4/10: Virtual Ethnography II

Please post a question in relation to the methods discussed in the book (as a reply to this post below).




  1. I’m wondering about the deception aspect of the reading for this week, while the authors address that ethnography is about cultivating relationships in these virtual worlds and becoming apart of the culture, I feel that simply observing virtual worlds could be more beneficial in certain ways. This way the observers can emmerse themselves in the culture, but not alter the space by making it an expicit research site.

    This may walk a thin line with the IRBs and ethics secions, so I’m wondering if there is a way to do this sort of observation and have it be approved and accepted?

  2. Alone, is collecting quantitative data an effective way to approach ethnographic research? Boellstorff et al. describe it as being necessary for some ethnographic research, “Some ethnographers collect quantitative data themselves, such as administering a survey or census at the outset of a research project”(Boellstorff et al. 127). However if it was not possible to capture chatlogs, screenshots, video or other ethnographic methods is it effective to rely solely on quantitative data (Boellstorff et al. 127)?

  3. The author explains that artifacts in the physical world are important in understanding the culture, so the artifacts in a virtual world are also important in achieving an understanding of the online world. Boellstororff says, “virtual objects can shape senses of both community belonging and individual distinctiveness”(122). This idea is seen in real life but the actions and the way one presents them differs on virtual world. Some users do not portray the same person online as they do in real life. What does this say about the culture of our current society? Are online mediums used for enjoyment or as an outlet to resist binding cultural norms?

  4. The first part of this section goes through all the ways in which a ethnographer can collect data. It goes into great detail on each method and which information you would want to focus on. Now to me this suggests that this virtual worlds reaserch is a heavily studied and important type of research. People have taken great interest in this and have learned a lot because of it. Then as I continued to read it shows all the restrictions that ethnographers should follow when trying to collect more information. An example of this is when they talk about using deception and sex in order to dig futher into these virtual worlds. If this research is so important why wouldnt you want to explore every possible realm of these worlds? After all the ethnorgrapher is suppose to become a part of the culture and to do this you will need to form relationships with the subjects.

  5. When we look at the idea of ethics in research, I was quite clear on how this played a part in certain studies ( Milgram, Tuskeegee) but I was actually quite confused on how ethics play out when it comes to virtual ethnographies, especially when the people that you could be studying Dont have to be who they say they are. I guess my question is, What kind of ” ethical problems” do we run into with virtual ethnographies? And are Virtual Ethnographies riskier because people have a larger degree of anonymity?

  6. There is certainly insight gained from observing objects in the virtual world in order to gain clarity but would it be as enlightening to observe the SUBJECT (their looking practices, actions, and such) using the virtual technology in order to create a well rounded ethnography? I’m suggesting that the “participation” of the observer should go beyond joining a chat room or joining a online club and exploring but compensate the involvement in the online plane by expanding the scope into the material plane. this could mean the observer would personally interview (Skype) everyone involved. For me, without doing this level of participation the observer could still be labeled as a “lurker”.

  7. The author discusses different ways of finding research. Chatlogs and screenshots are discussed. If we were to screen shot something in order to study the way people interact how would we go about making sure we aren’t recording our research in a way that is unethical?

  8. To what degree is informed consent necessary? In the chapter is discusses that informed consent was enacted after Nazi experiments or when people were given false information about the drugs that were given for research purposes. In the biomedical world, I can see how informed consent is necessary in order to follow ethical guidelines, but I do not understand why it is required in ethnographic studies. When anonymity is retained for the subjects, I do not see any harm in them being observed. Therefore, my question is how large of a group is needed before informed consent is no longer necessary or relevant?

  9. How does the ethnographer normalize him or herself within the culture? I am thinking of like a media ethnography using cameras and other documentary equipment in collecting data. The lens has an effect on the subject so how can one normalize that dynamic?

  10. When dealing with a study that may bring out many different points of view, how do we (as researchers conducting a study) treat the subjects equally? Should I have different questions based on how people respond? On the other hand, I do not want to ask leading questions that may skew my results? Maybe I could approach the argument from both sides.

  11. .Why do we need to capture video and audio? As a video captures not only everything that audio does but it captures the persons emotions and expressions they may show. The reason I see it being a downside to video is that it is a such a large artifact to analyze as we have to look at everything in the video instead of just one artifact. With all the data analysis it would take away from completing other activities.

  12. While reading this section I thought a lot about my senior capstone project. Since i have been filling out all of the necessary IRB forms and gaining the proper consent from participants, I have often wondered how I, the researcher, is supposed to act if spotted doing an ethnographic study. If i am approached by the people i am observing and they ask me what I am doing, is it unethical to lie to them for the sake of the research?

  13. Artifacts and visuals are important components in conducting ethnographic research about the virtual world. I feel that because the Internet is such an infinite space for these things, it is hard to stay focused on the topic of research. Also, being able to explore the virtual world could lead to many other phenomenons and further subjects of research. What boundaries or limitations should an ethnographer keep in mind? Are there boundaries?

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