Lifestream, Tweets

Chenée raises one of the challenges of being a virtual ethnographer, which is ensuring an appropriate level of engagement. In her chapter ‘Virtual Ethnography’ in the SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (2008), Hine discusses the tension between being observing unobtrusively (lurking) and participating. The former -while creating ethical concerns- has the advantage of not disturbing or changing the observed community, but it has been questioned whether lurking gives the level of engagement necessary to ‘develop in-depth understanding’ (Hines, 2008).

With regard to the study mentioned in the Tweet (also from Hines, 2008):

Baym carried out her ethnographic work as an active member of the group in which she was at first a full participant before adopting it as an ethnographic field site. As an ethnographer, she conducted online interviews and surveys, carried out textual analysis of threads of discussion, and was also informed by in-depth knowledge of the soap opera that participants in the group discussed.

In another chapter, ‘Virtual Ethnography: Modes, Varieties, Affordances’, in tThe SAGE Handbook of Online Research Methods (2008), Hines reveals that Baym observed the group of soap opera fans for 3 years.. considerably longer than our mini-netnography for Education and Digital Cultures! Clearly, the understanding gained over a two-week period will be considerably less deep, however, questions regarding presence and level of participation persist. Both moving from either being a lurker or active participant to being a known observer, and managing self-presentation when both an ethnographer and a participant will be ‘tricky’, to say the least!