From my experience so far: Advice for new PhD students

Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Emmanuel_Mogaji/

  1. Develop a professional relationship with your Supervisor

They aren’t your mother, father or Uncle, they are here to shape your research future, approach them professionally, and starting from email and what you discuss, remember they will be your referee and pave the way for you few years time, treat them with respect and seek help if you think things are not working. However, be rest assured after three years, things will change, and you will become closer, discussing personal issues and shared interest.

 

  1. Show your commitment

Supervisors are expecting a lot from you and you must show them that you are willing and ready for this PhD journey. Meet deadlines, plan ahead for meetings with action plans – things you will like to discuss for each meeting, create it in your calendar and copy them in. At meetings, discus your ideas and what you have found.

 

  1. Identify the core areas of your research

Know the boundaries of your research continually define them till you reach conclusions, discuss idea with your supervisors so they can help prune the idea if it’s getting really big and may not be manageable. It saves time and unnecessary stress and prepares you well enough for the task ahead.

 

  1. Be mindful of competition

The university accepts more PhD students that they graduate each year, so be mindful that you are in here to compete for attention from your supervisors, time in the office space, books at the Library and other resources. Your supervisors too have their time constraints – they have other PhD students rounding up so you need to take your initiative to make use of the limited resources. Make your meetings productive, send email if need be.

 

  1. Start working on your professional brand

Thinking ahead where you want to be after your PhD, start creating a professional brand and social media presence as well, separating your personal life from your professional activities. Prospective collaborators, partners and employers will search for you, what will they see? If you start now, you have a better presence three years time. Create a Linked in page, highlighting your strengths, Twitter to share idea and network. Consider ResearchGate or academia.edu to share your publications and a Google Scholar profile. Be ready for that challenge. Remember it takes time.

 

  1. Don’t Rush to attend conferences

Develop the scope of your work in your first year, identify and mark your boundaries and don’t rush to present your work at conference as you may be embarrassed about some feedback at your work and could find it discouraging. I will suggest conference at second year onward.

 

  1. Be Social

It’s a boring long journey, have friends, physically and virtually, Come socialise with other researchers as it could be very lonely road. Remember you are the only one who fully understands what going on with you but you can rely on support and encouragement of other around you. Do not hesitate to ask questions, find out what they are doing and enjoy yourself. You can also identify those you have related work and your can support yourself throughout the journey.

Creating a Twitter Space for Dementia Research

Julie ChristieHuge thanks to Julie Christie, a phd researcher at the University of Stirling who has kindly shared her blog about the development of social media platform#demphd, including how it was created, how it can help research and future plans. The original blog can be found here, and you can contact Julie on Twitter 

 

 

“Being a PhD candidate is a great privilege. You research areas of specific interest to you and immerse yourself in generating new data and answering unanswered questions.  Research takes place over many years, and during this period you have to isolate yourself physically and mentally, finding space and time to think and write.  Whilst universities provide formal supervision to students and offer a range of groups and services, these are structured activities, available at set times, and usually take place on the university campus. It isn’t always easy to catch up with other PhD researchers due to the diverse range of activities people are engaged in through their study. If, like myself, you are undertaking your PhD on a part time basis, or are in full time employment this becomes even harder. The answer for me was social media, and specifically twitter.

I started using twitter towards the end of 2012 but like many people considered it to be a social experience, engaged in as a leisure activity.  I then discovered that there were a small group of PhD researchers and academics exploring this new space, each testing the potential for new relationships. I began to connect with PhD candidates from around the world. I started by engaging with a new group the ‘Social Sciences Forum’  a social media platform for social scientists, hosted by Donna Peach of Salford University.  One of their early twitter chats was around the potential for intra and interdisciplinary connections. Also taking part in the discussion were several people who were researching different aspects of dementia and, in particular, Anna Tatton, a PhD candidate from Leeds University. Anna and I began to explore a space where those with a research interest in dementia could connect and the Dementia PhD identity #demphd was born.  We started to plan discussions, blogs and twitter chats and before long we had a dedicated group from around the world who were participating. The discussion topics relate to research, the PhD process and dementia.

