October 5, 2004

Ethnographic Research

Here is the small group feedback notes for the
ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH SESSION

Table A:
 The online world may under-emphasize offline interactions but if the totality of interactions are online, it is reasonable to assume that the meaning is embodied within the text.
 An issue is the anonymity of cyberspace – native perspective on history. May also enable the research subject to challenge the researcher.
 There is an Issue with obtaining informed consent in researching online communities.

Table B:
Issues include:
 Self selection of those youth who do not go on-line. (demographics?)
 Reflexivity and the persona of the on-line researcher.
 On-line ethnography is attractive to lazy researchers(?)
 As researchers, how do we manage reflexivity in cyberspace using on-line methods?.

Table C:
Questions and remarks
Lori Kendall’s paper: Talk aloud method has many potentials, but what about access and relations between interviewer and respondent (for example elderly interviewer and young respondent). Issue with having a small sample
Brian Wilson’s paper: Are the online and offline groups the same?
Edgardo Garcia's paper: Access to media abroad may be easier. Access is often often granted through relationships and the way you get access influences what kind of results you get.
In general all the papers/studies presented used traditional ethnographic, methods.

Table D:
 One concern with methods in which people talk about their new media use is whether they are accurate. Do they recall and interpret their media use as it was or as they believe it should have been. These papers present three very different uses of ethnography, a little difficult to bring them together. Are we researching technology in work-related ways (news media use, banking, etc.) when a younger generation is using new media for far less formal interactions that used to take place on street corners. It has supplanted other, earlier forms of interactions. Perhaps we are not yet aware of how things are being changed by new media, because they are changing us and there has not been enough change yet for us to measure it.
 Can we say that methods are adequate for studying new media when we don’t know what the effects of those new media are yet? One example: Older people are reconnecting with relatives as they research genealogy and other topics. This changes our sense of community.
 A circle: We study new media, sometimes using new media tools, as new media is changing us, the people who are studying it. Ethnography of new media may incorporate new tools but that doesn’t change the understanding of ethnography, which has always been rooted in the situation(s) under study.
Increasingly, new media is embedded in our offline lives. Still, there are instances of people adopting identities online that are very different from offline identities or engaging in online behaviors that would not be acceptable in their offline lives. Is there a lack now of work on how online lives affect offline lives?
 In architecture, there is a tendency to design for people who are spending more time at home, engaging in new media. Also, new media allows changes to be made in architectural plans more easily. Computers are changing our living spaces. Just as people moved their pianos out of the living rooms in the 1950s to make room for the television, people are now planning their home spaces around their computers and flat screens.

Table E:
 Some at the table were familiar, others were unfamiliar with ethnographic methods.
 One problem: Finding links between thick description and theory.
 Another problem: Length of time necessary to conduct the research is a challenge. Does this have a limiting effect on results? How long is a long enough time period for observation?
 A question: is participant observation equal to ethnography?
 Different cultures refer to a range of methods. Range of perspectives exists across countries.
 Why does appropriate definition of ethnography matter?
 Immersion as a key point of ethnography.
 One observation: Adoption of ethnographic methods in communication research arose as a response to quantitative research.
 Study of human psychology should be useful in understanding ethnographic measurement.

Table F:
Issues raised:
- reflections of previous ethnographic work/scholarship on traditional newsrooms
- producers´ ways of conceptualizing their activity (e.g. producing publications vs services) and newsroom organizational structure (e.g. type of hierarchical work relations) as factors impacting observation of online/offline newsrooms
- necessity for developing hybrid ethnographic methods to better inform researchers´ study of newsgroups
- how ethnographic research might contribute to the investigation of anthropomorphic agents (avatars) used on websites
- issues of racial, gender, language-features of the avatars, with regard to both creators and receivers
- role of ethics in ethnographic online newsgroups research

Posted by npaul at October 5, 2004 4:09 PM