Category Archives: Research Journal

Updates on my research progress

Selfish Research

It is likely that feedback interviews have now been completed and there have been some really interesting observations about digital media, heritage, narrative – all sorts of things!

Yesterday’s interview brought up something which made me think about my approach. As with everybody else, I asked the participant if the Digital Towneley representation made them see the park differently at all. The answer was ‘no’, because they felt that they were so familiar with the park that they had already engaged with the themes that I seem to have identified in the stories and other data.

This might be a good sign because it may act as a validation in a way of the legitimacy of my interpretation. However, with further enquiry the participant revealed that they had themselves collected stories about the park; that they had been involved in a project for the park which aimed to capture something of its meanings.

I was suddenly struck with a sense of my own academic egotism.

Despite my aims through Grounded Theory and phenomenological archaeology, feminist and constructivist approaches (all part of an aegis which I hoped would ward off the dragon bias and of Authorized Heritage Discourse and traditionalism) somewhere and somehow implicit in my approach was the idea that I had the right tools for the job for the first time in the history of the world!

The selfishness of my position was thrown into relief. The aim of a PhD (or other research) to strive for unique contribution, and the desire of the researcher to be a trailblazer and unearth new knowledges, can blinker their viewpoint beyond the academy.

This participant with others had already been researching the park. Sure, they haven’t been investigating the effects of digital heritage, but I feel now like my approach to explore the park overlooked the idea that others may have already done this and done it well.

Now, how do I best learn from this experience?

Digital senses of space in the digital divide

I have been carrying out interviews to see what my research participants feel about the Digital Towneley website. These are just some thoughts about their feedback so far and some early analysis.

One participant who I have interviewed said that their experience of the site was just as a series of pictures of Towneley. They specifically responded to my question about sense of place and space to make clear that they did not experience any kind of “virtual experience”.

In contrast, others have so far indicated that a sense of geographical space is created for them in Digital Towneley, whether this is a ‘virtual space’ or at least an acceptable alternative for movement within the real-world park space. This has been mainly in relation to the map screen and this links for me to the way that de Certeau discusses viewing the city from above. The view is akin to a simulacrum, like Baudrillard’s ‘map’, because we do not understand a city by viewing it holistically but by experiencing it in person. Seeing the whole city from above is seeing a different object entirely. Kenderdine discusses the effects of the panorama and the georama in this sense and how it can allow viewers to feel as though they can “travel to distant lands, historic cities and imposing landscapes” (Kenderdine 2010, 308).  This is something which seems to be occurring (for some) with the map in Digital Towneley, since reactions and exclamations from the interviewed participants have implied senses of ‘travel’.

Map example from Digital Towneley with walking character in red.

Map example from Digital Towneley with walking character in red.

We might argue that these reactions are not exclusive to digital representations. After all, there is a tangible ‘real’ map in Towneley Hall foyer. This would also potentially have the effect of geographical omniscience or ‘travel’. However, the Digital Towneley map offers an interactivity (to an extent), represented both by the movement of the walking character and the hyperlink-like ability to see more about each location. This interactivity may offer a sense of embodiment felt by seeing the moving character walk across the map; the movement has been noted by several participants. It may also be that the ability to ‘move’ from the map to a specific location is a satisfying quality of the digital map – not only does it represent a place (like a sign on a conventional map) but it offers a ‘window’ through which to visit that place (which is admittedly another series of digital simulacra/signs).

But, as indicated above, for some the website just offered a series of images. There are different reactions to digital media. This has also been further highlighted so far by the reactions to the use of the website. The participants have varied in their levels of digital literacy and the physical contexts of the interviews have varied also. On top of this, the pretext for each interview has been very different. Some participants have looked through the website relatively thoroughly, while others have not even been able to access it. It is my aim through my choice and design of methodologies to address these contextual differences, but it seems clear to me at this stage that the evaluation of a digital phenomenon’s effect is as difficult as evaluating the effect of art or landscape. It is for this reason that largely commercial approaches to digital evaluation have (for me) fallen short of exploring the potential pitfalls and benefits of digital heritage development and impact.

