Image linked from BulletJournal.com blog.
Throughout this project, I have assumed that the representations of bullet journals online are reflective of what a bullet journal and how it’s being used. While I believe that this view of bullet journals is limited (more on this later), I suspect that the representation of journals online can still provide some valuable information about the phenomenon of bullet journaling.
To back this suspicion up, I did some reading around methods of digital ethnography. Alessandro Caliandro offers a few useful concepts for anthropologists interested in conducting ethnography online (2018). He draws on the work of Christine Hine to suggest that there are two main ways of studying in the internet: seeing it as culture (as a space for communities to interact), and seeing it as a cultural artifact (Caliandro, 2018). In studying bullet journals, I would be considering blogs and Instagram as a source of cultural artifacts reflecting a practice that is centered beyond the internet.
Caliandro also suggests that researchers can use social media participants’ self-presentation strategies as “tool[s] of analysis” (2018, p. 566); essentially, this means that on social media, performances of identity might tell us just as much about the social network and how representations of certain identities are valued and evaluated, as it tells us about the user performing that identity. Relatedly, Caliandro also suggests that the meta-data internet users produce (such as image descriptions and hashtags) can allow us to sort and attach meaning to specific posts; Caliandro refers to this phenomenon as “user as a device” wherein the user “collaborates with the ethnographer” in making meaning out of and connections between data (2016, p. 568).
In further study, I would like to use the most popular hashtags for bullet journaling (#bulletjournal and #bujo) on Instagram to find posts that reflect who bullet journalers are, what bullet journals consist of, and to what ends bullet journals are used. This sort of method has been described by Haidy Geismar in “Instant Archives?,” her section in The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography (2017). Geismar argues that while Instagram can initially strike researchers as an “anti-archive, one that frustrates efforts at systematic searching and analysis” due to its massive size and rapidly changing content, it can still be a valuable tool, one that “exposes a public culture that is contingent, in flux, and enduringly momentary” (2017, p. 332). For Geismar, meta-data like hashtags exemplify “the reflexibility that digital technologies bring to the process of archiving in which the archive increasingly preserves a commentary or documents the process of archiving alongside the ‘original’ material it contains”; this serves as “an epistemology forever in motion” (Geismar, 2017, p. 334). She further suggests that hashtags are a “user-generated classificatory system we might want to think of as a folksonomy” (Geismar, 2017, p. 336).
Additionally, the work of Agnes Veszelszki and Laurie Gries can serve as models for how to effectively collect and interpret data via Instagram. In “#time, #truth, #tradition. An image-text relationship on Instagram: photo and hashtags,” Veszelszki explores the relationship between images and hashtags on Instagram by analyzing the hashtags that cooccurred with the three base hashtags in the chapter’s title (2016). Based on the hashtags collected alongside these base hashtags, she was able to categorize and describe some common categories of hashtags (Veszelszki, 2016). The method Veszelszki uses may be useful in my study; by analyzing the tags that cooccur with #bulletjournal and #bujo (and potentially sorting them by the five general categories Veszelszki proposes), I may be able to better understand how bullet journal users understand (or at least represent to others) their bullet journaling practice (2016).
Additionally, Laurie Gries’s work in circulation studies can provide some useful, brass-tacks methods for finding, saving, and organizing images within their original context for further study (2018). During a recent workshop with Gries, she shared tips that included screenshotting images in their original context with Zotero, how to effectively tag and code images, and the potential value of different quantitative and data visualization tools when examining large, image-based datasets (2018). While I’m not yet certain which of these tools I will employ in my future research on bullet journals, it is helpful to be aware of a few tricks and potential pitfalls of doing digital image-based research in advance.
Caliandro, A. (2018). "Digital Methods for Ethnography: Analytical Concepts for Ethnographers Exploring Social Media Environments." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 47(5), 551–578.
Geismar, H. (2017). "Instant Archives?" In L. Hjorth, H. Horst, A. Galloway, & B. Bell (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography (pp. 331–343). New York, NY: Routledge.
Gries, L. (2018). Iconographic Tracking Workshop: A Digital Research Method for Circulation Studies. In CWS Circulation & Mobility Symposium. Urbana, IL. Retrieved from
Veszelszki, A. (2016). "#time, #truth, #tradition. An image-text relationship on Instagram." In A. Benedek & A. Veszelszki (Eds.), In the Beginning was the Image: The Omnipresence of Pictures (pp. 139–150). Peter Lang AG.