PhD Abstract: Twitter chat events & the making of a professional domain
Here is the latest draft of a one page abstract of my PhD:
Distributed online discussion events in social media are increasingly used as sites for open, informal professional development, knowledge sharing and community formation. Synchronous chat events hosted on Twitter have become particularly prominent in a number of professional domains. Yet theoretical and critical analysis of these Twitter chat events has, to date, been limited: this thesis contributes to the development of such analysis through a socio-material, network assemblage lens employing trans-disciplinary and multi-method research approaches. This research positions the Twitter chat events as the relational effects of network-assemblages of human and non-human actants.
This thesis explores Twitter chat events with a particular focus on human resource development (HRD) as a professional domain that is widely seen as inherently changeable, fluid, contested and continually emergent. This study examines how practitioner-generated reportage of professional practice and the specific functions of Twitter intra-act to generate a particular definition of HRD as a professional field of practice.
A combination of descriptive statistics, Social Network Analysis and analysis of the content and structure of the Chat events has been employed in researching 32 separate chat events with 12,061 tweets. The research methods generated multiple readings of the research data and surfaced different and fluid potential lines of enquiry in to the Twitter chat events. A number of these potential lines of enquiry were then selected as points of entry to ‘zoom in’ to the data using a critical discourse analysis for a smaller sample of the Chat events.
A key finding of the research is that the Twitter chat events seek to generate an idealised archetype of HRD bounded by a stable set of dominant practices. This idealised archetype is positioned in contrast to a repertoire of common HRD practices presented as illegitimate in this professional grouping. A second key finding relates to the chat event assemblages as collective achievements involving human and non-human actants. The collective effects surfaced in the research problematise (a) the notion of online communities as the product of network ties and (b) the individualist orientations of much of the literature on professional learning.
It is further argued here that the entanglement of the particular technologies and functions of Twitter and the discursive structures and strategies mobilised in the Chat events creates tensions between discursive territorialisation and stabilisation of particular discourses of professional identity and meaning-making and the deterritorialisation, fragmentation and fluidity unscripted in to Twitter itself.