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In Search of Merjamaa. 3. Data and methods
3. 1 THE DATA
The data comprise 447 texts published in the Merjamaa web portal (http://merjamaa.ru) which is the principal information channel of the Meryan community. The data include all texts published in the portal between April 2010 when the website was founded, and April 2012. Moreover, the data include all texts published between the years 2013 – 2015 and in the year 2018.
The sampling method of the study is founded on the principles of theoretical sampling. Thus, interpretative theories are built from the emerging data, and new samples are selected to examine and elaborate on this theory (Marshall 1996, p. 523). The decision to sample data from different unbroken timelines is made in order to increase the validity of the study. Validity refers to the issue of whether an indicator that is devised to gauge a concept really measures that concept (Bryman 2016, p. 158). The data analysis shows some variation in the frequencies of the observed thematic categories between different timelines (see Appendix 1). Therefore, meaningful categories may only be created within the framework of a diachronic observation.
The timelines April 2010 – March 2012, 2013 – 2015 and 2018 were chosen in order to achieve a representative sample. The data saturation was reached during the data analysis when similar themes emerged repeatedly from different texts. Therefore, timelines standing for different phases of the neo-Meryan movement were chosen for observation. The timeline April 2010 – March 2012 covers the first two-year period of the Merjamaa portal whereas the timeline 2013 – 2015 stands for its middle phase. Finally, the time period 2018 mirrors the current situation of the neo-Meryan movement. This is the most recent whole year period which can be observed in its entirety.
3. 2 THE RESEARCH METHOD
An essential research method in the study is thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is a form of pattern recognition used in content analysis whereby themes that emerge from the data become the categories for analysis (Roberts, Dowell, Jing-Bao Nie 2019, p. 1). The study applies a Russian doll approach in which the data are first classified into a set of general thematic categories. In practice this involves a thematic classification of the texts published in the Merjamaa portal. At this stage the focus is on the frequency of different themes, because this provides an overview of neo-Meryan activity.
The next stage is to divide the observed general themes into thematic sub-categories. This enables a detailed approach to volunteering, the essential theme of the study. The process involves the identification of themes which are relevant to the research focus, the research question, the research context and the theoretical framework (Roberts, Dowell, Jing-Bao Nie 2019, p. 1). At this stage it is possible to analyze the emerging thematic sub-categories in relation to the research theory. The themes emerging from the research data stand for different types of capital defined by Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu, 1979, 1980), either social, symbolic or cultural. Therefore, the frequency and type of different thematic categories exposes those forms of capital which are present and enhanced in the voluntary activity of the neo-Meryan movement.
The thematic analysis of the research data is carried out along the principles of descriptive statistics. Thus, the number of units which belong to a thematic category emerging from the data is clearly expressed. This method increases the reliability of the study. Reliability refers to the consistency of a measure of a concept (Bryman 2016, p. 157). Therefore, a well described qualitative methodology utilizing some components of quantitative frameworks makes research open to critique (see Roberts, Dowell, Jing-Bao Nie 2019, p. 2).
3. 3. 1 THE THEMATIC CATEGORIES
The texts published in the Merjamaa portal between April 2010 and March 2012, between 2013 and 2015 and in 2018 can be classified into ten thematic categories:
1. An introduction of a current issue: # 111
The category `An introduction of a current issue´ is the most numerous of all categories. This category comprises various subcategories (see Appendix 2), but what is common for them is the relative topicality of the themes they involve. This topicality makes these subcategories important when approaching the activity of the neo-Meryan movement. The subcategories `Local studies excursions´ and `Auto tours´ include articles dealing with the local studies activity of the movement. The texts under the categories `Art and cultural exhibitions´ and `Festivals´, for their part, illustrate ethno-futurism which is the cultural framework of neoMeryan activity. Moreover, the subcategory `A new publication´ occasionally include information about books published by the Meryan activists.