So what is #demphd and how can it support dementia researchers and in particular PhD researchers? Anna describes it as “an international support network” (2014: 16).  I describe it as a space where anyone with an interest in dementia research can meet. A space for people who have dementia, carers, and experts by experience to meet academics, researchers and students as part of an evolving community of practice.  Peer support is both the foundation for this new community and a natural part of the process. Our twitter space is used to promote the work of PhD candidates, supporting them to present their research in weekly chats.  Our varied membership and connections facilitate the provision of advice, information and support on many aspects of the PhD journey. #demphd promotes news on dementia research opportunities and conferences from around the world. Our members live tweet from many events which mean that those unable to attend can follow speakers and topics of interest to them. We also offer an important critical friend role discussing challenging topics and, equally important, offer congratulations on the many personal and professional achievements of our community. This includes celebrating and promoting publications and conference engagements. I also believe that the transparency of twitter promotes the PhD experience, reaching new people and encouraging others to consider their own questions about dementia.

So how does this dementia twitter space work alongside formal supports and networking in person? Virtual PhD experiences can never replace face to face interaction but the friendships and support developed are real and can become opportunities to meet. I have met with many colleagues now, arranging to meet at conferences and to take forward work opportunities. The most recent development is that many of the #demphd community will be present at the Alzheimer Europe Conference in Glasgow, October 2014.  As a result we are currently planning our first in person #demphd meeting to explore our future direction.

If you are interested in shaping the future of this dementia twitter space or learning more please contact me by email at julie.christie@stir.ac.uk or on twitter@juliechristie1 or simply use #demphd to connect.”

Reference
Tatton, A. 2014. Introducing #demphd. Journal of Dementia Care 22, 4: 16-17

Are Researchers ALWAYS Busy?

Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Emmanuel_Mogaji/

 

This sounds like a research question but I guess I am not chanced at the present moment to seek answers for this question, like every other researcher, I am over committed and can’t take up any other project now..

I appreciate the need to network and share ideas, I look forward to meeting various people who I will like to work with but seems everyone has something already on ground doing. Can you take up another research project with your present workload?

Assuming financial reward is included or an opportunity which is so good to refuse because it will enhance your CV or an Early Career Researcher reaching out to you for partnership? I suppose we will have different answers.

I attended a workshop on successfully applying and securing research grant and it boils down to the fact that you need the right connections, the right people to enhance your chances. Imagine researchers from a Russell group university competing with those from a post 1992 University for a million euro research grant, most likely the Russell group university will get it.

So what’s the plan for those attending post 1992 universities? Any chance for us, the speaker suggested Networking, working with those already in the game to build your own network, but how easy is it to do that when we are all busy with huge amount of pressure.

As a PhD student who will like to collaborate and expand my research network, the supposedly busy schedule of everyone seem discouraging, supervisors are more concerned with you finishing in three years and may not want any other research activity to distract you, even though they have present work they are working upon, you timely completing is of uttermost importance but what is the value of a PhD with you added skills?

I will however suggest to individuals to keep trying, reaching out to people but most importantly, researchers of the same category/experience. You are both struggling to get your manuscripts published, working hard to climb the academic ladder and under same kind of pressure.   This is because the more experience researcher may be too busy while those behind you in terms of experience may not have the zeal you will want to work with.

I will also suggest the need to tap into Supervisors’ network. A friend of mine got his Supervisor involved in his conference presentation, they were both acknowledge as authors while his supervisor presented the paper, a senior colleague too had over five journal publications with his Supervisor before he finished his PhD which enhanced his chance of getting work immediately after graduation.

I have plan to keep building my small  network and we will grow together, people we can share ideas with and know that when they are still very busy, they can spare time to collaborate and provide the support. I have found the @PhDforum on twitter useful as the only collaborator for I project I have presently was through that network, Piirus is not the main thing for me, I also found ResearchGate inappropriate.

Am sure, I will also get to that level when I can’t work with an Early Career Researcher because I am over committed to various projects at the moment and can’t work on any new project.

Watch out for me.

