice and support (Coulson & Knibb, 2007). Social media is altering the traditional communication paradigm. Establishments that were once bound to specific places; support groups once needed to take place in a church or hospital, but as a consequence of media intervention, individuals can contribute and participate in many different social institutions regardless of the physical geographic location (Hjarvard, 2013).

Ever since the Nineteenth Century, media have dis-embedded (Giddens, 1984) social interaction from the local level and embedded it in a national – and later global – context (Hjarvard, 2008). The human experience is no longer destined to a local or national context, but also takes place on a globalised context; media making it possible to connect with others across political and cultural boundaries (Hjarvard, 2013). This development leads to greater cultural reflexivity and as media communications cross more frontiers, virtually no culture will be able to develop in isolation from others (Urban, 2001). 

Support groups are an important formation within society and can come in many differentiated forms. They can be a helpful tool to allow members to share analogous experiences and similar challenges they may be facing, which can lead to the exchange of social support (Gottlieb, Maitland et al., 2013) and provide the opportunity for social comparison with peers (Campbell, Phaneuf, & Deane, 2004). The small support group movement emerged to combat the forces of fragmentation and anonymity within society, to enhance the engagement and practice of human community (Wuthnow, 1994; Kurtz, 1997).  As more and more people use the Internet as a part of their every day lives, an increasing number of them are utilizing it as a highly sophisticated communication device that enables and empowers the formation of online communities (Bowler, 2010).


Netnography bridges the gap between passive data collection and the investigator-initiated, more traditional way of collecting data from participants. Online communication media possesses a certain ontological status for their participants, acting as a media of cultural transaction; not only the exchange of information, but also systems of meaning (Kozinets, pg. 12, 2010). The hypothesis that guides ethnographic enquiry is that “any group of people interacting together for a period of time will evolve a culture” (Patton, 2002, 81). Cultures have previously been understood as geographically bound groups, but as stated by boyd (2009), geography can no longer be the defining framework for culture as groups and communities are constructed online using computer mediated communication (CMC) technologies.

The term ‘netnography’ is a hybrid of the words internet and ethnography and is considered to be a relatively new method for the analysis of online communities (Belz & Baumbach, 2010). Netnography is an approach to studying online communities and cultures to arrive at an ethnographic understanding that focuses on studying a culture-sharing group in order to discover shared patterns of beliefs, values, and behaviours among its members (Creswell 2007).

All ethnographies of online cultures and communities extend the traditional notions of field and ethnographic study, as well as ethnographic cultural analysis and representation. The observation of co-located, face-to-face interactions to technologically mediated interactions in online networks and communities, and the culture (or cyberculture) shared between and among them (Kozinets, 2010) all extend the traditional practices of studying ethnographies.

Kozinets (2010) suggests guidelines for netnographic fieldwork. He signifies that you should look for online communities that are: (a) relevant, they relate to your research focus and question(s), (b) active, they have recent and regular communications, (c) interactive, they have a flow of communications between participants, (d) substantial, they have a critical mass of communicators and an energetic feel, (e) heterogeneous, they have a number of different participants, and (f) data-rich, offering more detailed or descriptive rich data (Kozinetz, 2010, p. 89).

Netnographic Methodology
Being in contact with an online community is becoming an increasingly part of regular life for many people. With many people using and engaging with these online communities, the internet has become an important site for research. As more and more people use and become connected with the internet, they use is as a highly sophisticated communication device that enables and empowers the formation of communities. The differentiating factor of netnography from other research methods is the participative culture of studying these online groups. The following three stages have been proposed by Kozinets (2010) for researchers to use when in the methodological process of their study – entrée, data collection and analysis and interpretation.


Netnography and Facebook

Data collection

Research Subjects

Netnographic Data

Archival Data

Analysis and Interpretation


Content analysis

Content analysis can provide useful and important information about conversations held without the researcher being present (Bjornsdottir, 1999; Neuendorf, 2002). It explores the systematic, objective and quantitative analysis of message characteristics. The most distinctive characteristic of content analysis that differentiates it from other more qualitative methods is its attempt to meet the standards of the scientific method (Neuendorf, 2002, pg. 10); entailing a systematic reading of a body of texts, images and symbolic matter, not necessarily from an author or user’s perspective. Content analysis can be described as focusing on the “characteristics of language as communication with attention to the content or contextual meaning” (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005, pg. 1278). The goal of content analysis is to create systematic and objective criteria for transforming written text into highly reliable data that can be analysed for the symbolic content of communication (Singleton & Straits, 2005)

Rather than having a single method of content analysis, contemporary applications outline three distinctive approaches: conventional, directed, or summative (Krippendorff, 2013). Conventional content analysis is often used when there is restricted literature obtainable within a subject area. Summative content analysis involves counting and contrasts of text, usually of keywords or content, followed by the elucidation of the underlying context. Directed content analysis denotes a researcher referring to and expanding upon current theory, which can help to lead the research in a certain direction, as opposed to the tractability of the conventional content analysis method. This study applies conventional content analysis as there is little published on the topic of virtual communities and virtual social support available for people living with Chronic Pain.

Contemporary content analysis also encompasses three idiosyncratic characteristics: it is an empirically grounded process that is explanatory and predictive; it transcends traditional actions of symbols, intents and comments and enables researchers to execute and produce results (Krippendorff, 2013).

The qualitative approaches that have been employed in this study are discourse analysis and netnographic content analysis. Discourse analysis looks at the representation of a distinct occurrence, in this case, the occurrence of virtual communities of Chronic Pain sufferers sharing their experiences and support via Facebook communicative mechanisms. Netnographic content analysis encourages the creation of context which emerges from texts and takes into account the setting, images and styles of participants that are involved in the study (Krippendorff, 2013).

Data triangulation is the process undertaken by researchers when collecting and analysing data in order to validate their results. The primary purpose of triangulation is to eliminate or reduce biases and increase the reliability and validity of the study (Jonsen & Jehn, 2009). The type of triangulation that was utilised for this research was observer triangulation (Wilson, 2006). This method of triangulation offers selected observers the opportunity to test the coding framework for the study and determine whether the data collection methods are reliable or unreliable. Three senior academics were chosen to triangulate a sample of posts and code them accordingly. This was done to ensure comprehensive results were achieved where content analysis was validated.

An inductive method of content analysis was used to categorise the coded section research.



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