Charmaine’s Virtual Ethnography?

Yahoo! Groups: St Hugh’s Past Students Association (SHPSA) http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SHPSA/

This Yahoo! Group was started on August 5, 1999 for the purpose of keeping the past students in touch with one another. It is purely a social group. I sought and obtained the permission of the President of the Past Students’ Association to use this group for my ethnography. I am a member of this group and have been so since 1999. Here is my first posting, made on August 27, 1999:

I am Charmaine McKenzie, class of ‘72. I am in touch with a fair number of persons from my era, but it would be good to hear from others.

Just wanted to let you “younger ones” know that teachers dressing as students happened in our time too, instigated, no doubt by the same person – Miss Morrison!

Over the years, I have participated and observed, but have observed more than I have participated. For the most part, I lurk (Hine, 2000, p. 48).

First post on the list: Description

The St. Hugh’s Past Students’ Association list is for past students of the school to keep in touch with one another, get news of the school and of the Association. It will not be moderated. Any member can post to the list. However, please do not send chain letters or jokes or other inappropriate messages.
No attachments will be allowed to prevent the spread of viruses.

It has done more than this, supporting Kozinets’ (2010) view that technology and culture are co-determining and co-constructive forces (p. 22). It has also borne out Rheingold’s (1999, p. 414) observation, quoted in Bell (2001, p. 98) that:

In cyberspace, we chat and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, perform acts of commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games and metagames, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk.

While all the above are not evident, most of them are.

The SHPSA exists as a physical entity, started in the 1930s, with a president and executive committee in Jamaica. The online group is attached to that group. It crosses physical boundaries as the PSA does in real life through its overseas chapters in Florida, Atlanta, Toronto and New York. Membership in the online group is not tied to the physical group, however, in that persons on the list do not have to be members of the SHPSA to join the list. There are no members of the group who did not attend St Hugh’s High School, however. I had never given thought before doing this ethnography to the possibility that there might be persons who did not attend that school in this online group, given the fact that no one inspects or scrutinises new members. The possibility of “infiltrators” had never crossed my mind. The fact that there is no face-to-face meeting of the researcher and the subjects is therefore a matter for consideration, as discussed by Hine (2000). This matter is resolved, I think, through the customary introduction on joining the list and the tendency to state the years you were at school and the names of classmates, thus minimising the possibility, as well as the fact that there is no obvious material, educational or other benefit to be gained from falsifying this information in order to join the group. In addition, statements that may be made within this community are most times verifiable by other members of the community, thus addressing the concern for authenticity raised by Hine. Thus, I can relate to Hine’s statement that, “Standards of authenticity should not be seen as absolute, but are situationally negotiated and sustained.” (p. 49)

Is this a community? I think it is, by virtue of its shared interest in supporting the school, past students, and current students. It is clear also that the members see themselves as a community, a notion expressed by Baym (1998, quoted in Bell, 2001) as one criterion for identifying a community. Within this community I have observed that there is what I would call a sub-community, of persons who were boarders at the “hostel”, or “hostel girls” as they were called and still call themselves sometimes. Some members also refer to the St Hugh’s “family” in their postings. At the same time, it is clear that, as Hine states, the role adopted by “the informant” is a partial performance rather than a whole identity (p. 49). In the online field, it is not possible to discern a whole identity.

Recalling the quotation from Rheingold (1999) above, the site, while being used mainly for the stated purpose of its existence, serves other purposes. Members support each other when there is some kind of life transition – exam achievement, promotion, death, birth of children, etc.

Congratulations

Congratulations to Rashae for a job well done. I wish for her continued success in all her endeavours as she acknowledged God’s plan and purpose for her life first. May all your dreams become a reality Rashae.

Information-seeking/Re-connecting

Members also seek to contact long-lost classmates and seek information for non-school related projects:

I’m writing a book on a school segregation case in Hartford Connecticut and realize that I’m constantly making comparisons with St. Hugh’s. Actually, there is no comparison. I just wanted to get some feedback, especially from those in the states, on experiences in the Jamaican school system as opposed to the states.

Your insights would be tremendously appreciated. Thanks.