A geographical inspiration

Jonathan KershawMy name is Jonathan Kershaw and I’m a PhD research student based at Coventry University, looking at the way we ‘consume’ the car – as status symbol, icon, socio-cultural artefact and experience – and how our relationship with the car might impact upon the uptake of low carbon vehicles as part of a holistic low carbon automobility. You can read more of my blogs at autohabitus.wordpress.com and connect with me on twitter via @jeckythump

 

 

A PhD is very much a marathon and, no matter how interesting or ground-breaking your research may be, maintaining momentum over three, or even four, years can be difficult.

Geographical inspiration - a Santorini sunset (Picture source: author's photograph).

I began my university ‘career’ as a mature student, only embarking upon a BSc geography degree in my early/mid thirties, going straight onto an MSc in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development and, after a slight hiatus, embarking upon my PhD.

I recall one lecturer imploring us callow 1st–year Bachelors during one of those group lectures attended by the entire year’s intake – BSc physical geographers, BA human geographers, BSc geographers, BSc environmental scientists, BSc GIS-ers – that, during the course of our degrees, ‘you’ve got to do what you’re interested in, otherwise you’re wasting everybody’s time, especially yours’. Or something along those lines, anyway.

So I did. I managed to pursue several interests during the course of my geography degree, covering everything from cultural geography to post-socialism to vulcanology to quaternary environmental change. My dissertation was about the semiotics of the car.

It was during my MSc that I became further interested in, and pursued subjects on, the environment, climate change and low carbon mobility, with my thesis concerning the environmental impacts of football supporter transport.

I am currently in the final throes of writing up my PhD on socio-cultural regard for the car and the potential impacts of this upon an uptake of low carbon vehicles. Writing about cars and the environment, washed down with a large slug of philosophy – marvellous. At least, in theory.

Actually, it is marvellous – I wouldn’t swap it at all. I’ve spent the last three-and-a-bit years thinking, reading, writing on and around subjects I’m passionate about and, looking back, it’s been brilliant; throw in all the conferences and the contacts with other academics and postgraduates – in person and via the twittersphere – and it’s been a cracking experience. It hasn’t all been plain sailing though.

All postgraduate researchers struggle at some point, hitting practical, philosophical and analytical walls. These walls can take some climbing, and no matter how capable we are, or how immersed or interested in our research we may be, doubts can rise, morale can flag and confidence can wane.

I’ve suffered bouts of that recently, feeling a bit thick at times. I’m sure I’m not the only one. When you live 120 miles away from uni, it can all feel a bit solitary too.

Anyway, a week or so back, a picture appeared in my twitter timeline. It was a retweet byBangor University’s geography department (@BUGeography) of a tweet posted by the geography department at St. Edmund’s School in Salisbury (@Stedsgeography).

And repeat... (Picture source: @BUGeography @Stedsgeography)

I retweeted it too. I don’t know where St. Edmund’s got the picture from, whether it was sourced or created, but thanks anyway guys. For some reason, @BUGeography’s retweeting of it woke me up a bit. Just in time for a run of colloquia and conferences, I’m adopting it as a mantra during my writing up – ‘this is my new jam’, as some would say.

So begone, doubt! I am a geographer. I am encouraging others to think a bit differently. I do know my stuff.

And, despite what you may feel sometimes, so do you.

I’m getting on with it – first full draft here we come!

Academic Bloggers as Public Intellectuals

Nic SubtireluNic is a Ph.D student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL and a doctoral fellow in New and Emerging Media at Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA). He is interested in popular discourses and ideologies about language and how these impact the educational opportunities and political rights of speakers, whose languages and language varieties are marginalized. You can follow him on Twitter @linguisticpulse or on his blog, linguistic pulse

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has recently leveled a number of weighty criticisms at academia, specifically the professorate. In general, Kristof asserts that there are fewer public intellectuals today than there were a generation ago.

Regardless of whether Kristof is correct about this decrease, the call for academia to be more engaged with the public is one that seems to resonate with many. I personally feel strongly that a major aspect of my work as a social scientist and intellectual is to educate others about issues that are important to me. It was with this conviction in mind that, a year ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to try to engage a non-academic audience with my writing both in internet venues and in a blog I started. I’d observed that the public seemed interested in issues that were engaging to me as a sociolinguist. Specifically, there are no shortage of stories about language and how it varies. In fact, the most popular article on the New York Times website this year was a quiz about which English dialect you speak.

