The right contexts for virtual ethnography

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An exploration of when virtual-only ethnography is appropriate and when offline ethnographic data collection is appropriate and practical.


<ul><li> 1. The right contexts for virtual ethnography MeCCSA Conference 7 th Jan 2010 David Brake &amp; Department of Media and Communications </li> <li> 2. What is Ethnography? <ul><li> In its most characteristic form [ethnography] involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in peoples daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research. (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995:1) </li></ul></li> <li> 3. Why use ethnography? <ul><li>It enables us (ideally) to generate thick descriptions of observed behaviour (Geertz, 1973) that is, description which approaches the meaning of what has been observed (for some or all relevant parties) and which places what has been observed in the relevant contexts . </li></ul></li> <li> 4. Virtual Ethnography is when: <ul><li>The object of study is the discourses and practices that are generated around / by computers (Escobar et al. 1994) and/or </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnographic data is collected solely in a computer mediated fashion </li></ul></li> <li> 5. Virtual research object -&gt; virtual methods? <ul><li>Some say it should be virtual alone: </li></ul><ul><li><ul><li>foregrounding the electronic personae at the expense of the fleshy body that types at keyboard, eats, sleeps and defecates (Mason 1999) </li></ul></li></ul><ul><li>Its generally accepted that offline collection can often add value to online - eg through triangulation (Orgad 2005:52-53) </li></ul><ul><li>But it might also threaten the experiential authenticity that comes from attempting to understand the world the way it is for informants (Hine 2000:49) </li></ul></li> <li> 6. Questions before starting <ul><li>Would the virtual ethnography benefit from or be hindered by an offline component? </li></ul><ul><li>Is offline contact practical? </li></ul></li> <li> 7. Useful decision criteria <ul><li>Epistemological: </li></ul><ul><li>Degree of virtuality of studied experience </li></ul><ul><li>Practical: </li></ul><ul><li>Boundedness of virtual location </li></ul><ul><li>Boundedness of meaning </li></ul></li> <li> 8. Boundedness of virtual location <ul><li>Is personal blogging as an experience about: </li></ul><ul><li>the postings? </li></ul><ul><li>The postings and blog comments? </li></ul><ul><li>The postings, blog comments, IMs and email about blog postings? </li></ul><ul><li>All of the above plus face to face meetings and phone calls that relate in some way to what has been posted or which inspire further posts? </li></ul></li> <li> 9. Good virtual-only locations <ul><li>The perfect setting for virtual- only ethnography is where it would be difficult or impossible to establish contact outside that virtual space. </li></ul></li> <li> 10. Temporal boundedness <ul><li>Periodicity </li></ul><ul><li><ul><li>Does the practice take place frequently or regularily? Or infrequently but with a start and finish date? </li></ul></li></ul><ul><li><ul><li>Blogging (for example) is hard to observe ethnographically because it takes place intermittently and can change its character over time. </li></ul></li></ul><ul><li>Intensity </li></ul><ul><li><ul><li>Harder to get rich contemporaneous accounts of activities that are brief or inconsequential (eg web search, status updates) </li></ul></li></ul></li> <li> 11. Boundedness of meaning <ul><li>What does blogging mean? Easier to establish with political than personal blogging. </li></ul><ul><li>What does Facebook use mean? Depends on which uses are foregrounded and by whom. </li></ul></li> <li> 12. Studying behaviour or context? <ul><li>Remember difficulties in establishing internet use effects? </li></ul><ul><li>You can do an ethnographic study of greyhound bus travel but not of travel, so you can study particular computer mediated communication practices ethnographically but not, for example, blogging its a context. </li></ul></li> <li> 13. Further Questions? Comments? <ul><li>Contact details: </li></ul><ul><li>David Brake </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Thank you for your attention! </li></ul><ul><li>This presentation is downloadable (with references) at: </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul></li> <li> 14. References <ul><li>Geertz, C. (1973). Thick Description: Toward an Interpretative Theory of Culture. In C. Geertz (Ed.), The interpretation of cultures: selected essays . New York: Basic Books. </li></ul><ul><li>Hammersley, M and Atkinson, P (1995) Ethnography: Principles in Practice , London and New York: Routledge </li></ul><ul><li>Hine, C. (2000). Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. </li></ul><ul><li>Orgad, S. (2005). From Online to Offline and Back: Moving from Online to Offline Relationships with Research Informants. In C. Hine (Ed.), Virtual methods: issues in social research on the Internet (pp. 51-65). Oxford: Berg. </li></ul></li> </ul>