Some time back, on this blog, I talked about ‘researching both ends’. this is about the need, when researching what is going on online, to take account of people’s offline contexts when they involve themselves in online text production. It is not enough to just look at what is online if you are carrying out ethnographic work, as so much of what happens online has roots in, or is influenced by offline contexts.
Fields and Kafai (2008) talk about ‘Connective ethnography’ which sounds altogether more sensible – in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (2009). 4:47–68 They talk about how young people share knowledge in on and off line spaces in order to progress in the virtual world Whyville.
There are those who are now beginning to reject the idea of ‘Virtual ethnography’ since off line worlds are not completely separate from online spaces – we see much evidence of the replication of off line spaces in online spaces; and we also see how online spaces are used to do the social work needed to maintain off line relationships (and I am aware here of the clumsiness of my terms offline and online lives etc.) Rybas and Gajajjala prefer the term cyberethnography – emphasising the way in which the human is behind the digital activities.
I am going to explore all this stuff as it relates not just to the importance of getting the methodology right, but also to the whole issue of identity as it relates to digital activities.