Kristof’s article and the uproar it has caused have provided an occasion for me to reflect on this endeavor. While I don’t reject the overall thrust of Kristof’s call to arms, I believe he offers little in the way of insight as to how scholars might actually engage the public. It is these insights that I hope to be able to provide particularly from the point of view a Ph.D student using the internet as a way to engage the public.

Before I launch into this issue more thoroughly, I do think that it’s worth noting that while Kristof focuses primarily on the traditional activities of the academy: speaking and writing about research, I believe that there are other means by which one might effectively be a public intellectual. Lending your expertise as a volunteer, for example, to relevant non-profit organizations is an important and effective way of being a public intellectual. I don’t, therefore, think that we should reserve the label of public intellectual only for those who write opinion pieces for major newspapers. Rather, our colleagues dedicating their time to serving their communities in schools, clinics, after school centers, and other venues are, in my book at least, public intellectuals.

However, one very obvious way by which one can earn the moniker of public intellectual would be to engage the public through the dissemination of expertise in an accessible manner. This might take the form of writing editorials for newspapers or speaking at popular events like TED. However, in the age of the internet, an efficient and free method by which this type of dissemination can take place is the use of blogs. All of these methods, however, I believe are subject to an important dilemma that we have to contend with as academics attempting to engage a popular audience.

In particular, this dilemma is characterized by the competing demands of the message we wish to disseminate as intellectuals and the forms that are most likely to engage a popular audience. As a social scientist, I have a perspective on social issues that are often contradictory to the beliefs that those outside of my field hold. Specifically, as a sociolinguist I am strongly committed to the idea that people’s language is legitimate in its own right regardless of whether it conforms to elitists’ arbitrary prescriptions about what it should be. Historically, sociolinguists have taken incredibly unpopular stances, such as affirming the idea that African-American English (or Ebonics if you prefer) is the legitimate primary language of many in the United States and that recognition of this fact is critical to their social advancement and educational achievement. Hence, one of the basic purposes of my intellectual life, public or academic, is to advance this agenda.

However, this agenda and the ideas that inform it are the exact opposite of public opinion on the matter. In fact, while the public is interested in reading about language, they are more likely to be engaged by stories that build on their pre-existing beliefs about language, for example, a story about Samuel L. Jackson criticizing President Obama’s use of ‘nonstandard’ language. Stories such as these do not require the introduction of novel perspective on language. Most readers come to the article ready to participate in the shaming of ‘nonstandard’ language. Imparting the perspective of linguists takes time, as anyone who has taught an introductory linguistics course can attest.

Before I go on, I should counter any suggestion that I am attempting to portray the public as some form of unthinking herd. I do not believe that what I am describing is an issue of lack of intellectual ability. Indeed, if you take a look at the type of complex analytical processes that are displayed when people discuss one of the most popular pastimes, sports, I believe it’s quite clear that no lack of cognitive reasoning skills prevents people from engaging with social scientists’ perspectives.

Rather, the issue is a matter of incentives. To draw on the example I mentioned above, coming to understand Samuel L. Jackson’s shaming of President Obama as an act of racism and classism, as many sociolinguists would conclude, requires a great deal of background knowledge in the perspective of sociolinguistics, a relatively obscure and politically left-leaning field. Thus, the intellectual and political will to engage with sociolinguists and other social scientists and their perspective is what is lacking.

Of course, I don’t write this in an effort to let academics off the hook. Rather, I think it’s important that we understand what we’re up against. If engaging the public is what we intend to do (and I think it’s precisely what we should be doing), then we need to acknowledge the political struggle that we are engaged in whether we would like to think of our work as being overtly political or objectively scientific. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that situating your writing within broader struggles and narratives is what makes social scientific work interesting to a popular audience. Writing that attempts to shy away from this is likely to be ignored. With this in mind, I wanted to offer some advice gleaned from my own brief experience attempting to play the role of public intellectual as a Ph.D student.

