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

Social Epistemology 18 (2 & 3):139 – 163 (2004)
Abstract
This paper aims to contribute to current discussions about methods in anthropological (especially ethnographic) research on the cultures of the internet. It does so by considering how technology has been presented in turn as an epistemological boon and bane in methodological discourse around virtual or online ethnography, and cyberanthropology. It maps these discussions with regards to intellectual traditions and ambitions of ethnographic research and social science, and considers how these views of technology relate to modernist discourse about the value of technology for producing a particular kind of objective knowledge. For this article, I have examined a number of monographs and methodological texts in which the internet, as both a new setting and a new technology for doing ethnography, is shown to raise new issues for ethnographic work and for theorising anthropological approaches. In this material, questions of presence, field relations (including trust and confidentiality), and new possibilities for observation are especially prominently discussed. Anxieties about whether the internet can be a field at all are also expressed. In my analysis, I place these issues and dilemmas facing the researcher in the context of the intellectual tradition of ethnography as applied to technology. The main themes found to subtend these discussions of ethnography's 'way of knowing' are the notion of 'field', technology, intersubjectivity and capture. The paper ends with a reflection on the kind of knowledge about the internet that ethnography can be expected to produce, given these methodological prescriptions
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