Following the work of Mary Gray in Out in the Country (2009), I wanted to fill a gap in literature concerning the lives of individuals who are often missed out. In Gray’s case, her project concerned the life experiences of LGBT youth in rural America that are overshadowed by youth in metropolitan areas and as a result “we have largely drawn our conclusions and developed our theoretical frameworks…from a very…limited data pool” (p.10). Yaoi fans are also relatively difficult to find offline in the United Kingdom. National conventions for yaoi do not exist and physical interest clubs are equally difficult to encounter. It is possible to go to events that are dedicated to Japanese popular culture which manga and anime often make a large part. However, yaoi is a sub-genre of manga and as such forms a much smaller part of conventions also. Similarly, the content of yaoi, male homosexuality, means that many fans are often shy when talking about their interest with a researcher when face-to-face.
Gray examines LGBT youth in rural United States who are not easily found and writes that “unless our research calls for staying online….I think there is a greater impetus to explore offline experiences of phenomena” (2009, p.106). In the case of this chapter, I do the opposite but for what I believe is the same reason as Gray. She writes that LGBT youth experiences in the United States that are readily found in cities limits the pool of participants to those who readily have access to online groups that tend to serve metropolitan communities. Therefore, she advocates going offline as a contextually based decision to include rural LGBT youth. I take the opposite approach by going online for the same context based decision. Being online presents a greater chance to include yaoi fans whom one cannot easily meet offline. What Gray is examining could be referred to as what Fabiola Baltar and Ignasi Brunet call a “hard to involve populations” (2011). Maryse Marpsat and Nicholas Razafindratsima (2010) define a ‘hard-to-reach’ population as having relatively low numbers making an investigation “throughout the general population very expensive”. Being hard to identify, they often have something in common that is not easy to detect because it is “illicit [or] socially stigmatised…which leads to a poor choice of places in which to approach them” (p.4). If we think in terms of the wider manga community then yaoi fans are certainly in the minority, at a manga convention or in the public. There is no way to know who is a yaoi fan unless one were to stay by a yaoi booth but even then, many individuals who spend time at the booths may only have a passing interest in the genre. Actual fans may be too shy or nervous to walk up to the booth knowing in advance that it is related to male homosexuality.
I completed 15 online semi-structured in depth interviews from January 2015 with member checks, as triangulation, taking place periodically until November 2015. Interviews took place in real-time synchronous textual chat sessions via Skype. Although conducting interviews online means that it is possible to conduct them concurrently, I felt that if I did so, analytic focus would be detracted from the participant responses.
In the beginning of each interview, I would spend some time chatting informally with the participant explaining that I was a member of the site and had been for the past couple of years. This was an important conversation to have as it allowed for the formation of some basic intimacy between us. I did not want to appear in the research setting as an unknown researcher as this could have had adverse effects on trust or the quality of responses.
On average, each interview lasted 1 week. There were sometimes gaps between interview sessions as participants would often have prior engagements or found themselves busy with other tasks such as work, study, or family meaning that there would sometimes be a day between interview sessions. Initially these gaps may seem like a disadvantage to online research, however without the availability of the internet and the flexibility it allows, much research that involves dispersed participants such as these yaoi fans would be impossible and it means that I am able to keep in touch with individuals that may otherwise not be able to take part.
Conducting interviews in real time has many benefits over asynchronous communication. By being present with the participant, I was able to intensify online interaction and create an atmosphere where the conversations were able to grow naturally. For example I did not begin each conversation by immediately starting the interview but would rather chat for a while to ‘break the ice’ before moving into more focussed interview questions. After I had asked my questions or I felt that the participant was becoming fatigued, I would wind down the session with a casual chat once more before agreeing on a time to continue the interview and logging off. These off-topic conversations mean that I developed friendships with my participants and was able to learn about their daily lives. By knowing my participants more personally, I was able to improve my interviews and collect richer data. Furthermore, due to the nature of my online research, the lengthy task of transcription is quickly resolved as copies of communication can be easily saved in text format. This also means a way of avoiding the issue of ‘transgression’ in transcripts of interviews. Steinar Kvale writes that “transgression [is] a transformation of one narrative mode –oral discourse- to another narrative mode – written discourse -[and] attempts at verbatim interview transcripts produce hybrids, artificial constructs that are adequate to neither the lived oral conversation nor the formal style of written texts” (1996, p.166).
I have also conducted thread analysis of discussions taking place in the ‘Asian Culture’ sub thread of the community site. In both interview transcripts and threads, I have coded themes referring to Johnny Saldaña’s The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (2012). Starting with a heuristic frame of mind, I coded my data both during and after collection as an analytic ‘tactic’ and as an ‘exploratory problem-solving technique’ without any specific pre-existing formula to follow (2012, p.8). To facilitate the coding and analytic procedures I used the qualitative data analysis software Nvivo10.
The participants’ usernames, bar the site creator, have been anonymised. Whilst there are no prescribed ethical measures for online ethnography, many researchers elect to change the usernames of participants as well as the name of the site that they are investigating in order to maintain privacy.