First, I believe it’s important to think of your field as its own unique culture with its own rules for, above all else, determining what constitutes legitimate knowledge. Engaging the public, however, means attempting to make an argument in a world governed by an entirely different set of rules. These rules may compel people to pay attention not to the validity of your methodology but instead to the apparent level of your personal conviction, your credentials, your ability to keep calm in the face of criticism, or some other academically irrelevant aspect of the situation. Whether these criteria are legitimate or not is really not the issue, as you will quickly find, you don’t get to make the rules. You could, of course, make it your mission as a public intellectual to change the public’s reliance on such criteria. However, expecting your work to be judged by a general audience according to the same criteria other members of your field apply is naïve. I’ve found that my training as a scholar has not necessarily prepared me for some of these situations. However, my advice to any Ph.D student thinking of trying to engage with the public: expect to lose sometimes and not according to the rules you think the game should be played.

Second, I encourage any intellectual who is trying to engage the public to start by thinking locally. I mean both in terms of geography as well as in terms of your pre-existing network of social contacts. I believe that you’re more likely to advance the agenda of your field in local settings. There are two advantages to this. First, I mentioned above that people lack the will to listen to social scientific research, but they probably don’t lack the will to listen to the thoughts of someone they care about. Some of the most engaging blog posts I have done have begun with a personal narrative that situated me as a living, breathing human being that many of my readers know and care about within the broader context that I was talking about. For example, in this one, I used medical bills I had personally received and my own recovery from an illness to frame a larger issue that I wanted to discuss: literacy and its impact on personal rights. While things like this don’t necessarily appeal to those who don’t know me, they are quite appealing to those who do know me. I believe that sometimes engaging the public as an intellectual means engaging the people in your immediate vicinity.

Finally, and I believe most importantly, you need to find a balance between seeking out readers and delivering the message you want to deliver. In doing so, you should be selective about the advice you accept from professional bloggers and journalists. Much of this advice derives from a context dominated by what I’ll call “click count ideology”. Click count ideology is a way of looking at the act of writing as motivated by a need to attract attention that can be quantified through the number of clicks a particular text receives. Obviously, click count ideology has close ties to internet advertising. Obviously, generating clicks is an important goal of any one producing content to be shared on the internet. If people don’t click on your blog, they can’t read your thoughts and your mission of engaging the public has failed.

However, it’s important to realize that generating web traffic is not an end in itself. Rather, as I mentioned above, academic arguments require reader investment, and what we are hoping for is invested readers. I have been told many times by my will-meaning, social-media savvy friends that my blog posts are too long according to their standards (usually 500 words) or that they don’t address timely enough issues. I believe in both cases this advice is counter-productive for anyone hoping to be an academic blogger. While I have found that the timeliness of a post can lead to it being highly trafficked, it is no guarantee of this. Also, by far my most successful post (by all criteria) breaks all of these rules. It addresses a non-timely issue and is nearly 4000 words long. Nonetheless, looking over my analytics, it’s clear that visitors to my blog are routinely engaged with it often for fifteen minutes or more. Conventional wisdom about blogging suggests the need for timely, short pieces that appeal to broad audiences that can be circulated by social media. However, this post’s success stems from its ability to garner traffic in ways that are neglected by conventional wisdom such as search engines and even by colleagues’ assigning the posts as reading in their courses.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t carefully consider the suggestions of people who are experienced in popular forms of blogging. However, it’s important to keep in mind the click count ideology from which these suggestions often stem and not to fall into the trap of viewing traffic as an end in itself.

Nicholas Kristof’s call may have been lacking in any practical applications, but I believe as members of the next generation of scholars (whether as professors or in other lines of work), we can and should engage the public with our work in many ways, perhaps one of the most obvious ways is through the use of a research-oriented blog or similar internet-based writing. However, to be effective we’ll need to view our work less as the presenting of research findings and more as a form of advocacy in favor of a particular world view with all of the ups and downs that this comes with.

