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Research Questions

As seen in the literature review, hackerspaces have been described as successful models for social, technology-centric learning and innovation, both in terms of specific outcomes as well as the sustainability of the broader network. The model has also been shown to be transferable and adaptable, as evidenced by their global propagation. It has also been shown that hackerspaces are sites where multiple influences, interpretations, values and practices converge and are negotiated. There is not a unified, stable definition for these heterogeneous and dynamic communities. Nonetheless, there are common characteristics that have contributed to the adaptability and success of the model, and these common elements derive from the particular contexts and ideological influences from which hackerspaces emerged.

Previous studies of hackerspaces and similar communities have been primarily descriptive, ethnographic, or focused on the interconnections of the larger, global network.

Left largely unexplored are the local social processes of a multi-cultural hackerspace within the context of their diverse influences, interests, and values. Following this initial review of the literature and early stage participant observation, the overarching question that emerged, broadly stated, was, “How do hackerspaces—learning and innovation communities with a history of unconventional politics and decentralized organizational characteristics—emerge, organize, and function in diverse locales?” In an effort to understand these social processes within the hackerspace context, the following exploratory questions guided the present research:

RQ1) Through what processes did the Taipei Hackerspace emerge?

RQ2) How do the local conditions in Taipei, Taiwan, affect the organizing of a hackerspace?

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RQ3) Are any ideological elements from hackerspaces’ general development incorporated within local practice?

RQ4) What are the key dynamics and processes at work in the Taipei Hackerspace?

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Methodology

Restatement of Research Objective and Overview of Methodology

This chapter will revisit the research objectives and questions explored, provide the rationale for the chosen methodology, as well as describe the research plan and specific methods employed. The aim of this study was to contextualize and examine the emergence, organizing, and social world of a local hackerspace community and by doing so suggest key themes and processes for interpretation and further study. The spread of hackerspaces—

which originated in Europe and the U.S.—to non-Western environments was also a research focus. As there are still relatively few academic studies of hackerspaces, these goals called for an exploratory research approach to outline the relevant properties, dimensions, and processes of the phenomenon in its specific, local context.

In order to conduct primary research, a hackerspace organization in Taipei, Taiwan was chosen as a research site because of its explicit identification with hackerspaces (through its name, “Taipei Hackerspace”), as well as due to its accessibility, nascent stage,

non-Western setting, and multicultural community. Herbert Blumer’s (1969/1986) description of exploratory research is a fitting one for the present study: “The purpose of exploratory investigation is to move toward a clearer understanding of how one’s problem is to be posed, to learn what are the appropriate data, to develop ideas of what are significant lines of

relation, and to evolve one’s conceptual tools in the light of what one is learning about the area of life.” (p. 40) The choice of topic and research goal were motivated by my interests in community groups, decentralized and alternative modes of organization, and technology education, as well as a more personal desire to learn more about various technologies. This will be, to the best of the author’s knowledge, the first study of a Taiwan hackerspace.

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In order to explore the “social reality” of the hackerspace community a qualitative approach was chosen. A grounded theory (GT) methodology was used in order to stay

“close” to the data while generating emergent concepts in a systematic manner. Participant observation field notes and in-depth interviews were the main data sources. In addition to participant observation that was converted into written notes, additional observation of participants, material culture, as well as online communications, all provided additional context and fact checking. Researcher memos, an integral part of GT methodology, created a dialogue between this broader context and the data, thereby aiding analysis. Participant observation instances and interview participants were selected following a theoretical sampling approach, whereby the developing categories and concepts guided sampling procedures. Theoretical sampling is the accepted method in GT (Coyne, 1997).

In order to provide context and guidance for the in vivo study of a local hackerspace, it was also necessary to consider the historical and sociocultural background of the

phenomenon more generally. A literature review was conducted to accomplish this task, thereby guiding the formation of the exploratory questions and providing sensitizing concepts to contextualize the research (Blumer, 1954; Bowen, 2006). The focus of GT methodology is to allow concepts to emerge from close analysis of the data rather than imposing existing frameworks upon it. Engagement with the literature to allow theoretical sensitivity prior to data gathering and analysis—as well as a latter stage dialogue between the emerging analysis and the literature—is also consistent with many GT proponents (Charmaz, 2006; Heath &

Cowley, 2004; Mills, Bonner, & Francis, 2008).

In order to analyze data in a systematic manner and proceed to higher level

connections and concepts, GT methodology was employed to code, categorize and draw out patterns of interaction within the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Walker & Myrick, 2006).

The ongoing reflections of the researcher during the concurrent processes of data gathering

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and analysis generated memos that were also submitted to analysis, according to the central GT method of constant comparison. In many cases, grounded theory is used to generate substantive theories regarding the particular phenomenon studied, however GT as a method for conducting systematic qualitative research may also be used when generating theory is not the ultimate goal (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). This study used GT methodology in the development of four primary categories and a related framework to describe a variety of social processes and interrelationships in the data, as well as to address the original research questions.

