Network Ethnography

Now that speakers and participants in the session are more or less back at home base (some also took part in AoIR in Vancouver), it is high time to thank them all for what turned out to be a real highpoint of the 4S conference.

It was an intense session in which speakers focused on the intersection of ‘networked’ aspects of their fieldwork and their conceptualisation of the social and cultural forms they are studying. Speakers addressed tensions between epistemically diverse representations of networks, positioning of the researcher (outside the network and then being taken up into it), mediation of the researcher’s presence, unexpected modulation and granularity of networks and combinations of data.

And though the room was crowded and time was short, questions from the floor led to further insightful exchanges. Bart’s contribution as discussant was especially appreciated for the way he formulated the need to expand on positions in an individualised way–rather than across the diversity of work. It was indeed very much in this spirit that TL and I had conceived of a set of papers in which the specificities of problems in relation to the study of/in networks would be central, rather than programmatic or methodological pronouncements.

Part of the discussion also further added to my sense that it is urgent to have a meeting on ethics of fieldwork in mediated settings. (On this topic, the paper by Estallela and Ardevol, discussed a couple of weeks ago in relation to the IRB and summer school, has now appeared.)

In the course of my own paper, I also fit in an aside on the use of tools and the notion of ‘black box’ and my discussions with Johannes von Engelhardt (for his version, see his report on his research internship) and the need to push these discussions. It is not so much a question of whether some tools are black boxes, but rather that working together can lead to a greater, more careful and precise awareness of the kinds of transparency we require of our methods. Through these collaborations, we come to better understand what it is that we do not want black-boxed, while acknowledging that some aspects of our research always will be…

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3 responses to “Network Ethnography

  1. An impression I got from the AiOR Conference was that researchers are wondering how to deal with the great amount of data we generate/obtain from our online/offline fieldwork. Something may be related with the way we are gathering data and the “transparency” of our methods, as Adolfo is working now with. Another question that was interesting is that many studies are site-oriented while may be we can begin to thing otherwise…

  2. “while acknowledging that some aspects of our research always will be…” (always) delegated on black-boxes.

    I completely agree on that point. Social scientist (not only ethnographers of the Internet) are everyday incorporating more and more material artefacts to their research practice and they are treated as if they were black-boxes.

    This is most striking when we realize that the same researcher that is reflexive with his/her disciplinary background, academic position, research interest, etc. considers, however, the material artefacts that take part in his/her research as tools, black-boxes, not needed of problematization. We could find the paradox that He/She (I?) were analyzing how technologies are much more that just tools for their research subjects but he/she is taking their research artefacts as just tools. It is like technologies were a neutral field that doesn’t need to be questioned.

    However, it may be really fertile to reflexively questioning the incorporation of technologies in the social research practice, in the same way that visual anthropologist have done with the incorporation of video camera in the fieldwork (as Eliseda does) or how technologist are used as strategist of objectification (as Anne have reviewed).

    I think social scientist should apply themselves the same symmetrical approach that they have applied to natural scientist when studding laboratories.

    And regarding the ethical issue. Un seminario ya!!

  3. Thanks Elisenda, for this impression from AoIR, and those others on your blog, which were fascinating. The notion of the field, the site, has indeed shaped the notion of fieldwork, which is in turn a cornerstone of ethnography. So no wonder there is plenty of anxiety about ‘proper sites’! My own suggestion for avoiding some of these anxieties (and one shaped by our discussions in and post Barcelona) is to posit co-presence as the mark of fieldwork, rather than insist on asking ‘where should i go?’. Another approach to this is to think about the role of case studies and of middle-range theory in social science–a topic Chrisine Hine is addressing in her article on connective ethnography in the November issue of STHV, edited by my colleague Sally Wyatt and Brian Balmer from UCL.

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