“…we cannot study everyone everywhere doing everything” (Punch, 2005:187)

Beth SinglerBeth Singler is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge specializing in the social anthropological study of New Religious Movements online. Combining traditional fieldwork with digital ethnography, Beth explores the new definitions of self that multiply on the Internet.  Her PhD is on the Indigo Children, an idea in the New Age Movement, but she has also written about Wiccans, Jedi, Scientologists, pop-culture religions and various online subcultures.  She has her own blog at http://bvlsingler.wordpress.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter via @BVLSingler.

“…we cannot study everyone everywhere doing everything” (Punch, 2005:187)

I think I remember breathing out an actual sigh of relief when I first read these words in Punch’s Introduction to Social Research (2nd Ed.). Finally, there in black and white on the page, the permission not to do EVERYTHING, be EVERYWHERE, or to capture it ALL! With my PhD this has been a lesson I have had to learn, and learn quickly.

My thesis looks at an idea from what is still broadly known as the New Age Movement by academics (but not so much anymore by insiders, but there you go).  The Indigo Children are thought to be a generation of special, spiritually evolved individuals here to change the world according to New Age narratives. Even though I study New Religious Movements, the Indigo Children do not form a church, they don’t have recognisable and repeated rituals.  They don’t wear particular clerical outfits.  They aren’t formed into associations with established hierarchies or logos.  What they do do is call themselves Indigo Children (or Crystal, or Rainbow, or Blue Ray – there are many versions but I’ll stick to Indigo for now for clarity) and talk about being Indigo online… a lot.

A Google search done just five minutes ago reveals 809,000 results for the words “Indigo Children”.  The first year of my PhD was about just getting to grips with the multitude of sources of information on this subject.  There are web pages by groups and individuals, there are forum boards, there are blogs, there are Facebook groups and pages, there are Twitter hashtags, there are Instagram pictures, Youtube videos, online archives from magazines and newspapers, online tests to see if YOU are Indigo, Meetup groups, tumblrs, memes, petitions, questions, answers, seekers and experts…

My first year was also spent writing a very, very speculative document called a ‘registration exercise’: a sample chapter, an outline, a bibliography, but most importantly, a methodology.  This is to show to internal examiners that I know what I am doing and that I have a plan for the next two years of my research and a methodology that really stands up to scrutiny.  Almost a year of fieldwork later and I think I could throw most of that methodology out of the window.

For a start, I would now say that I was back then trying to work from within a positivistic, scientific framework that I adopted out of an unconscious desire for legitimacy.  ‘Let’s gets some numbers, some facts, some real HARD data’ says the internal wannabe scientist while the social-anthropologist mumbles about acculturation and socialization through participant observation.  So I ended up with a methodology where I said I would look at X forum everyday and take Y number of screengrabs and repeat until I had REAL data.  Well, the multiplication of X by Y gave far too much data…. and that was just one source.

All in all there was just too much.  So I rethought my approach.  Would I capture everything? Probably not… no, definitely not.  It was just not possible.  But I could approach the subject much like the individual seeker does.  In my interviews with Indigos I asked them about how they had come upon the idea of the Indigo Children and where they had looked for more information.  They described stumbling upon it, or being told about it by someone who thought they might be one.  And then they wandered through the wilds of the internet reading some sources, missing others, meeting some Indigos and chatting to them, missing others.  They had a seeker’s methodology that didn’t necessarily tell them everything but told them enough.  So I picked up this approach and followed what was interesting rather than what was comprehensive.  My supervisor talks about fieldwork as a form of apprenticeship and had I listened more closely I might have got to the same conclusion earlier…  Through my fieldwork I feel like I have been through an apprenticeship in being Indigo (am I one? I remain neutral but open-minded).  But more than that, I have been through an apprenticeship in doing academic research, which is really the aim of the PhD after all.  And I really feel that in doing this apprenticeship I am closer to stopping apologising for not being a ‘real’ scientist.

Celebrity blogshop models – performing cyber-femininity

img_1632Crystal  is undertaking a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Western Australia, Perth. She is passionate about gender equality, feminism, percussive music, and penguins. Read more of her blogs  and follow her via @wishcrys

Celebrity blogshop models

Within the commercial blog industry in Singapore, blogshops are undoubtedly raking in the highest profits. The network has launched the careers of dozens of industry models who started out as blogshop models. Many formerly amateurish blogshop owners have honed their art and emerged as local designers over the years. Some blogshops, like mds for example, have even grown into full-fletched retail stores with chains island-wide.

