The latest issue of Cultural Scienceâ€”an open-access, peer reviewed journalâ€”is devoted to Internet Research Methods as Moments of Evolution. I had an article published in this issue, titled “Ethnographic Blogging: Reflections on a Methodological Experiment.” It is, as you can probably guess from the title, about how this Geek Studies blog was unexpectedly instrumental in conducting research for my dissertation on geek cultures.
The subtext of this article, I suppose, is that I think cultural researchers could benefit from a broader understanding of what “counts” as research. In communication and media studies, at least, I think a lot of scholars and editors have grown gradually more accustomed to the idea that “virtual ethnography”â€”studying a culture via the internet, as opposed to in person, for extended periods of timeâ€”has its place. Even within this subset of research practice, though, I think it’s important to remember that people develop a sense of culture online in ways that go beyond posting to forums and mailing lists, which is what most online ethnographies I’ve read have focused on. I drew on that kind of thing in my own research, of course, but the web is a big place, and what goes on online doesn’t necessarily stay online. “Culture” is sometimes bigger than any one community of people, and a broader approach to online research can offer new perspectives on that.
My own approach to “ethnographic blogging,” then, involved surfing the web just to see where it would take me, writing blog posts on the off chance that others would comment on them and link to them (thus giving me more sites to read via trackbacks), and using info from online communities to locate suitable “offline” communities to study. (That’s in addition to all the “normal” participant observation and interviews I conducted, of course.) It probably seems haphazard and unscientific to many other researchers, but I suppose I’m the kind of researcher who tends to publish in journals with “Science” in the name only when accompanied by words like “Cultural.” Actually, I got the sense that one of this article’s editors thought my approach might have been too systematic, as I chose certain websites as “starting points” for my online meanderings. From a practical perspective, though, I’m not sure how else you’d start, and I did my best to include a range of starting points, representing a variety of concepts of what it means to be a geek. Some of them I still follow; others were invaluable to me as a researcher, but turned out not to be my cup of tea for personal reading.
I know the title “Ethnographic Blogging” may kind of imply that the blog itself is the ethnography, much as with ethnographic filmmaking. Alas, noâ€”the title just occurred to me as a way to describe my weird hybrid of methodological approaches. Somewhere deep down, though, I harbor a (now not-so-secret) hope that somebody will eventually make an ethnographic blog in the truest senseâ€”or that it’s already been made, and I just haven’t found it yet. Would it just read like a serialization of an ethnographic manuscript? Or would you get to know a culture day by day, post by post, alongside a researcher? How would future readers even navigate it and make use of it? I’ll leave that to someone else to ponder for now. To be honest, I wonder how long it will take for blogs to start to seem dated as a format, given how many internet studies focused on “multi-user domains” in the â€™90s, as if those were the wave of the future. (Though you’d be surprised how well some of their results hold up in other online environments today.)
In the meantime, if you spot (or practice!) any kind of ethnographic blogging, please do send me a link. I’d love to know that this isn’t just limited to one nerdy dissertation experiment.