The Location of Digital Ethnography

Dana M. Walker


Abstract

Qualitative researchers interested in digitally-located social and cultural practices have struggled with ways in which to design studies that can account for the digital aspect of cultural practices while also taking into account that those digital practices do not exist as separate (or separable in terms of our research) from other social and cultural practices. As such, one of the primary and ongoing challenges facing internet-based ethnographic research is the question of how to construct the location of a project when the sites, technologically-mediated practices, and people we study exist and flow through a wider information ecology that is neither fixed nor can easily be located as “online” or “offline.” This is as much a methodological challenge as a theoretical one. If one accepts that a rigid distinction between online and offline makes little theoretical sense, then drawing a methodological line between online and offline only reifies such a dualism. While there is a developing body of internet-related ethnographic literature which is attempting to take into account the fluid nature of our information ecology (e.g. Burrell, 2009, Leander and McKim, 2003, Hine, 2007), we continue to operate on shifting ground. This article uses the case of my own work on city-specific discussion forums in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to highlight the complexities of locating digital ethnographic work and also argue for the necessity of accounting for both movement and placed-ness.

Keywords

digital ethnography; multi-sited ethnography; networked ethnography

Full Text

PDF

References

Amit, V. 2000, Constructing the field: Ethnographic fieldwork in the contemporary world, Routledge, London.

Bakardjieva, M. 2005, Internet society: The Internet in everyday life, Sage, London.

Bakardjieva, M. 2009, 'A response to Shani Orgad', In: Markham, A. N. & Baym, N. K. (eds.) Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method, Sage, Los Angeles.

Beaulieu, A. 2005, 'Sociable hyperlinks: An ethnographic approach to connectivity', Virtual methods: Issues in social research on the Internet, 183-197.

Boellstorff, T. 2008, Coming of age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human, Princeton Univ Pr.

boyd, d. 2008, Taken out of context: American teen sociality in networked publics. Doctor of Philosophy in Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley.

Burrell, J. 2009, 'The field site as a network: a strategy for locating ethnographic research', Field Methods, vol. 21, pp. 181-199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1525822X08329699

Carter, D. 2005, 'Living in virtual communities: an ethnography of human relationships in cyberspace', Information, Communication & Society, vol. 8, pp. 148-167. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13691180500146235

Crang, M., Crosbie, T. & Graham, S. 2007, 'Technology, time - space, and the remediation of neighbourhood life', Environment and Planning A, vol. 39, pp. 2405-2422. http://dx.doi.org/10.1068/a38353

Doolin, B. & Lowe, A. 2002, 'To reveal is to critique: actor-network theory and critical information systems research', Journal of Information Technology, vol. 17, pp. 69-78. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02683960210145986

Gupta, A. & Ferguson, J. 1992 'Beyond culture": Space, identity, and the politics of difference', Cultural Anthropology, vol. 7, pp. 6-23." http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00020

Hammersley, M. & Atkinson, P. 2007, Ethnography: Principles in Practice, Routledge, London.

Hampton, K. & Wellman, B. 2003, 'Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb', City & Community, vol. 2, pp. 277-311. http://dx.doi.org/10.1046/j.1535-6841.2003.00057.x

Haythornthwaite, C. A. & Wellman, B. 2002, 'Introduction: The Internet in Everyday Life', In: Wellman, B. & Haythornthwaite, C. A. (eds.) The Internet in everyday life. Blackwell, Oxford. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470774298.ch

Hine, C. 2000., Virtual Ethnography, Sage, London.

Hine, C. 2007, 'Connective ethnography for the exploration of e-science', Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00341.x

Hine, C. 2009, 'How Can Qualitative Internet Researchers Define the Boundaries of Their Projects? ' In: Markham, A. N. & Baym, N. K. (eds.) Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method, Sage, Los Angeles.

Latour, B. 1992, 'Where are the missing masses? the sociology of a few mundane artifacts', In: Bijker, W. & Law, J. (eds.) Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change, MIT Press., Cambridge, Mass.

Leander, K. & Mckim, K. 2003, 'Tracing the everyday 'sitings' of adolescents on the internet: A strategic adaptation of ethnography across online and offline spaces', Education Communication and Information, vol.3, pp. 211-240. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14636310303140

Marcus, G. E. 1995, 'Ethnography in/of the world system: the emergence of multi-sited ethnography', .Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 24, pp. 95-117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.an.24.100195.000523

Miller, D. & Slater, D. 2000, The Internet; An Ethnographic Approach, Berg, Oxford.

Orgad, S. 2005, Storytelling Online: Talking Breast Cancer on the Internet, Peter Lang Publishing, New York.

Orgad, S. 2006, 'The cultural dimensions of online communication: a study of breast cancer patients' internet spaces', New Media Society, vol. 8, pp. 877-899. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1461444806069643

Orgad, S. 2009, 'How can researchers make sense of the issues invovled in collecting and interpreting online and offline data?' In: Markham, A. N. & Baym, N. K. (eds.) Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method. Sage, Los Angeles.

Oxfeld, J. 2005, 'Letting the Blogs Out', Editor & Publisher, no. 138, pp. 39-41.

Rheingold, H. 1993, The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Addison-Wesley, Reading, Mass.

Rutter, J. & Smith, G. 2005, 'Ethnographic presence in a nebulous setting', In: Hine, C. (ed.) Virtual Methods. Berg, Oxford.

Schwartz, E. 1998, 'An internet resource for neighborhoods', In: Tsagarousianou, R., Tambini, D. & Bryan, C. (eds.) Cyberdemocracy: Technology, Cities and Civic Networks. Routledge, London.

Slater, D. 2002, 'Social relationships and identity online and offline', In: Lievrouw, L. A. & Livingstone, S. (eds.) The Handbook of New Media. Sage, London.

Taylor, T. 2006, Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Wellman, B. & Haythornthwaite, C. A. 2002, The Internet in everyday life, Blackwell, Oxford. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9780470774298