Hines the virtual objects of ethnography – NOTES

Principals of virtual ethnography

  1. Nethnography is a way of making the internet “weird”. This helps us get new perspectives, to see it as an object in people’s lives, a way of communicating, a site of community.
  2. Interactive media challenges ethnography by making site-based interaction less important. You don’t have to be face-to-face. Interactive media can be both an artefact and a culture at the same time.
  3. Culture is not located in a single place. Netography is mobile, in all places at the same time.
  4. You don’t have to go anywhere with Netography. Fieldwork in a “real”, hard to reach location is no longer key. Focus on flow and connectivity.
  5. Don’t assume boundaries between your subject of study and other cultures. Things leak into each other. Esp. important to acknowledge that online and offline are mixed. This problem means it’s hard to know where to stop the focus of studies.
  6. Temporal dislocation. Subjects log on intermittently, the ethnographer can’t be online all the time. Sites update.
  7. Netography has to be partial. Aim for strategic relevance rather than depicting full reality as a whole.
  8. Netography is mediated. Explore the medium in context. Be reflexive.
  9. Netography means you can lurk. Can’t do that in IRL ethnography.
  10. Virtual ethnography is virtual in the sense of not quite ethnography. It’s a bit like ethnography but with a different spin (see the last 9 points). Don’t attempt to make it exactly like “proper” ethnography.


Ethnography is key method of anthropology. Anth aims to study the whole way of life of a culture. As ethnog. Has been taken up by other fields (sociology, media studies) the aims become more limited. Not a whole way of life but more focused, an online community, role as a student, a workplace, etc.

Problems in this context arise:

  • Getting access to inner groups
  • Researchers holding back judgement, suspending previous knowledge


This results in loads of different approaches but all with participations and observation as key. Cultures studied in their natural state.

No set methodology, no way of judging accuracy of conclusion. But it does give detailed description and doesn’t rely on a priori hypotheses. BETTER THAN QUANT METHODS?

Can knowledge ever be objective? Asocial? Is ethnography a good approach to acknowledge these probs?

Can it cope Denzin’s triple crisis? Representation, Legitimation and Praxis? Does questioning this give rise to new practice? Will it make us more responsible as researchers? Will it allow the subject of study a chance to co-construct the knowledge along with the researcher?


How can we address these problems with regards to doing netnography?


Ethnography traditionally needed this. But with internet??? Can you make authentic knowledge without f2f interact? Even trad ethnography results in text constructs of reality. Maybe it’s OK to study a mediated culture if all knowledge is produced as a constructed text?

Internet means an easy “arrival story”, hard to position yourself as a serious ethnographer without a hard arrival story. P.4 Arrival gets replaced with negotiating access, initial observations and interactions with participants. This process still results in the ethnographer becoming more experienced with the community than the avg reader. AUTHORITY.

Does fieldwork give authority? If the ethnog. Is produced by a fieldworker and an expert who has never been to the site is it authorative? The expert ethnographer controls who enters the analytical space (e.g. reader/subject).

If you go f2f then you can interact with subj and alter the exp. Thru expert analysis. F2f forces expert to get involved.

So if f2f is key to ethnog what do we do on the web? Easier to lurk but in doing so lose ethnog authority? Does meeting online subj in IRL give ethno authority? But if all interaction of subjs is online doing IRL research is not true to the subjs lived exp of the online community.

p.6 personal identity is “a set of performances with reference to a singular body and biography”.

Authenticity on the web is not a problem that has to be solved b4 analyis. It needs to be at the heart of analysis. Make it the topic.


Don’t see the internet as social. Instead see it as texts.

Interaction is being with someone, quickly exchanging views and coming to shared understanding.

Texts packages these interactions and temporally changes them. Texts can be referred to later. Moved. Separate prod and consump. Less about hared understanding, more about reader decoding.

How does an ethnog interact with a text? With a website? Challenge of netography.

Texts can tell us about how authors see their reality. But we also need to understand the context that produced them.

Textual ethnography allows reader to check accuracy of expert’s interpretation. You can check the text too.

Problem remains of how to study lurkers. Maybe be reflexive? Try being a user or lurker yourself then write about it.

Realist ethnogs maintain lack of skill to ensure sceptical distance. Maintain otherness of subj of study. Or just don’t have the time to do it.

Reflex – ethnog knowledge as social construct – how to solve?

  1. Put members understanding of their culture next to expert account in the text
  2. Get expert to be explicit about their own background, write from personal perspective 9self-indulgent?)
  3. Epistemological correctness – make explicit how the knowledge is constructed


Need to think about author’s perception of the audience for the text. Who are they writing for? Does that change what they write? What gets omitted?



Trad ethnog fieldwork meant the objects produced were generally spatial. Q: is culture something that only happens in a bounded physical space? Is “family” only enacted in the home?

Ethnog becomes link between “their” culture in the fieldwork site and “our” culture as the reader. In a transmediated world is this link necessary? As authoritative as before? As readers are we more aware of other cultures? Is the local a suitable focus for cultural studies?

How to respond to cultural interconnectedness?

  1. Make ethnog richer, deeper, more holistic. Q: Can you be holistic
  2. Multi dimensional, multi approach


Despatializing doesn’t guarantee you will capture the complexity of connections.

Despatialized connectivism means Focus of study is “getting there” rather than “being there”. P.14