Renowned anthropologist Clifford Geertz once used the work of Gilbert Ryle to describe how one action (a wink) that seems to mean one thing can in fact have multiple meanings depending on the intentions and social cues of the person who performs it and the person (or people) interpreting and receiving it. When two boys are “rapidly contracting the right eyelids of their right eyes” is it a wink or a twitch? Is it a socially significant communication or a inconsequential bio-physical reaction? It takes an ethnographer’s “thick description” to tease out meaning of such subtle signs.
What does “thick description” look like in studying online communities? Is it even possible? Are there parallels between winks and twitches an
d “likes” and “comments” on Facebook?
Sometimes the boundaries between social media and the world around us are blurred, uncontrollable, and bridged by instantaneous interaction. For some, it is evidence of the cumbersome character of social media and perhaps the inability to navigate its intricate interactional lattice. For others, it is a situation replete with opportunity and intimating more opportunities for rich ethnographic research.
Thus, it is vital that ethnographers, anthropologists, and other social scientists, seeking to apperceive the interplay and flow of meanings in various social spaces — online and off — appreciate social media as a viable field of study, recognize the theory at work in social-media based ethnographies, and also construct a viable approach that takes into consideration the various idiosyncrasies and mixed curses/blessings that each form of social media provides.
The studies of “virtual ethnographies” and social-media based ethnographies are emerging subfields. Since the publication of Christine Hine’s Virtual Ethnography fourteen years ago (a virtual lifetime in the digital age) the field has undergone various revisions and updates as the digital world continues to shift and advance, presenting new opportunities and challenges for researchers’ method and theory.
This session will discuss the viability and best-practices for “internet related ethnography” as participants discuss their own experiences and share fresh perspectives on what it looks like to do “internet-based ethnography” well. The hope is that the discussion will touch on theoretical foundations and a confab on several social-media portals that can provide launching off points and areas for further research.