Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Survey and Surveillance...

I sat down to work on the survey...

I had finally found some time to start working out the questions ready for the following week.

Then I stopped to think.

Participants anonymous? Hmmm.

The mechanics of it would be straightforward enough.

The collection of data, analysis of the results, creation of colorful barcharts and piecharts with the stats a few clicks away.

We can all be "scientific" now.

That's terrific...(terrifying?)

Google forms, Google analytics, Survey Monkey...

Survey Monkey? 

Er....who's being made a monkey of?

make a monkey out of
  1. (idiomatic, transitive) To cause a person, group, or action to appear foolish or inferior; to subject someone or something to ridicule.

Something clunked in the process.

Was I working on a survey....

a) on the teachers?
b) for the teachers?
c) with the teachers?
d) about the teachers?

Would they be research subjects now...or friends and colleagues?

What did my "administering" of the survey say about how I saw our relationship?

What would my "administering" of the survey say to the colleagues about how they saw our relationship?

Would this be seen as an unsolicited intrusion into their lives?

The telephone rings...

It takes about ten seconds to establish that this is another unsolicited intrusion.

"Good afternoon. My name is...[complete from a list]" 
"We are the bureau/corporation/office...[bar where inappropriate]."
" Of energy conservation/solar panels, life insurance...[bar where inappropriate]
"We would like to ask you a few questions..."

"Good afternoon, could you tell me where you got this number please?"

Ten seconds later the line goes dead.

The penny drops...

You roll in your penny's worth.

That penny drops.

The moment it leaves the tips of your fingers it is lost and forgotten.

You have lost and forgotten.

The Arcade, is winning.

Survey and surveillance.

I went off and found some people who could aid me in my reflection.

I Google "Survey and Surveillance" [giving Google another data point to play with.]

I start with the etymology.

survey (n.) Look up survey at
late 15c., survei, "oversight, supervision," from survey (v.). The meaning "act of viewing in detail" is from 1540s. Meaning "systematic collection of data on opinions, etc." is attested from 1927.
survey (v.) Look up survey at
c. 1400, "to consider, contemplate," from Anglo-French surveier, Old French sorveoir "look (down) at, look upon, notice; guard, watch," from Medieval Latin supervidere "oversee, inspect," from Latin super "over" (see super-) + videre "to see" (from PIE root *weid- "to see"). Meaning "examine the condition of" is from mid-15c. That of "to take linear measurements of a tract of ground" is recorded from 1540s. Related: Surveyedsurveyingsurveyance(late 14c.).

I come across "Survey and Surveillance" by Gary T Marx (in F. Conrad, and M. Shrober eds "Envisioning the survey of the future", 2008).  

It's old (so am I) but I find some cause for pause and reflection.

"A survey is a form of surveillance. Survey and surveil sound alike and are synonyms. The former, however, does not usually conjure up Orwellian images. Rather the survey in its best light has been seen as a component of democratic society in which citizens can voluntarily inform leaders of their attitudes and needs and help clarify public policy questions and all under presumably neutral, scientific conditions that can be trusted. Survey respondents are encouraged to participate in order to "make your voice heard."

"There is risk of a kind of scientific colonialism in which various publics are expected to offer unlimited access to their personal data, but rather than serving the public interest, this can facilitate manipulation by elites pursuing selfish and/or undemocratic ends."

"A concern of some social researchers, particularly in the later 1960s and early 1970s was with the impact of survey research as part of a broader critique of social science (e.g., Gouldner,1970; Colfax & Roach, 1971; Mills, 2000). Who did the surveys serve? Who sets the research agenda? Are potential users aware of the survey’s sponsors and their reasons for seeking the information? What did the survey offer to those disadvantaged and beyond the mainstream who were disproportionately the subjects of research? What did surveys really tell us about social reality (Blumer, 1948)? Those issues have not gone away, but as this volume makes clear new issues are appearing.

Academic social researchers like other brethren in the discovery business (market researchers, investigative reporters, police, private detectives, national security agents) are surely more spies than spied upon, even if for academics this is usually in benign contexts. We all seek to find things out about others which they may, or may not, wish to reveal and which may hurt, harm, help, or be irrelevant to them –whether as individuals or more indirectly as group members (Marx, 1984)."

