2. A Brief Note on Methodology
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Because I do have an account with YouTube, I have not uploaded any videos, saved any videos as “Favorites,” nor added “Commentary” via “Video Responses” or “Text Comments.” In addition, I have not contacted any of the people whose videos I cite. In the parlance of internet research methodology, I have been lurking on YouTube: that is, watching the videos and reading the commentaries, but not contributing anything myself. In addition, I have been harvesting both the videos and commentaries: that is, collecting and saving the ones I find most interesting for research and publication purposes.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 The three videos analyzed in this essay are not discussed because they are exceptional or representative of the best or most original productions on YouTube. Rather, they represent the norm. There are thousands of DIY video performances of Shakespeare uploaded to YouTube by high school and college students, and I narrowed that set down by focusing on Asian-American students performing Othello for the reasons stated above. Nonetheless, this was still a dauntingly large subset of videos. After watching around 100 videos, I noticed certain trends emerging in this subset of performance videos. Thus, the three videos discussed in this essay were selected because they both demonstrate and epitomize these trends. It is my hope that my analysis of them will exemplify the interpretative opportunities these videos offer for both new methodological and pedagogical practices. In other words, I am not arguing that these videos are necessarily important textual/performance artifacts in and of themselves; rather they become important when viewed as representative of the production practices, methodological challenges, and pedagogical opportunities they reveal.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Although I attempt to follow guidelines for conducting ethical online research, as many scholars have noted, this area is extremely murky because it is relatively new. The debates about online research are still ongoing: does internet research constitute human subjects research? Is cyberspace a private or public space? Are online communications private or public? Does reading, citing, and analyzing postings on internet sites, like YouTube, entail an “intervention or interaction” with the individuals who create them, and, thus, require oversight by an institutional review board (IRB)? Even if an IRB determines that one’s research does not require oversight, one still must ensure that one’s approach to online communications is ethical.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Heidi McKee and James E. Porter’s recent work has helped to inform the ethical and methodological decisions I made for this essay. Adapting Malin Sveningsson’s grid for mapping research data, McKee and Porter advocate for an approach that distinguishes non-sensitive information from sensitive information and private information from public information in order to determine the ethical dimensions for informed consent. As the YouTube videos and commentaries I am analyzing stem from school projects that were not only graded by teachers but also shared with classmates both offline and online, and as these videos and commentaries are not about private, personal, and/or sensitive information (they are performances of Shakespearean scenes), I see them residing safely in the non-sensitive/public quadrant of the grid. Moreover, they fall within the half of the grid in which informed consent is not ethically necessary.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 3 That said, I am sensitive to the fact that I am working with the public and non-sensitive postings of young adults (many of whom are legally deemed minors), and the ethical dilemmas facing those who study adolescents online are even greater. The debates about whether online communications are private or public are exasperated when one asks whether minors have the capability to understand the public nature of the internet. In independent studies, Susannah Stern and Magdalena Bober conducted research with young adults, and they both determined that adolescents with personal web pages understood that their postings were public. And yet both Stern and Bober warn against treating their findings too liberally. They both advocate protecting the identities of the young adults cited in research so as to ensure that no harm can come to them as a result of one’s research. Bober intones, “The identities of participants should, therefore, always be protected by rendering quotes anonymous or by using pseudonyms, especially when the research touches upon sensitive issues.” As I noted above, I do not believe that an analysis of school performances uploaded to YouTube constitutes sensitive material. Yet I want to ensure that my research cannot be used to inflict any harm upon these students so I have taken steps to protect their identities. Aside from saying that the videos and commentaries were posted to YouTube, I do not cite the specific URLs or usernames. This is an important measure because many participants include their full names within the video and/or textual postings, despite the fact that YouTube discourages its users from posting this information online. In addition, I only provide the year of the original posting and not the full date.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 8 This, of course, is a large methodological departure for a Shakespeare scholar. We are used to providing full citations for everything—texts, editions, performances, criticism, etc. Our work is often assessed by another’s ability to verify—that is, read, view, access—every citation. I know there will be many readers who will be frustrated by their inability to access and view these videos (without having to wade through thousands of other videos on their own). In this essay, however, I want to highlight that the verifiable source is not what is really at stake. Instead, what is at stake in this essay is the introduction of a more complex way of assessing our interpretative strategies and methodologies. By focusing on the close readings and analyses of these videos, I hope the reader is alerted to the ethical and methodological implications of researching performance and teaching through performance.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Having said all of this, I want to emphasize that research that incorporates internet sources is still in its infancy. At the moment of writing this essay (August 2008), there are no critical essays or books that address how to cite YouTube postings. Consensus on the ethical, methodological, and theoretical issues involved in internet research is desperately needed, especially as a large segment of the user-producers of interactive sites like YouTube are minors. No doubt this kind of work is coming, but we as Shakespeareans and educators must think about our positions within this debate as well. After all, our students are the minors and young adults who are posting these videos to YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc. As I hope this essay will demonstrate, there are ethical and methodological implications for our work, and there are ethical and methodological interventions that our work can enable.