Walking, hoarding, ambling on the interwebs

While walking around my neighborhood north of Princess Street, I was contemplating the ways in which I would identify hoarders when it came time to start the fieldwork portion of this PhD program. I was walking and paying close attention to houses, in a voyeuristic kind of way. I was looking for windows blocked by piles of things as well as any spill over into the yard or liminal spaces of the home, such as porches or balconies, overflowing garages… That walk was merely an exercise in understanding how I stereotype the material symptoms of hoarding. I was reminded of Rachel Herron’s visit to our class when we discussed how some of the people she was working with didn’t themselves identify as part of an aging population. Because the hoarding of material things is stigmatized in our culture, it would certainly be a difficult task to identify hoarders with whom to conduct ethnographic research. In thinking about Garcia’s discussion of ethnographic research using the internet/web as a resource, and how mediated communication through the internet provides a sense of anonymity, it occurred to me that online communities could be a potential place to look for participants. There would be ethical concerns of course as brought up by Beddows, but not necessarily more or worse concerns than in real life ethical issues, just different ones. I began extending my walk to a virtual amble around the internet to see what sorts of communities exist dealing with hoarding. I found a hoarder’s anonymous community, http://www.hoardersanonymous.org/ and support groups such as this one in the bay area http://www.hoarders.org/sg.html (and many more in various geographic locations).

These groups made me question what it means to be anonymous and how does the idea of anonymity work to maintain stigmatization of many social or cultural practices- how does it essentially serve to police undesirable behavior? Additionally and perhaps ironically, I was unable to find any such websites or online communities of digital or virtual hoarders- this again led back to identifying participants for ethnographic research…does anyone identify as a digital hoarder? Perhaps not if asked in those terms, but might upon hearing a description of what digital hoarding might look like. Conducting online ethnographic research might be a great opportunity to explore (in an ethical, transparent way) who would be willing to share their stories.

This made me regret all the more my missing our class about“Story-telling and technologies of place.” I then came across “The Experience Project” at http://www.experienceproject.com/groups/Am-A-Hoarder/183262, which seeks to connect people based on shared experiences, in this case hoarding. This is a virtual space dedicated to anonymous storytelling…



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