It is no surprise that digital heritage will have varying effects on people owing to their various circumstances. One interesting thing so far (and of course my data is limited at this stage) is how digital literacy is not necessarily the main factor in terms of engagement with heritage memories or meanings using digital representations.


Kenderdine S. (2010) ‘Speaking in Rama: Panoramic Vision in Cultural Heritage Visualization’  in Cameron & Kenderdine (eds)  Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse

Does digital heritage curtail the multimodal ensemble?

Today I have been reading Jewitt (2013) and so learning about multimodality. Multimodal approaches are very relevant to my project because of the variety of ways in which we create meaning about heritage spaces. Multimodality refers to the many different modes we employ in the creation of meanings; e.g. spoken language, written text, image, gesture. Jewitt describes ‘multimodal ensembles’ which are the range of modes that an individual or group has access to. This is affected by their social context because this determines what modes are available or accessible.

The aim of my research project was to provide an environment in which the participants would feel comfortable using any mode they felt appropriate to express their understanding of the park. It is difficult to know if this was successful – perhaps something I can include as part of the next feedback sessions. Some visual media was offered and helped to determine the themes of Digital Towneley which is itself largely a visual media. However, various other modes may have been shortchanged. Visiting the park was an important aspect of this research because this involves many of the actions or performances which define the use of the park or the creation of its heritages. But does Digital Towneley do any of these modes justice?

Jewitt discusses the complex and intertwined nature of the modes within our ensembles and refers to Lemke, stating that it is the unique combination of these modes which can generate genuine creativity. Perhaps I am moving over old and tired ground here, but when I think about the multimodal ensembles of the participants in my research project I am anxious about their translation into a separate digital multimodal ensemble. The digitisation process, as we all know, can be very reductive. I think that this is something I am particularly aware of in the context of my research because I was individual who carried out the reduction.

However, the data created with the participants was initially reduced in what we might call a ‘traditional’ way through meaning condensation and thematic coding (among others). Effectively the same as digitisation. Fitting the data into the digital object, making it become Digital Towneley, was perhaps no different.

From a narrative point of view I am arguing in my thesis that the retelling of the participants’ stories in the context of Digital Towneley allows for the creation within the reader/consumer of their own perceptions and creations (Hawthorne 1997). I frequently return to Bourdieu’s habitus in this research. Our interactions with heritage spaces define our experiences while simultaneously being defined by them. Our multimodal ensembles seem to me very much related. It is their unique combination which allows for our unique perceptions, but the ensemble is transformed throughout. In this way the habitus, heritage and multimodal ensembles share a processual quality; there is no ultimate, just a lived experience of transformations and combinations (relativism alert!).

Jewitt’s article has allowed me to think about how I might gauge the impact of Digital Towneley (itself and the process of its creation) on the participants. Will their feedback during the final interviews indicate frustration at curtailment of their multimodal ensembles or might it indicate the discovery of new modes as new aspects of their ensembles?


Jewitt C. (2013) Multimodal methods for researching digital technologies in The SAGE Handbook of Digital Technology Research

Hawthorne J. (1997) Studying the Novel: an introduction (3rd Ed.)

Thematic Structure Revisited

Today I have been wondering about the themes that I have identified so far in the data. These are three main themes of Place, Memory and Being which appeared to dominate as topics with three subthemes for each of Self, Family and Community. It strikes me that I might have this backwards, since Self/Family/Community seem far more accessible topics. This has made me wonder about how I analysed the data – as though somehow I overlooked the ‘peopleness’ of the data from the participants and instead focused on the ‘parkness’. I question whether a couple of things in particular were influential here.

First of all, I used data analysis software QDA Miner and in so doing perhaps the narratives became separated from their origin (i.e. people) which meant that the subthemes of self, family and community somehow took a backseat rather than being the main aspects of the data.

Secondly, perhaps I have been too romantically focused on the data and secretly hoping to develop some interesting themes, to make an impact of some sort. On some level, I think that I felt a pressure to identify esoteric, deep and intelligent sounding themes. Place/Memory/Being sound reasonably philosophical and academic.

