Understanding Online Communities Through Multiple Methodologies Combined Under a Postmodern Research Endeavour
Traditionally triangulation has been used for integrating multiple epistemologies. However such procedures have been criticised for failing to deal with the divergent realities encompassing alternative methodologies. An example of a postmodern methodological approach combining both positivist and interpretivist epistemologies is offered for studying online communities. Three diverse studies were employed to investigate the extent to which chatroom participants took advantage of the online medium to explore their identity. A quantitative survey of over 400 chatroom operators, a thematic analysis of in-depth interviews with five experienced chatroom users and an ethnography were employed. Survey results highlighted the importance of gender in determining the degree of identity exploration. However the remaining studies moved beyond the centrality of users' real life gender to demonstrate the significance of other factors. The ethnography highlighted the influence of both culturally stereotyped gender behaviour in constraining identity exploration, and possibilities for exploring identity through IRC's contextual features. In-depth interviews illustrated participants' conceptions of altering gender identity as a mechanism for protection or experimentation. Paradoxically constructions highlighted the importance of maintaining stability in one's online identity. Discussion focuses on the strengths of using multiple approaches which integrate the researcher's and the participants' own situated knowledge, rather than reducing understandings to single, monolithic frameworks.
postmodern epistemology; methodological triangulation; quantitative paradigm; qualitative paradigm; gender identity; chatrooms; discursive psychology