Ethnographic Presence in a Nebulous Setting
Paper presented to the ESRC Virtual Methods seminar series, Research Relationships and Online Relationships, CRICT, Brunel University, 19 April 2002
Drawing upon an ethnographic study of the sociability practices of a virtual community, this paper identifies certain paradoxical respects in which the ethnographer can be regarded as both present in and absent from the setting. By definition, virtual ethnography describes places that are not spaces. Disembodied persons inhabit those places. Negotiating access to the setting and core aspects of data collection seem to involve deskwork rather than fieldwork. The virtues of conventional fieldwork activities for virtual ethnography are outlined. In particular, it is the trust bred by face-to-face dealings that enable some of the practical obstacles that researchers face to be overcome. Trust founded in the face-to-face also helps deal with some ethical dilemmas. Online ethnographers still encounter difficulties in precisely identifying the boundaries of their research settings. However, there seems every reason for continuing to insist upon the application of traditional standards of ethnographic conduct and recognized criteria of adequacy in this new field.
Rutter, J. & Smith, G.W.H., 2005. “Ethnographic Presence in a Nebulous Setting” in Hine, C. (ed.) Virtual Methods, Berg, pp.81-92.