You are here:  Home > Training

"One post said ...": Curating comments as data in digital contexts

Thursday 8th December 2016, 2.00-3.30pm
Building 45, Room 2039, University of Southampton

Poster of Event

Dr Daniel Ashton (University of Southampton) and Dr Stephanie Taylor (The Open University)

In this seminar, presenters will exchange critical perspectives and reflections on the use of online comments in qualitative research. The session will consider the status of quotes and contributions from members of the public, questioning whether these can be unproblematically approached as evidence of unique personal opinions.

YouTube comments and contesting participatory promises

Dr Daniel Ashton (University of Southampton)

Created from footage contributed by members of the public to YouTube, the 2011 Life in a Day and 2012 Britain in a Day crowdsourced documentaries privilege the self-representation of everyday life. Previous research (Ashton, 2015; 2016) however has critically examined the attempts to structure and shape these amateur filmmaking contributions through the guidance and tutorial materials provided by the producers.

An important part of understanding how 'the crowd' evaluated the participatory promises and practices of the … in a Day projects came in the comments presented in response to the tutorial materials. Through examining a range of comments, tensions were identified concerning who is involved and how they are involved. Whilst these comments show potential contributors critically challenging participation as the instrumental curating of content, further tensions emerge with the research approach of selecting quotes. The comments thread is regarded as a space for speaking back to power and contesting the terms of participation in the documentary projects. That said, what are challenges and contradictions of then taking these comments and curating them into a new narrative as part of an academic publication?

This presentation will engage with the challenges that Taylor (2012) identifies of using participant quotes to reflect on the challenges of engaging with YouTube comments and other online materials within academic research.


Dr Daniel Ashton is Lecturer and MA Pathway Leader in Global Media Management in the Winchester School of Art at the University of Southampton. His research focuses on different ways of organising cultural work, including the intersections between professional and amateur media making. He has worked in partnership with UK community media organisations on digital storytelling and community radio projects. His research on digital storytelling and participatory media has been published in Media International Australia and the forthcoming edited volume, Community Filmmaking: Diversity, Innovation, Policy and Practice.

The evidence of 'ordinary' people?

Dr Stephanie Taylor (Open University)

The voices of the public have long been used as evidence by researchers inside and outside academia. Interviewers and documentary makers, researchers, politicians and forum hosts all love quotations, presenting the few chosen words which seemingly convey a whole person. Yet there are strong arguments against this practice. First, there is the issue of how quotations are edited. By cutting, juxtaposing and putting words in new contexts, an editor's intervention will always create different meanings. A second problem is that a quotation tends to present a single voice as representative, as if speakers and other contributors are merely the 'mouthpieces' of their social categories, each evidencing the shared view of everyone else in the same role or position. More subtly, the practice of quotation too often rests on over-simple models of the person, for example, as consistent, unreflective, sincere and unsophisticated. There are parallels here with the 'ordinary' people who, critics suggest, are being addressed in so-called 'neoliberal' policies, raising interesting questions about what ordinariness supposedly excludes, such as a professional or expert status.

This presentation will review these and other problems around quotation and discuss their relevance for new participatory projects.


Dr Stephanie Tayloris a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at the Open University. Her interdisciplinary research uses a narrative-discursive approach to explore identification and subjectivity in contemporary sites, such as the creative industries. Her books include 'What is discourse analysis?' (Bloomsbury, 2013) and 'Contemporary Identities of Creativity and Creative Work' (with Karen Littleton) (Ashgate, 2012). She is currently developing a new project on how understandings of creativity contribute to a new morality of contemporary work.