Introducing Professor Carrie Paechter Goldsmiths, University of London who is a longstanding Wikivorce member. Carrie has a very special project in mind and tells Wikizine all about it: It started with my divorce…
When my husband and I separated in March 2007 I needed information. So, like many others, I turned to the Internet, and Wikivorce came up. It was quite a small site, but it was interesting. I started reading people’s posts. After a while I signed up myself.
In those days Wikivorce was only a little bit like it is today. There was no advertising, no official legal support, and the site was a lot plainer to look at. The Divorce Guide was there as a framework, but it had lots of gaps in it waiting for someone to write the contents. There were only about six broad forum strands, as there weren’t all that many posts. I can’t remember how many people were signed up then, but it was certainly possible to log on in the evening and read an entire day’s worth of postings, and it was quite common to be the only registered user logged in, with a couple of guests.
Well…I got hooked. I started logging in every day, and posting about the things I felt I could help people with, such as step-parenting (I am a step-parent and a step-child myself), broad education issues, child development. Although I never went into chat, I felt that I was becoming part of a community.
But I’m also a sociologist…
It was at that point that my professional self kicked in. As well as being a long-term Wikivorcer, I’m also Professor of Education at Goldsmiths, which is part of the University of London. And as a sociologist and educationalist I started noticing some interesting things.
First, Wikivorce did seem to be developing into an online community. One of the things I study in my work is the way people (mainly children, in my own research) develop their identities within overlapping communities. As I stayed on the site, I also began to realise that within this community people were growing and changing. They seemed to be using Wikivorce as a way of exploring themselves and their lives through and beyond divorce, supporting each other to do this.
The other thing that struck me was how much we were all learning within Wikivorce. I don’t mean just the obvious stuff that Ian intended when he set up the site, such as how to fill in Form E and what will happen in court. I also mean that people were learning much more intangible but really important things, mainly from each other. How to carry on co-parenting through and beyond divorce, for example. How to cope with sleeping alone or dating after years of marriage. How to think about yourself as a single person.
Eventually I decided that I would really like to carry out a proper study of what was happening within Wikivorce, to look systematically at what goes on there. The problem was, the current site is far too big for me to do this on my own. So I decided to ask Ian if I could carry out a pilot study of the first year of Wikivorce, and if that was successful, to try and get some external funding to get help to do a bigger project later. I was delighted when he agreed.
What I’m going to do is to review the forum and blog postings from the first year of Wikivorce. I’ll trace how the community developed and analyse all the learning that took place. I’m also hoping to interview some of the other people who were around at that time, so if you were around on Wikivorce in 2007 you may hear from me. I’ll only contact people through private message on the site, and of course you don’t have to take part – though I have to say that I am very excited about the thought of actually talking to some of you old-timers!
Although we all use pseudonyms on the site, I’m going to give everyone another one just for the research, which only I will know, to make sure you are all extra anonymous. I will also respect any requests from individuals not to use their posts, or particular posts. As a user myself I understand how people can feel about what they said at particularly vulnerable times being used for other purposes.
I’ll keep you all up to date with what I find out by writing articles for Wikizine as I go along. I hope you find them interesting. I’m also hoping that my research will help Ian to get more support for Wikivorce, by demonstrating how important and useful it is for people.
Two Wikivorce identities
Ian has very kindly agreed to relax the rule about people only having one identity on Wikivorce, and let me have two. I’m going to carry on as a normal anonymous user, so that I can carry on supporting people and getting help for my own divorce, but all posts relating to the research will use my real name. Check me out if you want to!
I feel very privileged to be able to carry out this study. I am very excited about it. I hope you are too.
Best wishes, Carrie Paechter