The second chapter "The Shifting Project, The Shifting Self" address some methodological issues related to studying this shifting ethnographic site. The third chapter "Themes of Life in Cyberspace" discusses three themes that helped the author understand some of the ways users experience and frame online communication. It discusses how users: 1 frame; 2 experience; and 3 why they use, go to, or exist through and with computer-mediated communication. Chapters 4 "Stories of Tools and Places" and 5, "Stories of Places and Ways of Being," present extensive excerpts of conversations with the participants and apply the themes developed in the third chapter to an analysis of these interviews.
In the concluding chapter 6 "Reflecting" the author contemplates her experiences with online communication, her goals, the project, and the future. In addition to these six chapters, other elements, or "Interludes," that are essential to the telling of the story are included. Contains an index. Space has been restructured by digital media technologies, and the spatial and temporal proximity of digital media cultures present new challenges for research methodologies. Based on the author's own experiences of ethnographic fieldwork in digital cultures, and with Henri Lefebvre's theory of everyday life as a rhythm as vantage point, it is here argued that distance, dialectically interlinked with closeness and proximity, should be given further attention in current research and debate on ethnographic methods used online.
The increasing digitization of everyday life has led to an expanding field of studies of online cultures and communities. New media technologies have generated discussions on a further development of 'multi-sited ethnographies' Marcus, , putting forward the blending of offline and online locations in approaches such as 'network ethnography' Howard, , 'connective ethnography' Dirksen et al.
Several handbooks of online ethnographies have also hit the market during the last couple of years see Boellstorff, ; Kozinets, ; Miller and Horst, A major part of these texts, however, deals with epistemological challenges related only to the environment online: different communicative aspects of online environments, how to understand online identities, or different aspects of authenticity. Rarely discussed in the current debate, however, is the researcher as embodied subject, taking into account the research process offline as well as online.
Researchers, just as much as those we study, do have bodies, exist in offline spaces and have ongoing everyday lives that must be acknowledged as integrated dimensions of the research process. In this article, however, I will argue that 'travellingfrom' an environment is equally important in the epistemology of ethnographic work as 'travelling to', particularly stressed by ethnographies in online settings, and widely ignored by current discussions in the field. In my own work the 'travelling to but not from' dimension truly interfered with the research process and with my possibilities to become fully immersed in the online culture I studied.
I have for example quite unsuccessfully conducted online interviews via IM and chat with a not that ill two-year-old child on my lap, kept home from her day-care centre, energetically hammering the keys of the computer eager to copy her mother's behaviour. I have likewise tried to uphold a smooth and nice mood in ongoing interviews and more informal chats, despite having to interrupt the conversation several times as I desperately tried to make the Curious George or another equivalent disc work on the DVD player, to keep the same child, or one of her sisters, off the computer and out of my own personal and professional sphere.
The Banterbury Tales: An ethnographic approach to studying video game play
And I have turned down many invitations to different social events as they simply were not combinable either with other happenings that took place in my life offline, or compatible with what the people around me at that time would think was proper manners. Keeping up two lives at the same time is rather hard; everyone who has tried knows this. These difficulties can all be regarded as individual problems caused by my own naivety, or even stupidity, and lack of ethnographic experience.
I do believe, however, that there is an important theoretical aspect hidden in these banal examples that the vast literature on ethnography in online settings has shown little interest in so far. Historically, texts on online ethnographies have primarily revolved around closeness as a general ideal in ethnographic epistemology, either as a difficulty in ethnographic work carried out online due to the specific character of presence in online settings and of computermediated communication, or as an advantage as online communities are never farther away than your nearest computer or smartphone.
From my own experiences, however, I would like to put forward the importance of distance, included in a dialectical perspective on ethnography as scientific approach. With Henri Lefebvre's  perspective on rhythmanalysis as theoretical vantage point I am arguing that distance, not from the culture you are attempting to understand, but from the one in which you are normally situated, is and should be acknowledged as a key aspect of an ethnographic approach and a dilemma particularly significant in studies of online cultures.
The article begins with a short review of the conceptual discussion in the debate about ethnography in online settings, followed by an overview of benefits and weaknesses of such ethnographic work as put forward by previous research. After that I will look more deeply into the aspects of proximity, closeness and distance in ethnography online, partly from my own experiences of ethnographic research in online settings but also illuminated by the idea of the everyday life as a rhythm, developed by Henri Lefebvre .
Distance, dialectically interlinked with closeness, is finally put forward as a fundamental dimension of ethnographic research in online environments today. Several new histories of ethnographic studies in online environments have recently been published and I will not add another story to them here e. Boellstorff et al. Instead I will briefly discuss the conceptual debate of online ethnographies, which leads into the discussion of online methodologies. In the early s discussions appeared on media ethnography, touching partly on research in online environments e.