Rigor and credibility in this study were strengthened through intensive involvement, collecting rich, detailed data, making comparisons, looking for negative cases, researcher reflexivity, and triangulation between multiple data sources (Creswell & Miller, 2000;

Maxwell, 2009). These techniques are acknowledged strategies for bolstering validity in qualitative research (Creswell, 1998; Kolb, 2012).

Choice of a qualitative research design. A qualitative research design was appropriate for the present study for three main reasons: 1) to begin to address areas still incomplete in the existing literature, 2) to explore the complex community and social dimensions of hackerspaces, and 3) to facilitate a process-oriented analysis. First of all, hackerspaces are a relatively new topic for research and therefore key themes and processes are still largely undefined in the scholarly literature. As Creswell (1998) noted, qualitative research is suited to a topic that needs to be explored or whose variables are not easily identified. In addition, the value of pursuing qualitative research “lies in achieving in-depth understanding of social reality in a specific context” (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011, p. 109). The preliminary literature review indicated the centrality of social interaction and community for hackerspaces (Grenzfurthner & Schneider, 2009; Lindtner & Li, 2012; Moilanen, 2012;

Wang & Kaye, 2011). Since hackerspaces consist of shared physical spaces and the

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community that develops around them, it was therefore appropriate to study the phenomenon in its natural setting. A qualitative study that enters that environment is therefore the only pragmatic option. Qualitative research is “pragmatic, interpretive, and grounded in the lived experiences of people” (Marshall & Rossman, 1999, p. 2). Furthermore, the questions asked by this study are in many ways related to social processes and participants’ understanding of them. A qualitative study is often better suited to understanding both the processes that lead to certain outcomes—and the meaning that they have for participants—than quantitative methods (Maxwell, 2009).

Choice of a grounded theory methodology. This study endeavored to interpret the social world of community practices and the lived experiences of people in the Taipei

Hackerspace community network, using a naturalistic, qualitative approach to offer a detailed and holistic view of the phenomenon. In order to pursue these research goals systematically and with the aim of conceptualizing the social processes at work, the present study used participant observation, in-depth interviews, and a methodology based in the GT tradition.

Grounded theory was introduced by Glaser and Strauss in 1967, and since then both the original method and subsequent variations have been widely employed by qualitative

researchers (Lindlof & Taylor, 2011). A guiding principle of grounded theory is the “constant comparative method”, whereby the activities of data gathering, writing memos, and analysis constantly inform each other during the research process (Walker & Myrick, 2006). In this sense, grounded theory holds that “Theory evolves during actual research, and it does this through continuous interplay between analysis and data collection” (Strauss & Corbin, 1994, p. 273). Since its introduction, proponents of grounded theory have put forth different

variants of the methodology. Even the originators of grounded theory, Glaser and Strauss (along with his collaborator, Corbin), subsequently disagreed and differed in their

applications of grounded theory (Heath & Cowley, 2004; Kolb, 2012). Despite these

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differences the GT variants can all be said to prioritize the emergence of concepts from the data itself through systematic data coding and categorization procedures and a constant comparative method (Heath & Cowley, 2004; Kolb, 2012; Pettigrew, 2000; Walker &

Myrick, 2006).

One of the differences between GT’s proponents regards the role of the literature in research. This study engaged with existing research and reportage related to hackerspaces in order to develop sensitivity to relevant issues and gain the context within which to locate them. Incorporating a review of the literature into the research process is consistent with what has been termed the “evolved grounded theory” of Strauss and Corbin (Mills et al., 2008). In contrast to Glaser, evolved grounded theory explicitly allows for engagement with the literature prior to data gathering, and for its ongoing role as a resource in enhancing

theoretical sensitivity, making comparisons, providing initial questions, stimulating questions during analysis, and providing perspective for findings (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Mills et al., 2008; Pettigrew, 2000). Strauss and Corbin’s approach to grounded theory also diverges from Glaser’s as regards the specific procedures for coding data and terminology used (Heath &

Cowley, 2004; Mills et al., 2008; Walker & Myrick, 2006). Charmaz (2006) has approached GT methodology with a constructivist epistemology that also informs this research.

Though some elements of this study, in particular participant observation, are also employed in ethnographic research methodology, the goal of this study was to consider the processes at work within a hackerspace community, as well as to consider how broader conditions interpenetrate with it, and therefore a GT methodology was used. In other words, this study was not purely descriptive, nor is it a case study, it focused primarily on teasing out patterns of interaction between agents. A grounded theory approach is better suited to

exploring these processes related to interaction and change within social groups than a more purely descriptive ethnographic method (Aldiabat & Le Navenec, 2011).

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Practical application of GT methodology. In practice, the methodology involved gathering, coding and analyzing data in an iterative manner. In this way, initial analysis can guide subsequent data gathering and analysis in a constant comparative process as conceptual categories are developed (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Coding & analysis process. Adapted from Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Hahn, 2008; Strauss & Corbin, 1998.

The steps in this process for the present study are summarized in more detail below.

1. Preliminary research: literature review for sensitizing concepts, developing research problem and exploratory questions

2. Phase 1 Data Collection and Analysis:

a. Data collection: (participant observation and in-depth interviews) b. Initial (open) coding of transcripts and notes in CAQDAS

c. Memoing, refining of codes and creation of categories

Theoretical+

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