Amidst the hundreds of blogshops in operation today — and thousands more that are now defunct — one would often find models and owners of high profile blogshops growing into online celebrities in their own right. Many of these women go on to become ambassadors and spokespersons of beauty and fashion lines in the mainstream commercial industry. I attempt to trace one of the routes in which such micro-celebrities are produced — modeling.

Via their personal blogs — many of which are commercial blogs — some blogshop owners are recognisable as the ‘face’ of the shop despite having engaged models for their wares. For this reason, I refer to these high profile owners and their hired models as blogshop models collectively.

In order to stimulate desire and motivate customers to purchase from their new collections, blogshop models engage in a cycle of modeling, role-modeling and role-playing. These modes of modeling are sequential steps, though not isolated nor discreet steps, in stimulating desire.

Modeling, role modeling, role playing

Modeling is the first step, both in presentation of the model herself and in any given instance of product presentation. Modeling establishes the presence of both the model and products within the space of the blogshop website. Modeling is the most straightforward step in stimulating desire. Blogshop models pose for and post photographs of themselves modeling apparel for sale.

After modeling is achieved, it continues simultaneously with role-modeling, through which blogshop models aim to set standards and impart to their readers skills of “gender competence” (Connell, 2002:81). Finally, in tandem with and building upon modeling and role-modeling, blogshop models engage in role-playing, in which they enact their femininities (Butler, 2005), further kindling desire among readers and customers. It is particularly through role-playing that blogshop models produce commercial intimacies in relationship to their customers, a point we return to below, after first elaborating the modes of modeling, role-modeling and role-playing through which blogshop models perform their cyber-femininities.

1. Modeling 

In modeling, blogshop models pose for photographs of themselves, modeling the apparel for sale, and post these photographs to the blogshop website. The photographs are accompanied by simple descriptions of the apparel including the fabric used, color, measurements and a price tag. We can observe several “bodily practices” (Turner, 1984) in modeling, all of which become “spectacles” (Richards, 1990) through the hyper-visual nature of blogshops seeking to entice and hook readers. Blogshop models carve out niche appearances to differentiate themselves from competitors. These distinctive elements vary from hairstyles and make-up varieties to highlighting distinctive bodily characteristics to poses and facial expressions.

‘Gemma’, for example, is known for the styling her hair up in a ‘bump’ and for her defined collarbones;
‘Heather’ is known for her polished smile and ‘crisscross’ leg poses;
‘Elaine’ is known for her fair complexion and pouty lips.

Repeated emphasis of these body parts helps models to distinguish their appearance in the market. In addition to their niche appearance, models deck themselves in luxury brand shoes, bags or accessories to complement the blogshop apparel, which is the only item actually up for sale. Blending of high-end branded goods with cheap(er) mass-produced clothing flatters and lends some prestige to the latter, persuading buyers to look beyond its often cheap(er) substandard quality.

Mass media celebrity

Blogshops also trade on mass media celebrity to stimulate desire in readers. Here, it is Hollywood or other mass media celebrities who are role-models, while blogshop models act as a conduit of cultural taste between international celebrities and customers. Blogshops pick out trends and styles from well-known celebrities and produce similar mock-ups for sale, creating a middle ground between seemingly unobtainable celebrity “high-life” and mass culture. This practice results in a wide array of “inspired products” — the blogosphere’s euphemism for imitation goods. Blogshops afford customers the opportunity to own a garment “as seen on” a particular celebrity.

Whereas practices of modeling in the mainstream catalog and runway industry are largely passive, with the body of the model acting as the site of display or conduit of desire, models in the blogshop community take on more active practices in role-modeling and role-playing. In practices of role-modeling, blogshop models aim to set bodily, beauty and behavioral standards for their readers. Across all blogshops performing different cyber-femininities, models are predom- inantly tall (above 1.65 m), slender (under 50 kg and UK size 6 to 8), fair-skinned (either of Chinese, Eurasian or European descent) and have long hair (beyond shoulder length).