Lindlof and Shatzer, , and media anthropology Rothenbuhler and Coman, , predominantly relating to offline aspects of everyday media use. According to Rothenbuhler and Coman, media anthropology distinguishes itself from traditional anthropology by turning 'its attention from "exotic" to mundane and from "indigenous" to manufactured culture' 1; see also Drotner, Ethnography conducted in online environments thus differs largely from the wider field of media ethnography as many ethnographic projects conducted online have presented cultures that are predominantly exotic for the larger audiences such as computer games, virtual worlds, etc.
One of the first to claim expertise in the field of ethnography online was Christine Hine, who in the late s launched the term virtual ethnography, a concept thereafter heavily supported in research literature e. Ducheneaut et al.
Virtuality also carries a connotation of 'not quite', adequate for practical purposes even if not strictly the real thing although this definition of virtuality is often suppressed in favour of its trendier alternative. Later discussions have suggested other terminology, such as 'virtual anthropology' Boellstorff, 65 , 'digital anthropology' Miller and Horst, 5 or 'netnogra-phy' Kozinets, In the following I will simply use the term 'ethnography online' to refer to ethnographic research conducted in online environments, to indicate that I do not regard ethnography in online settings as essentially different from ethnographic research conducted in other kinds of environments as their core, intentions and aims remain the same.
In the growing stock of literature on ethnography in online settings surprisingly little attention is paid to the advantages of doing ethnography online, apart from the fact that an expanding part of our everyday lives takes place in such settings and is organized in accordance with digital culture see Deuze, ; Nowak, The spatial and temporal proximity of digital cultures and the constant access to the research field provided by new technology is often put forward as the one and only benefit see Hine, 22; Sunden, I will return to this dimension later in the article, but will first present an overview of the many disadvantages of ethnography online that have been addressed in earlier research.
Besides some rarely discussed issues, such as the commercial ownership of many virtual environments e. Paech, , most discussions deal with the same kinds of difficulties. The field of ethnography online is no longer new, and has changed along with the changes in technological development since its early days. From initial attempts to contemporary discussions, the question of reduced social presence has been a major topic. Lindlof and Shatzer thus typically dealt with 'the problem of participation' when claiming that:. In the same article, as in a large number of later articles Ducheneaut et al.
A similar but slightly different aspect regards data collection and processing. It is argued that the, often very rich, information that digital technologies provide us with is not ideal for ethnographic analyses, and that in order to be meaningful it sometimes also requires analytical skills that most researchers lack Ducheneaut et al. Hine subsequently pointed out the risk that researchers in online environments, due to their lack of such skills, only focus on the kind of information that is easily provided by technology see also Hine, Linked to this is the acknowledged problem of coverage: online communities are often small, diverse, and quickly changing or liquid, as well as providing users with possibilities to easily teleport or travel between places, complicating the possibilities of the researcher becoming immersed in a community for a sufficient amount of time Ducheneaut et al.
Connected to this is the aspect of generalizability, a sub-aspect of the above e. Another dimension that is often highlighted is the question of authenticity and trust Hine, 44, In its early versions this discussion typically dealt with the fact that we cannot know who the people behind the keyboards really are, or what their online behaviour and values mean to their life offline Schroeder, ; Turkle, ; Wittel, , but today it also encompasses wider aspects of representation, related to the question of ethnography as storytelling Garcia et al. Authenticity is also reflected upon as a question of the researcher's introduction to the studied community Garcia et al.
Related to authenticity, and a key aspect of the anonymity of both researcher and research subjects Garcia et al.
Early on, Lindlof and Shatzer discussed how to handle participation in an ethically informed way, regarding aspects such as lurking, adjusting to the environment, etc. Garcia et al. It is clear from the above that the most significant theme in earlier research is the difference between embodied face-to-face - FTF and online communication CMC and participation; that is, how the ethnographic research process is carried out in online environments.
Much less effort has been put into discussing how the research process is carried out in relation to its offline context, that is, considering the researcher behind his or her technical device although approaches such as connective ethnographies touch on this; see Dirksen et al.
And even if I agree with Ducheneaut et al. Physical world ethnographers often though not always travel to remote locations; they are typically removed from everyday tasks and responsibilities that would otherwise compete for their time.
Introduction. Mining Imagination: Ethnographic Approaches Beyond the Written Word
By contrast, in studying virtual worlds, we can sit right down at a computer anywhere and engage in research. It is tempting to slot data collection between other obligations and activities. However, that is not how ethnography is done. In the next section of the article I will dig deeper into this, so sparsely discussed, dimension of online ethnography, including aspects outside its mere communicative and interactive dimensions.
I will discuss ethnographic work in online environments as it takes place in two simultaneously present contexts: the examined culture online and the everyday life of the researcher. Digital technologies have restructured space Christensen et al. For researchers of online cultures this means that the studied environment is never far away, and Jenny Sunden thus claims: 'The fact that the game world is never further away than an Internet connection and a computer with the appropriate game software such as my own creates a particular closeness to the field' ; see also Hine, In the following section I will discuss closeness, proximity and distance in ethnography online with the neglected dimension of the embodiment of the researcher in ethnographic research as vantage point.