Nostalgia/Reminiscence

Members also “walk down memory lane”, reminiscing on their escapades during their school days:

Post: Carolyn, if you are referring to the bar at Bruces…God’s truth!! We always went there! We went to music lessons at Ivy Green behind the Carib theatre so we kinda knew the area!! Music lessons was another story….God rest her soul…Miss Daisy Hewitt did not know how much of the molasses and lime drink her Canna Lillies got. This poor woman would give us “refreshing drink” after our long trek from Leinster Road in the sun hot!!! We also got pone…but that would be put in the little bag which a guy named Havelock – the son of the fire. chief at Orange Street – had onto his bicycle. Poor havelock. How did he ever explain the nuff pone inna him bag? He must know how it got there but the poor guy never raised the question. We girls out-numbered him..so I guess he was a
wise boy!

Reply: OMG!! LOL!! You should write a book about these experiences!

A non-homogenous family: the class issue

Hine (2000, p. 51):

Rather than being seen as more or less accurate portrayals of reality, texts should be seen as ethnographic material which tells us about the understanding which authors have of the reality which they inhabit.

At times, interaction takes the form of heated exchanges on underlying class-related issues, reflecting social stratification issues that still prevail. Here, old wounds seem to be re-opened. This aspect of the exchanges on the group list was not envisaged as part of the purpose of the group, based on the statement of purpose first posted.

Dear Ladies,

Stacious won Best New Artiste (Female) at the EME awards last night.

Regards,

I know I may be controversial, but I had not heard of Stacious until I read it here.  I decided to read up on her.  As an educator in a girls school, i am always concerned about the messages, role models etc. that our young people are exposed to.  We are always proud of our st. Hugh’s girls but I am having a problem being excited about someone being described as’the next Lady Saw’, as ‘gangster princess’ I also read an  interview with her in which she talks about her favourite positions in sex etc.  I know my response may not be acceptable but I really need people to tell me what it is about what Stacious does that makes us proud. As I said, I have only just been introduced to her so I need feedback on this,

Aba

Aba you have my support here. I had only just said to my daughter that I cannot join in congratulating ‘Stacious’ as I am not appreciative of her considered achievements, but decided not to comment. However I must join in supporting your stanze. We should seek to lift our girls and not condone what can best be considered questionable ‘achievements’.

Dear Maureen et al,

Since I have a reputation for ‘defending slackness,’ I might as well weigh in on this. I’m quite sure that the ‘lady-like’ behaviour that was valorised at St. Hugh’s has contributed to the hang-ups about sex that some prudish ladies are now suffering from. And, yes, as  a teacher of English I know you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. But, for me, language – like sex – is about freedom of expression. So in an informal context like this, I’ll leave my prepositions hanging.

I have a chapter on Lady Saw in my book Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Culture at Large. It’s called “Lady Saw Cuts Loose: Female Fertility Rituals in the Dancehall.” And I quote Lady Saw who says, “Lady Saw is a act.” That’s right. It’s a stage performance. And I think Gwyneth’s sophisticated reading of Stacious’ love of drama also confirms that for many DJs the dancehall is a stage for acting out all kinds of fantasies. Marion Hall is not identical with her stage persona, Lady Saw. And if any of you saw her perform at Shaggy’s benefit concert for the children’s hospital, you would have seen the sweet, sensitive side of Lady Saw talking about Marion Hall’s many miscarriages.

We need to be much less uptight about sex. And why would we wish that Stacious had gone to another school? Is our memory of St Hugh’s so pure/puritannical that we can’t soil it by accepting as “one of us” a young woman who would talk publicly about her favourite sex positions? And how many of us condemned Shaggy for his wicked “It wasn’t me” tune? We indulgently said it was a joke. No questions raised about the tricks he was turning. Ah well, puss an cock don’t have the same luck – if you will pardon my Chaucerian ‘vulgarity.’
Carolyn Cooper

Gwyneth:

>Hello Ladies, What has Stacious done to make us proud? She has done nothing to make us proud. She is making her mark in popular Jamaican entertainment. Why mention her at all? Why not ignore what she represents? The popular culture of Jamaica is too influential to ignore. It finds resonance in the youth.
>If the Association is going to survive, we in the system must find common ground with our young past students. I believe that Stacious represents a significant proportion of past students who are under age 35 who have a positive disposition towards the school but who do not feel comfortable in our milieu.
>
>I admit that I developed a soft spot for her when she told me that drama was the only subject that she was ever any good at, but during her time at St Hugh’s the school did not have a drama teacher – teachers from other subjects sat in during those teaching periods. At the end of Grade eleven therefore, she had nothing to qualify her for a career in drama. That just breaks my heart because it means that she is pursuing her dream without the benefit of training and guidance. She is pressing on with raw talent and steely determination. I have decided to try and learn what our very edgy popular culture has to offer. This search led me to patronise one of the most popular plays in Jamaica, Bashment Granny. On the first occasion a technical problem caused the patrons in my side of the 2,000-strong crowd to get loud and angry and stand on chairs and block up the aisles. I asked back for my money and
ran: I was convinced that a fight was going to break out! On the second occasion I left during the intermission as I could not bear the
atmosphere inside of the nearly full Ward of happy theatregoers. When a roots play is showing, you can take popcorn and soda to your seat! I should have just rented the DVD. One newspaper review suggests that embedded in the bawdy script lies a morality play where good triumphs over evil.
>My heart was lifted yesterday when I read in the Gleaner that the Broadcasting Commission had declared stricter and very definite
guidelines for songs that must not be played on air. Now entertainment programmers will have to think more creatively about how to attract and keep audiences. I do believe that the average Jamaican person loves decency, so there must be more than a germ of something positive in the popular culture and the people who practice it.In the future, I will preface any idea that can be considered contraversial with a brief note so that persons can be warned and avoid being offended. Thanks for reading.
>Regards, Gwyneth
>
>P.S.
>I will update later on Saturday’s walk. Trying to get some video loaded on Youtube.

Hello Ladies,

I have always sat back and read all that is said from the ladies of St Hughs High. I listen to how you all critize the young ladies on making a a video after they were not allowed to have a graduation ceremony. I must say that I read Gwyneth’s comment and I totally agree with her. Honestly, I do not read most of your comments as they are so biased. I graduate From St Hughs 1984, and must say
I have not associated my self with the school.

I was one of the poor kids who went to school and felt left out by her counter parts and look down on as I did not have the best or most popular stuff and I mean stuff. The girls that went to St Hughs when I was there were what we call “uptown girls” who all shove their noses up at us because we did not look like them.

It is a shame to treat people that way. Just because Stacious is from the other side of town, that does not make her less a lady. Performers are just that, we have no clue what type of life this young lady lives. So please let’s stop with judgement e-mails. You do not have to like her or her work but you should not judge her based on what you see or how she performs on stage. Personally I have
never heard of her until Gwyneth mentioned her, but I can appreciate the fact that she is making a good life for herself.

Let’s just try to be lady like with our comments and not be so judgemental.

RE: [SHPSA] Congrats to Stacious
Ladies:

Reading in has been more than interesting and has also been quite educational for me. Never too old to learn as I tell my staff.

Though I have a 23 year old son, so far I have been spared some of the “harsh realities” that I am reading of in the postings. I never considered myself a “prude” but now I am questioning this.

I must say that “Stacious” has elicited many comments and email exchanges – very healthy dialogue. Sometimes we need things such as this to bring out our own latent misgivings about what is happening in and around us that we speak about in the confines of our homes, but never openly and I daresay in the print or other media.

Keep the discussions going.

Sincerest Regards, Denise
Past President SHPSA (1973-1976)

At this point in the fiery exchange I was urged to take a position. I did not. Instead, I supported the posting below.

From:  Christine

Ladies
This is a long post!

Gwyneth’s congratulatory message to Stacious has generated what I consider to be healthy discussion and demonstrates the value of our mailing list over and above keeping in touch.

There are several themes and sub-themes running through the posts. I have attempted to capture some below and give my thoughts.

1. Should we congratulate Stacious?
2. Dancehall music
3. The class issue at St. Hugh’s
4. Self confidence

1. Should we congratulate Stacious?

My view is that the mailing list reflects the views of individuals and not of the St. Hugh’s Past Students? Association as a body. The list is not moderated. So if any of us wish to congratulate Stacious on her success, then so be it. The SHPSA gives various awards for which there are established criteria.

Stacious was judged by her peers in the music and entertainment field to be worthy of being named Best New Artiste (Female) – an award given ‘to an artist whose release(s) during the eligibility year establishes [her] public identity’ – at the Excellence in Music and Entertainment Awards.