2. Role-modeling

Blogshop models subtly shift from modeling to role-modeling by setting the core benchmarks of body image across cyber-femininities. Alternative body sizes such as shorter, plumper, dark-skinned, shorthaired models are seldom seen, and even when evident, are not as popular among readers judging by their visibility and lifespan in the scene. It is a norm for blogshops to include their “model stats” (short for model body statistics) in their blogposts, with these figures closely conforming to a largely unspoken industry standard. Most blogshop apparel, though tagged “free size”, is actually tailored to fit body proportions of blogshop models.

“[name], 1.67 m tall, uk size 6–8”
“[name] stands 165 cm, uk 6–8”
“Model [name] is a UK6–8, 166 cm”

The “halo effect”

Blogshop models are objectified when their attributes come to be detached and perceived as “objects of exchange” (Radin, 1996:156). Certain models utilize this strategy most often by overtly showing off their curves in the skin-tight apparel, implying that customers who purchase and don these outfits can likewise channel the same sexy vibe. Blogshop models also play role-models by offering beauty tips and fashion advice to readers. Through the “halo effect” (Dittmar, 2008; Nisbett & Wilson, 1977), readers perceive the model’s choices and guidance as coming from women “in the know,” having successfully achieved the unusual mergence of “beauty and brains” as evidenced by their economic success in blogshops and feminine attractiveness (cf. Fletcher & Greenhill, 2009; Perrin, 1921; Prather, 1971).

Performing heterosexuality

In addition to setting body-standards and fashion trends, blogshop models role-model the performance of their (hetero)sexuality by giving readers relationship advice. Advice meted out is usually framed in terms of the models’ own personal experience and supposedly private relationships. They give detailed descriptions of dates with their boyfriends before branching out into discussions on how girlfriends and boyfriends ought to be treated.

3. Role-playing

Role-modeling is accompanied by role-playing, in which blogshop models perform their femininities in a variety of ways to kindle desire among readers. One aspect of role-play and performance are instances in which blogshop models engage in playing dress-up to draw out social scripts of femininity (Laws & Schwartz, 1977; Wiederman, 2005). They suggest appropriate occasions for different types of attire and adjectives connoting particular features of the models’ projected cyber-femininities are found in text accompanying photographs of feminine performance.

For example, “power blazers” are intended for the workplace and channel the look of “strong” and “independent” women; tight-fitting “bodycon” dresses are meant for clubbing and portray “sexy chic”; and maxi dresses are great for relaxing days at the beach and intended to conceal tummy bulges on “fat days.” When blogshop apparel is personified and marketed as the dominant modes of adornment socially accepted by other women, the message is that readers’ bodies too should conform to performances of emphasized femininities.

Online and offline personas

Role-play by blogshop models blurs the distinction between their online persona and real life identities. At times, models’ activities offline are directed to manufacturing blogposts for readers online. In other words, models appear to be “on stage” all the time (Goffman, 1969) in order to produce something to blog about. As role-models, the lifestyles of blogshop models are objectified for readers’ consumption when the models market apparel in theme with their private lives. Life offline, at least as it is reflected on the blogshop websites, becomes a stage for performing (role-playing) the model’s persona such that online/offline distinction blurs or seemingly disappears.

Online reality is not a simulation of offline reality (cf. Baudrillard, 1994). Rather a model’s role-play offline, motivated by online representations of her persona, produce a reality in which the online–offline persona of the model appears fused, one-in-the same, and therefore authentic. For instance, planned face-to-face meet-ups and random en- counters between blogshop models and readers are often fed back into the social medium through photographs and blog posts.

Accessible celebrities

Apart from their captivating looks and quality posts, much of the success of blogshop models hinges on their interpersonal relationships with readers. Interactions between models and readers are framed as egalitarian friendships as opposed to hierarchal and distant celebrity–fan relationships in the ways they attempt to address each other. Blogshop models’ portrayal of their online persona is crafted through the narrative accounts of their everyday life, in contrast to celebrity models’ staged performances on the runway or at media appearances. Authenticity, in turn, is an important element that dilutes and masks the commerciality of each transaction, sustaining the success of celebrity blogshop models.

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