Now I’m looking at the themes and thinking how inaccessible those initial three are, not just to my participants, but to everybody. This represents a step away from my grounded-theory-based aims. With this in mind, I am fairly sure that I will change the main themes to the more relatable self/family/community. It’s just a good thing that my digital approach so far will not make this switch difficult…

Merleau-Ponty and digital heritage

I have been reading just a very little Merleau-Ponty and have found some resonance with my recent thoughts about digital media and heritage and culture. Merleau-Ponty talks about the issue of ‘attention’ and the supposition generally held that we have only to pay attention to our senses and the truth of our perception will be revealed. For him, intellectualisation of our senses implies objective understanding of them and this is a problem.

The problem is that we compartmentalise the senses as well as proceed from a biased standpoint – i.e. if we explore something in terms of visuality then we are bound to discover things from this point of view. Scientifically paying ‘attention’ to our vision suggests that we are able to grasp it fully and, what I am getting from Merleau-Ponty, that vision is a discrete and separate sense to any other. In fact our “sense of sight” may involve several things which we do not normally examine in detail; e.g. why do we not think of senses of brightness, colour, movement?

This reminds me of Wittgenstein insofar as we are limiting our potential for understanding our senses. Crudely put, by discussing our senses in terms of only 5 types (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) we limit the language with which we aim to understand the senses. Merleau-Ponty’s comments remind me also of Grounded Theory, because the aim for him rather than paying ‘attention’ to our senses would appear to be to let sensual experiences speak for themselves. Just as Glaser and Straus aimed to avoid confirming the work of past scholars and develop new theory, so does Merleau-Ponty aim to avoid confirming sensual intellectualisation and explore what senses are before epistemological constructions.

This issue is relevant to digital heritage representation because digital media filters and reduces the terms with which we are able to explore cultural phenomena. Indeed, it crystallises phenomena into snapshots, whether passive or ‘interactive’. More importantly, of course, digital media still privileges sight and hearing over the other senses.

My data so far involves stories about Towneley Park which are all-encompassing experiences of space, presence and memory. It seems clear to me that coding my data is analogous to paying ‘attention’ to the senses, while the medium through which these data are expressed and interpreted further forces me to pay attention to the data from the perspective of, mostly, visuality and sound.

It is no surprise that digital representations of human body experiences may lose something in translation. However, if even the development of sophisticated virtual reality hardware and software is to be based on the premise of 5 separate senses, is digital representation fundamentally flawed because it may be built on a flawed intellectualisation of the human condition?

Thematic Structure

Now I need to develop the website in much more detail. I have my work cut out for me, but one of the most difficult things to do has been to develop a thematic framework for the ‘online exhibition’ or website. I have finally managed to come to some conclusions here after looking over my data and reading Nicks (2002 : curatorship in the exhibition planning process).

I have opted for a contextual thematic structure which contains three main aspects:

– Park Spaces : What participants felt about discrete places or general spaces of the park

– Park Memories : memories that the participants have expressed related to the park

– Park Beings : Responses by the participants to how the park affects their bodies and minds; the human being and its relationship with the park

Each of these themes has a sub theme of Self / Family / Community.

In order to address the importance of ‘history’ identified by the participants I intend to include historical images of the park so that users may compare present day with the past. Thus ‘history’ will run through the exhibition as a separate theme.

Similarly the interest in change (seasonal and socio-temporal) will be addressed by including a timeline populated by significant the participants’ interactions with the park and through the inclusion of time lapse footage to represent landscape change.

In many ways this step has reduced my anxiety about the project because it offers me methodological rationale for the inclusion or exclusion of narrative data in the development of the site.

I have called the site “Digital Towneley” for now, but I am not so sure that this will be the best name because it will clearly force ‘digital’ preconceptions which I may want to avoid.

There is still a lot to do…!