I come back and start to annotate the article so as to better think.

I walk with the author a while.....

I compare walking with colleagues to poring over atomised, anonymised data.

Unsolicited intrusions.

I think for an instant about the objective of my research: to discover to what extent language teachers are able or willing to use complexity perspectives to inform their practices.

I wonder about the unsolicited intrusion of researchers.

While no doubt colleagues will be willing to contribute, I wonder about my positioning as regards the group.

I reflect on my desire to enable participative reflective practice in an educational community.

I reason that it may well be necessary to continue to take time to build dialogue, to unearth questions which we might share together.

Participation between learners, learner-teachers and learner-researchers.

Whose game are we playing?

What if nobody wants to participate?

What if everybody only wants to go home and do something else?

What if the problem of education is that it is about sorting of people into categories (boxes)?

What if the problem of education is that it is about preparing people to play roles in an arcade?

What if understanding complexity was a just an avoidance of understanding the real game?

Ticks, clicks, ones and zeros.

Is a survey appropriate for my purposes?

I suppose the answer is that it can be... if the participants themselves are involved in its design and interpretation and buy into its objectives... (I note down what appears an appropriate term - buy.)

I find myself suspicious of those boxes, of those ticks, those clicks, those ones and zeros.

Is a dialogue box really about establishing diaglogue?

I know that such stuff might give me credibility.

Lost in translation.

I come back to a Virtually Connecting session with Steven Thorne. 

Even if the participants to a research study are willing what happens to their participation?

How accessible is the language used once moments of their lives have been disembodied,  "their data" is researched, analysed and interpreted?

I am reminded of "Extraction".

I am reminded of "Submission".

A person becomes a learner or is it the other way round?

A learner doesn't necessarily become a researcher even if he/she searches.

Is language all about being part of a group with more or less power?

Do we use language so that we may be recognised as "being somebody"?

I listen to "researchers" addressing the criteria for research being "good research".

I listen to "keynotes": speakers get warm introductions, and more time.

People listen attentively, laptops open.

People wait for the ritual moment when they will be asked for a question.

Most remain silent.

They close their laptops.

They wander off into the lobby for coffee.

What is it that they do in the lobbies while drinking coffee?

What is it that they are really doing in conferences?

I am reminded of academia being a reputation economy.

I am reminded of "What are you?"

I am reminded that "My lawyer is a dog..."

Whose boxes are we/they trying to fill?

Case studies.

I think back to being in hospital.

I think of parts of my body which suddenly become pathologised, they are dispossessed.

I think of losing control, of being impotent in the face of expert medicalese.

I am a case.

On leaving the hospital, I am asked to complete "a survey of satisfaction" to enable management to "better provide for patients needs."  

"I mean really?"

False friends...

I consult Facebook and I find its intrusion ever more grating.

It's that false friend who is ever ready with soothing words and a sly agenda.

"Want to share an update Simon."

"You haven't shared an update in a while, Simon."

"Good morning Simon."

"It's [insert name]'s birthday. Send her your good thoughts."

"[insert name] likes your post, commented on your video, reacted to your video, etc etc"

"I see you are in the hospital Simon, want to share an update with your friends?"

I turn off the access to my location.

I remember to go and remove access to my camera.

The fucking camera guy.

I Google him and find that I am not alone in hating him (it).

I go back and find that article I shared this morning on platform capitalism.
 I see yet another survey/quiz call it what you will asking me to profile myself.

I avoid it, despite peer pressure.

Aren't we all having fun?

In the search box.

I am in this box, I leave a trace of my passing.

I have still not "reclaimed my domain."

It's still Google's.

In the dialogue box.

I completed a survey on lurking in CLMOOC the other day.

I did it because the researchers are my friends.

I finish writing this.

I don't finish the survey.

I leave myself time to think.

I leave a few data points for others unknown, unknowable to track.

Will I be receiving targeted ads on hospitals,  or viagra this evening?

Will my health insurance be more expensive?

Will I, as a researcher, be an anaesthetist who sends patients to sleep or an activist who, with others, facilitates peoples' awakening?


  1. Thank you, Simon, for the unearthing of things I want to unearth but am not focused enough to do.

  2. Tribute to you, Simon and this beautiful blogpost