I found out from the Web (http://www.emeaward s.com/) that the EME Awards were/was (?) founded by radio personality Richard ‘Richie B’ Burgess, who ‘envisioned an authentic and dedicated awards ceremony for Jamaican music and entertainment, fashioned after the famed Grammy Awards, with grandeur and pageantry characteristic of such an awards ceremony’. Since its inception in 2005, as a small ‘in studio’ production, The EME Awards has also gained unwavering support and popularity, becoming a much larger and recognized event on Jamaica’s entertainment calendar. The EME Awards, a non-profit venture, is designed to recognise excellence within our music and entertainment industries. It is our hope that it will motivate all in this ‘World of Reggae’, to aspire to achieve greatness, knowing that the success achieved will assist in preserving this valuable aspect of our nation’s
development’.

So for my part, I say to Stacious, congratulations on being recognised by her peers as the Best New Female Artiste.

2. Dancehall music
Especially in light of the recent ban on ‘daggering’ lyrics, the issue of dancehall culture (not just the music) has been brought to the fore.

Maureen  took the time to learn a little about Stacious and concluded that ’she has talent and with the right nurturing/people she can excel. Dance hall is not my style of music but there is a market out there for it. She has a good rapping and singing voice and I think she will be successful.’

I encountered an article, ‘Dancehall music can empower the young’ http://jamaica- gleaner.com/ gleaner/20090208 /ent/ent1. html, in which Internationally acclaimed Jamaican pianist Huntley Brown, the pianist for Ruth Graham and Friends Ministries, expresses the view that dancehall music can be used to empower young people, that “dancehall, in its present form needs to be fixed … not abolished. Music is a cultural expression and dancehall is the language spoken by many people in Jamaica. As a Christian musician, I believe all we have to do is package the gospel in the dancehall language and then watch it transform the lives of the listeners.” He pointed out that the early church had similar discussions about the use of the pipe organ in church.

I am sure that there is much more that can be debated for and against dance hall music.

3. The class issue at St. Hugh’s
During my years at St. Hugh’s 1966-1973 (?), St. Hugh’s was blessed with a mixture of girls from all walks of life and economic
backgrounds. I considered it a compliment to the school when a Wolmerian once remarked to me that St. Hugh?s has no pedigree. Has that changed?

There are perhaps more social challenges impacting on the school, as Zara pointed out. ‘Many of the girls are products of communities that tell them that they will become nothing, valuable to none, children of parents who have paid them no attention, who have had to mature in a cruel world the only way they know how. Though Stacious’s choice of a career might be questionable, I’m sure she could be doing far worse things with her time. She has done the best she can with what she knows. Yet still as a potential role model, she shows girls, in particular, that they can be successful no matter who you are, your parents are, where you live or where you went to school.’

4. Self confidence
I was particularly struck by Maureen’s  ‘mogelling’story. It just goes to show what effect a passing comment can have on us, for better or for worse.

Well, that’s my $30 worth (devaluation has taken its toll on 2 cents. By the way, did you know that the phrase ‘two cents worth’ may have originated either from the cost of the stamp to post a letter to the editor/government official to give your opinion, or from the minimum amount to pay to join a poker/card game? [http://www.phrases. org.uk/meanings/ 393950.html, http://stason. org/TULARC/ languages/ english-usage/ 165-put-in- one-s-two-cents-worth- Phrase-origins- alt-us.html] . Isn’t the Internet a marvellous resource, at the same time that it can be used for all sorts of dangerous things? A bit like dancehall?)

Fidelitas

Christine

My 2 cents on this hullabaloo on Stacious
Good Day Ladies

For weeks I’ve seen the replies to Christine’s congrats to Stacious and ignored them. But by chance during my lunch break today I decided to open one and was greeted by the prolonged conversation between old girls, so I found my deleted emails and got myself up to speed on this matter. As one of the younger ‘old’ girls I thought I might add my 2 cents in this discussion.

Personally I am not a big fan off dancehall music; I think it much too lewd and without regulation but it doesn’t mean I cannot be in high spirits for this young woman who has chosen this to be her career path and Jamaica saw it fit to reward her for it. I’ve seen where some of you older ‘old’ girls mention things like what was and was not taught at St. Hugh’s when you were there, why did she have to go to go to your alma mater and so on; I think it’s very childish and unbecoming. Stacious isn’t any different from Christine, Carolyn or any of you who have excelled in your chosen field. I think you have chosen to look down at her because she has not excelled in a field that is “acceptable” and has a string of letters before or behind her name. The woman is making a living in a
very LEGAL manner; she’s not stealing or prostituting.