Negative Meanings

Some of the meanings that I suppose we might identify as negative (e.g. litter, carpark charges, conflict between groups) are difficult to envisage as part of my representation. I think this is because I am anxious about upsetting people; many of the negative aspects are related to other participants. But excluding the negative aspects seems too dishonest. The negative meanings (the term “negative” itself is not perfect, but will do here) seem to indicate a “nowness” to the park; they crystalise the park’s function and symbolise the work and maintenance required for this function to work. Can I include negative meanings without insulting some of the participants? Is it possible to just present these negativities as multiple vocalities?

Development and neglect

I have been neglecting my blog terribly, but it has been very difficult to justify to myself the time to spend on it in the face of getting PhD work done and family stuff.
Last week I presented on my research progress at the Leisure Studies Association conference at the University of the West of Scotland. The experience was very helpful and one of the questions made me think about the nature of my digital outcome. I was asked if the digital representation of Towneley Park would simply provide a carbon copy of the quiet contemplative appreciation of nature; will it simply reinforce already accepted and predominant perceptions of nature and crystallise them?

The first answer to this is that it wouldn’t matter if it did reproduce predominant perceptions because the important aspect is identifying what the participants feel about the park and exploring the success of its translation into digital media. However, it is already clear that what is important about the park is not static. The participants have been expressing so much about the park that is linked to the seasons, the cycles of their lives, to movement through the park or change in oneself by being in the park. The meanings of the park are not crystallisable because they are uses and they are processual and continual.

So, a recap to cover the absent blog entries.

The story-based nature of the interviews and the data collected so far was pointed out to me by my supervisors last month. Owing to this, I am now aiming to explore the data collected using an approach of narrative analysis. This should help me to analyse not only the interview contents, but also the use of the park space. So here there is narrative expressed through language (spoken and written/transcribed) (Fraser 2004; Schorch 2014 ) but also through the use of space and the use of the body (de Certeau 1984; Tilley 1994). The second stage of data collection is currently underway and involves me visiting the park with participants in order to collect phenomenological, or phenomenologically-prompted, data. Although all aspects of discussing the park are in my view part of knowing the park, it is this second data collection stage which holds a strong sense of “practice as research” for me.

Development of the digital representation has recently been influenced by the following things:

the narrative nature of the park meanings
commonly expressed notions of variety and choice within the park by the participants
thoughts about narrative and choice inspired by an independent game “The Stanley Parable”

These things have led me to consider incorporating aspects of game architectures into the representation of the park…

Gaming at Towneley on the light side

Gaming at Towneley on the light side

No, not with shotguns and coin collecting (at least not with this research project). Rather, I am hoping to incorporate some of the narrative techniques used in game structures which can help to create a sense of place or at least a sense of involvement. This part of my research is in the early stages and I am not aiming to construct anything especially complex, but I am hoping to be able to use a gaming framework to help tell and make accessible multiple Towneley Park stories

Sound Archive

Visited North West Sound Archive in Clitheroe. There are some entries on Burnley at the archive which were interesting to listen to. Some of the memories may prove useful as contributions to my project data, though it is important to note that, unlike the participants, these contributors will be unable to help develop the digital representation. While at the Sound Archive I discussed my plans with the two guys there who both had very helpful advice on conducting the interviews. After speaking with them I realised that I had an unrealistic idea of how the interviews would work. For some reason I thought that I would just be able to ask the participant some sort of starter question and then they would share all of their interesting and rich subjective experiences. This was obviously ridiculous, so I have taken the advice I received and have paid more attention to my prompting questions and to the opening questions.


I have had some contact from two members of the public who have independently seen my posters in the park – this is quite exciting! Information packs and letters of consent have been sent out.

I spoke with Jacques last week and he suggested contacting the local newspaper and local radio stations to see if they might be interested in my research as a news feature and so drum up some interest; I contacted these and await any response.

Further contact has also been made with the Council’s green spaces department and the community cohesion officer; both have been very helpful.

I submitted an abstract for consideration at the Leisure Studies 2014 conference. I should have data to discuss by then. It is strange to think of this future me, armed with data and a raft of problems that I have yet to encounter.