Researching Affinity Spaces

Scholarly Critique #6

With a significant focus in Cycle 6 being the completion of the affinity space presentation and much reflection coming in the wake of that assignment, continued pursuits in the realm of affinity spaces seemed prudent and timely.  Jayne Lammers, Jen Curtwood and Alecia Magnifico authored an article titled, “Toward and Affinity Space Methodology: Considerations for literacy research”.  The article builds off Gee and Hayes’ depiction of what an affinity space entails and approaches the topic with an ethnographer’s viewpoint.  With many researchers tackling the challenge of studying affinity spaces and the effects they have on learners, Lammers and associates undertook outlining a series of elements that must be considered when conducting research.  These elements contained items of note that include, the motivation of participants, multimodal approaches to topics, group leaders, constant evolution of the space and socialization within the group.  Fueling the article was the groups belief that affinity spaces “support young adult’s motivation and creative production” (Magnifico, 2010).

As mentioned in Gee and Hayes, affinity spaces are social settings.  This article identifies the unpredictability of participation within these sites.  No longer is participation limited to a single discussion board on a webpage.  Rather affinity spaces have become launch pads for communication in a variety of arenas.  Sites now provide venues to post links to other blogs, videos, podcasts, etc. thus creating a multimodal based social setting.  As evaluated in the article, these various sites allow an increase in creativity and inclusion of different media.  The constant evolution of these sites and peripheral spaces creates a significant challenge for researchers/ethnographers.

The authors of this piece relied upon members of three different affinity spaces to provide information regarding functionality.  Although the writers claimed to be ethnographers themselves, to fully obtain that title will require them participating in the culture being studied and coming to their own firsthand conclusions.  As the interviewed members were unabashedly biased towards their affinity space, using them as informants provides a narrow and influenced view.  To appropriately conduct research into an affinity space, the researcher must become a participant and shed their reporter mentality.

After reading ‘Toward and Affinity Space Methodology” and completing my affinity space presentation, I would be very curious what research has been done on the topic of “characteristics of successful affinity spaces”.  A myriad of sites have failed, while others continue to grow and have hundreds of thousands of members.  What is the difference between a failed space and a successful one?


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