As the terms 'proximity' and 'closeness' are linked to each. Much has been written about the importance of closeness between researcher and the studied culture in ethnographic work in general, as well as more specifically in relation to ethnography online. Both hands-on introductions and more theoretical discussions deal with this, for example Hammersley and Atkinson's much-cited Ethnography: Principles in Practice , where ethnographic work is put forward as an approach that is concerned with and takes place in everyday settings, focusing on a few cases, which facilitates an 'in-depth study' 3 , or Clifford Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures , where it is argued that one of the main characteristics of ethnographic work is that it is 'microscopic' as it 'approaches such broader interpretations and more abstract analyses from the direction of exceedingly extended acquaintances with extremely small matters' To fully take advantage of the time-consuming and self-transforming approaches of ethnographic methods e.
Drotner, , research conducted within this tradition must result in a close description, with the studied subjects' own understanding of the world taken as the vantage point for the analysis. In the earliest days of ethnography, this was also explicitly political, as the anthropologists' ambitions to understand the cultures of foreign 'tribes' worked in opposition to the colonial powers' official representations of them as uncultivated and savage e. Malinowski, This political goal partially remains today, although the importance of intimacy and nearness in ethnographic work is often addressed simply as an epistemological perspective emphasizing an inside view, rather than being explicitly political.
In Digital Anthropology, Miller and Horst recommend a dialectical approach to studying the digital 4ff , returning to Hegel's theory of the 'relationship between the simultaneous growth of the universal and of the particular as dependent upon each other rather than in opposition to each other' 5. In practice, 'the principle of the dialectic is that it is an intrinsic condition of the digital to expand both [abstraction and differentiation], and the impact is also intrinsically contradictory, producing both positive and negative effects' I sympathize with this approach, especially its latter part, and more specifically how the Frankfurt School developed Hegel's ideas, emphasizing the double-edged dimension of culture e.
Horkheimer and Adorno, A dialectical perspective thus means to take as a vantage point the double-edged dimensions of our existence, be it societal macro structures or the micro dimensions of everyday life. Here it specifically means that, attached to the much emphasized dimension of closeness and proximity in ethnographic methods there is also distance. Returning to the founding fathers of ethnography though, distance turns out to be as fundamental to an ethnographic approach as closeness and proximity.
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In his canonical book Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Bronislaw Malinowski  addresses this question in the introductory outline of the book:. Indeed, in my first piece of ethnographic research on the South coast, it was not until I was alone in the district that I began to make some headway; and, at any rate, I found out where lay the secret of effective fieldwork.
What is then this ethnographer's magic, by which he is able to evoke the real spirit of the natives, the true picture of tribal life?
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As usual, success can only be obtained by a patient and systematic application of a number of rules of common sense and well-known scientific principles, and not by the discovery of any marvellous shortcut leading to the desired result without effort and trouble. The principles of method can be grouped under three main headings; first of all, naturally, the student must possess real scientific aims, and know the values and criteria of modern ethnography. Secondly, he ought to put himself in good conditions of work, that is, in the main, to live without other white men, right among the natives.
Finally, he has to apply to a number of special methods of collecting, manipulating and fixing his evidence. A few words must be said about these three foundation stones of field work, beginning with the second as the most elementary. Malinowski, : 6, italics added. From today's position there are many points of critique that can be put forward regarding this quote, of which some are more important than others in relation to the discussion conducted here.
First, the naive notion that a 'true' and 'real' picture of tribal life can be obtained by ethnographic methods is noticeable. Others have put forward their critique from many different directions and I will not go further into that discussion here, simply referring to the philosophical debate that has been held during the many decades that have passed between the publication of Argonauts and today. Second, and of more importance to the arguments put forward here, is the fact that the reader, eager to learn the 'ethnographer's magic' is simply addressed as a he.
Because of the times when the Argonauts was written, it is not meaningful to be contemptuous or make jokes about this either. Many scholars have debated the gendering of ethnographic work and the emergence of a 'feminist ethnographic' perspective, defining 'feminist ethnography' as an ethnography that acknowledges women and their specific cultural dimensions and ways of life Lather, ; Visweswaran, Nevertheless, in relation to the point I am making here, the gendering of the addressed ethnographer in Malinowski's text is crucial, as gender structures, as well as other power-related structures, are present in all cultural spheres.
I will return to this dimension later in the text. More to the point for my argument here is the second, and according to Malinowski the most important, aspect of ethnographic research in the quote above: that good conditions of ethnographic work means to live 'without other white men', that is, right among the 'natives'.
This aspect of ethnographic work is particularly important to address in discussions of ethnography conducted in online environments, as these can be easily reached without leaving one's own everyday life, which therefore enables closeness without distance see Hine, ; Sunden, One of the key dimensions of ethnography online is the fact that the researcher does not have to physically leave his or her home environment. Rothenbuhler and Coman put this forward as one of the basic characteristics of the larger field of media ethnography:.
A key difference with the classic anthropological ethnographies is that media ethnography does not, usually, take place fully outside the researcher's culture. When researchers turn their attention to their own cultures, even some of the more distinct corners of them, some of the -shall we say - sacred characteristics of the classical ethnographic experiences are missing.