The thematic category `An introduction of a place or a region´ includes articles which observe a particular place or a region from various perspectives. The articles under this category are normally founded on a local studies excursion or a set of excursions which have taken place well before the article was written. The local studies activity of the neo-Meryan movement can be approached through these articles. Also the thematic category `The presentation of material´ is important when observing the publishing activity of the movement
3. 3. 2 THE SOURCE OF TEXTS
The texts published in the Merjamaa portal can also be classified in terms of their original source or genre (see Appendix 3). A local studies blog can be ”a collaborative effort, swirling around a central topic” (Mac Ritchie 2012, p. 89). Therefore, the Merjamaa portal is a platform in which it is possible to publish texts from various sources. In most cases (# 269) the texts published in the Merjamaa portal are written by the activists themselves. The category `An academic article´ (# 53), for its part, include texts which are either published in an academic publication or are written by someone whose academic status is mentioned in the text. Moreover, these texts follow established academic principles in their parse and style. The category `A text from the media sources´ (# 55) include texts which are first published in a newspaper, a journal or in a television or a radio channel. Together 31 articles published in the Merjamaa portal were first published in the webpages of different information projects. Especially the Finno-Ugric information portal `Finugor´ and the Meryan art portal `Merya Mir´ were important web sources. Moreover, 19 texts were originally published in the webpages of other civil society organisations whereas 17 texts were published by public institutions. Here, the question was about the official information channels of the state administration, oblasts and municipalities. Finally, three of the texts published in the Merjamaa portal were first published in a travel blog. The original source or genre of a text published in the Merjamaa portal was taken into account when different thematic categories were chosen for observation. A high share of texts written by a local studies activist indicates that a particular thematic category is an outstanding example of neo-Meryan volunteering. In the thematic category `An introduction of a place or a region´, for example, 74, 04 percent of articles were written by an activist whereas the highest share of articles written by an activist, 88, 57, can be observed in the category `The
The share of articles written by an activist was remarkably lower in other thematic categories. In the categories `An ethnic group´ (50 percent), `A portrait of a person´ (51, 43 percent), `Cultural features´ (53, 57 percent) and `A religion or a cult´ (56 percent) only around a half of the articles were written by an activist, and the lowest share of articles written by an activist could be observed in the category `Archeology´ (14, 29 percent). The relatively low share of articles written by activists influenced the decision to exclude these categories from analysis.
Moreover, the category `A cultural era´, despite of a high share of articles written by an activist (62, 50 percent), was excluded because the number of articles (8) it includes is quite small, and thematically this category is close to the category `An introduction of a place or a region´. The category `An introduction of a current issue´, for its part, was chosen for analysis. Although a relatively small share of articles in this category was written by activists (58, 56 percent), the category is a heterogeneous one, and the articles chosen for analysis were mostly written by activists.
3. 4 THE RESEARCH THEORY
The study is founded on Pierre Bourdieu`s theories of social, cultural and symbolic capital. According to Bourdieu, social capital is the entity of those current or potential resources which lie in institutionalized networks. In other words, social capital is about belonging to a group which is brought together by permanent and beneficial relationships. (Bourdieu 1980, p. 2.) Cultural capital, for its part, can be defined as property which has turned into being, an essential part of a person (Bourdieu 1979, p. 4). Thus, the question is about the habitus, a tendency of behavior which turns the essential, socially constituted characters of a person into a solid lifestyle (Bourdieu 1998, pp. 150 - 151). Finally, symbolic capital stands for any quality which becomes symbolically effective when being observed by social actors with suitable means of observation and appraisal (ibid., p. 165).
The essential aim of the study is to find out how volunteering creates cultural and symbolic capital in order to reproduce the Meryan heritage. Therefore, Bourdieu`s article of cultural and social reproduction (Bourdieu 1971) provides a good approach to the theme. According to Bourdieu, the accumulated legacy which is inherited from past generations only belongs to those with an ability of adopting it. Thus, receiving a message and achieving the culturally organized competence which is necessary for receiving it are submissive to the same laws. This leads to a circle in which cultural capital ends to cultural capital. (ibid., p. 47, 53.) The presupposition of the study is that Meryanness as a form of social capital is tightly intertwined with the creation of cultural capital necessary for adopting a Meryan identity.
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