At the end of it all I think some these remarks were made based on the perception of what a lady from your alma mater should be doing because when a St. Hugh old girl is lauded she’s either; a doctor, professor, lawyer or has some influential position in
society.

Stacious is obviously happy with her chosen field and I think if all you are going to do is tear her down, don’t partake in the conversation or just ignore the message that was sent (you did have the opportunity to do so)

And i agree with Karen she should be encouraged.

The above exchange, more than any other quoted here, highlights what the Internet has made possible for this group – the interaction across age groups (older ‘old’ girls and younger ‘old’ girls), which would be impossible to achieve in physical space and synchronous time. This discussion spanned age ranges, time and space, as persons living in different physical locations were involved. The generation gap was also signalled by Gwyneth, who noted that some younger persons felt excluded from some of the discussions. This exchange would have been impossible without the Internet.

As a member/participant in this group, I understand the nuances of language, the use of dialect, the social context and symbols of the group. I am therefore able to see what Kozinets’ (2010, p. 25) means when he says that netnography draws attention to, among other things, “meanings, social practices, relationships, languages, and symbol systems”, is also reflected in the interactions. Also, the anonymity and accessibility offered by the online group (Kozinets, 2000) has allowed long-felt feelings to be expressed.

Fundraising activities

Fundraising on behalf of the school is also promoted:

It is time once again for the MEGA DRAWING RAFFLE for the BMW. Spread the
word so that no one is left out this time. Let’s hope that we can get another
winner this year.

Group structure

Although the group is not moderated and there is no leader, over the years, Gwyneth and Christine have served as anchors of the list. However, this is a function of who has access to information.

Published in: on November 9, 2010 at 5:17 pm Comments (4)
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4 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. on November 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm Sue Grundy Said:

    Hi Charmaine
    Fascinating ethnography and a great read – especially the exchange about Stacious and the Dancehall music – which drew an interesting response seemingly stratified by class, culture, and age. I don’t take part in many forums and given the etiquette that our e-learning courses follow, I’m always surprised when people get heated in exchanges – perhaps not being face-to-face frees them up to be blunt (have I read this somewhere?).
    Was wondering if you found your future participation affected having undertaken the ethnography? I’ve hardly looked at the site I chose for my ethnography since – as if might find myself drawn back into time consuming research lurking mode.

  2. on November 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm Charmaine McKenzie Said:

    Hi Sue:

    I think it was that exchange in particular that pushed me to use this group for the project. I do believe that not being face to face encouraged the frankness of the exchanges. Otherwise, persons would have been more inclined to mutter under their breaths or comment to a friend. This way, views are shared across the age groups, cultures and social strata. I think this is a plus. As regards future participation, I think I will continue to lurk; but doing this piece has certainly shown up what can emerge from the virtual environment.

  3. on November 15, 2010 at 11:40 am Siân Bayne Said:

    Thanks for this Charmaine – I found it yet another brilliantly engaging glimpse into a new world – this time of Jamaican popular culture, morality and class. You relate it really well to the literature on virtual ethnography too.

    It ended quite suddenly – if you had more time, it would’ve been interesting to have seen where this was going in terms of your reflection on moderation and hierarchy, and the ‘voluntary’ roles of Gwyneth and Christine.

    However, you could write a whole academic paper just on the ‘Stacious’ exchange – as Sue says, a great selection for analysis – thanks for sharing it : )

  4. on November 16, 2010 at 1:38 am Charmaine McKenzie Said:

    Sian, thanks for the feedback. Yes, I realise that I ended abruptly. I saw myself not ending at all, as there were other insights I could have talked about, and so decided to put a stop to it:-). Your comments on moderation an hierarchy are also fitting; those who could be seen as influential in a hierarchical way, I think, deliberately try to prevent that from happening by remaining in the background much of the time. But then, when they “weigh in” on a matter it seems to me that it serves to – again – put a stop to the matter under discussion. This is not necessarily the intention of the individual but based on the perception of the individual by others, this is what happens. And all this was there all along, as text in the online environment.

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