Contiguities & Contingencies with/in Cyberspace
M. I. Franklin
This paper is a written-word and hyperlinked version of the presentation given at the first Virtual Ethnography Seminar in 2006. Drawing on three research scenarios, I explore some of the practicalities of doing fieldwork, moving and being in the field, in what I call “cybertimes”. It is a continuation of those ideas, based on discussions that followed, about how we (think we) do fieldwork in “virtual” domains. And it is also an attempt at writing/mixing media, which function as analogue and digital formats, undertaken from the outset as opposed to post-production. I use pretty basic, off the shelf word processing software and hyperlink functions familiar to most “everyday” researchers and computer users, at home or public access-points, whether or not they are full-on ICT do-it-yourselfers or not (I’m not). A more academic abstract is below.
Debates about the nature of the research ‘field’ and the scientific status accorded to ethnographic research methods outside anthropology departments have been raging since well before the Internet/World-Wide Web put even more pressure on their terms of reference and codes of ethics. Burgeoning virtual fields and the ICT that facilitate them present conceptual, practical, and ethical challenges all of their own as well as complicate longstanding ones. Nonetheless, accessing and moving with/in cyberspatial realms, engaging with other actors there (organic or otherwise) still remind us that any field, however defined, is porous rather than hermetic. In our cybertimes, fieldwork occurs with/in multiple and mixed domains of inter/action that are simultaneous albeit not synonymous. The shifting, mixed fields of virtual–digital–domains are recalibrating the five senses that define humans as sentient beings, the raison d’être of ethnographic method. After outlining some of the practical issues arising from each research scenario, I put forward some conceptual-practical moves we could make in order to make head or tail of the contiguities and contingencies intrinsic to fieldwork in cyberspatial realms. Perhaps there is a “sixth sense” emerging here. That said, my aim is not to present a metaphysics of virtual ethnography & co. but, rather, to get a “dialectical praxis” started for working with/in the multiplex and polysemic (cyber)spaces, subjects, and objects of 21st century research fields.
Marianne Franklin (BA, MA, PhD, ATCL) is Senior Lecturer & Convenor of the Transnational Communications and Global Media Postgraduate Program at Goldsmiths (University of London, UK). A recipient of research grants from the Social Science Research Council (USA) and Ford Foundation, she has held teaching and research posts at the University of Auckland (NZ), University of Amsterdam, University for Humanistics (NL) and Columbia University (USA). Author/editor of Resounding International Relations: On Music, Culture, and Politics and Postcolonial Politics, The Internet, and Everyday Life: Pacific Traversals Online she is currently series editor of Key Thinkers: Past and Present in Information, Communication, and Society.