Mediating ethnography: objectivity and the making of ethnographies of the internet

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This paper aims to contribute to current discussions about methods\nin anthropological (especially ethnographic) research on the cultures\nof the internet. It does so by considering how technology has been\npresented in turn as an epistemological boon and bane in methodological\ndiscourse around virtual or online ethnography, and cyberanthropology.\nIt maps these discussions with regards to intellectual traditions\nand ambitions of ethnographic research and social science, and considers\nhow these views of technology relate to modernist discourse about\nthe value of technology for producing a particular kind of objective\nknowledge. For this article, I have examined a number of monographs\nand methodological texts in which the internet, as both a new setting\nand a new technology for doing ethnography, is shown to raise new\nissues for ethnographic work and for theorising anthropological approaches.\nIn this material, questions of presence, field relations (including\ntrust and confidentiality), and new possibilities for observation\nare especially prominently discussed. Anxieties about whether the\ninternet can be a field at all are also expressed. In my analysis,\nI place these issues and dilemmas facing the researcher in the context\nof the intellectual tradition of ethnography as applied to technology.\nThe main themes found to subtend these discussions of ethnography’s\n‘way of knowing’ are the notion of ‘field’, technology, intersubjectivity\nand capture. The paper ends with a reflection on the kind of knowledge\nabout the internet that ethnography can be expected to produce, given\nthese methodological prescriptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139–163
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Epistemology
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Reflexivity in social science; Theory and ethnogra
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