I have been experiencing some tensions and uncertainties about conducting a netnography. As noted by Hine (2000), the virtual ethnographer no longer has to make an arduous journey to reach the field site, the journey conferring some authority on the documenter. It is easy to drop in on a mooc, so what sort of passport or stamp of authority have I obtained to comment on what I find? One solution Hine offers is active engagement in the course:
The ethnographer is still uniquely placed to give an account of the field site, based on their experience of it and their interaction with it.
(Hine, 2000, p.46)
But is this active engagement compromised if it isn’t wholly authentic, if my motivation for following the course differs from the other students? (How I might know that it does is another question.) There are tensions for me, too, in assuming the role of documenter when I am a long way from fully understanding the subject of study and yet purporting to reflect an accurate account of the field site. This nagging anxiety remains even though I know that I am better able to attune to the experience of the other students precisely because none of us are masters of it.
There are yet more tensions when I come to think about interpreting (this word/idea is freighted and needs unpacking) and about subjectivity and objectivity. As a netnographer, I think I need to achieve as close an intersubjectivity as possible with the mooc students in order to best relate “the sights and sounds” of the mooc space.
Hine, C (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66