November 10, 2008

First things last: the basics

“Ethnography (Greek ἔθνος ethnos = people and γράφειν graphein = writing) is a genre of writing that uses fieldwork to provide a descriptive study of human societies“ (Wikipedia 25/10/2008).

"When used as a method, ethnography typically refers to fieldwork (alternatively, participant observation) conducted by a single investigator who 'lives with and lives like' those who are studied, usually for a year or more." ‐‐John Van Maanen, 1996.

"Ethnography literally means 'a portrait of a people.' An ethnography is a written description of a particular culture ‐ the customs, beliefs, and behavior ‐ based on information collected through fieldwork." ‐‐Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000.

"Ethnography is the art and science of describing a group or culture. The description may be of a small tribal group in an exotic land or a classroom in middle‐class suburbia." ‐‐David M. Fetterman, 1998.

Although there was some hesitation during the workshop, based on these fundamental quotes there is no reason to assume that what was presented during the In the Game workshop wouldn’t be ethnography in its core meaning.


So, what was 'in the game'? Researcher’s subjectivity, identity, body and reputation. Her power, efforts, and time. Participant’s trust, autonomy and help. But also the entire research: participation, material, interaction, friends, enemies, supporters. Fears and hopes. The game is public and private. It is in the mind and it is the body. It can be the means to an end or the end itself – the field or a way to understand the field. It can be social, about social or for social. And as I have learned from the theories of game studies: game is not an object, it is a process.

November 9, 2008

Ethics: relationships and bodies

The workshop focused on research relationships, which are suffused with ethical implications. Discussions of how relationships modulate ways of knowing are therefore ethical discussions. Bodies were important starting points for ethical considerations as well. While something can be left out from a research report or a paper simply because of coyness or the taboo nature of the theme, from an ethical point of view, it can be relevant and even urgent to address it. Audience’s response may be too threatening to include most revealing details in a publication, but the discussion of what is at stake in not revealing and what makes it so difficult was an especially powerful part of the workshop. We also argued about how to proceed when sensitive themes are relevant to the overall study and argumentation and when they can be left out. Highly imbalanced power relations and danger of being exploitative are the usual cases discussed, but our workshop raised many other ethically difficult situations. Is it possible to be ethical in regard to everyone and everything? What goes first, the participants or the research results? Or is it impossible to separate the two?

November 8, 2008

...and her body

While virtual places or mediated settings may appear as the primary field sites and research locations, these practices are not disembodied. The utopia of disembodiment in the Internet ruled the first generations of studies on virtually networked social interaction, but is now less prominent. For example the deeply personal experiences on sexuality and one’s body are not something solely raised by online technologies, but discussing them and exploring them in new forms has evolved at the same time with these technologies becoming available for research purposes. The workshop participants started addressing some of the very problematic themes of academic research such as sex and possibly terminal illnesses. Both researcher’s and participants’ bodies are entirely involved in the study of these and several questions are raised, such as what are the limits of getting involved and is it possible for a researcher to understand a condition or experience that (s)he has not gone through. But mainly, the discussions focused on the consequences for the insights produced of these different kinds of involvement. The researcher’s gender was considered meaningful, in this and other discussions. It was also discussed how difficult it is to tie strong personal experiences in the research text. Furthermore, some studies concentrate on how people inhabit parallel places and spaces at the same time and how a practice can take place in two or more locations. Studying multiple places/spaces simultaneously and in relation to each other requires new methods and tools.

November 7, 2008


When a researcher becomes fully involved in a practice (s)he is studying, game play for example, (s)he inevitably transforms during the study. Thus, writing out these transformations and changes in us is an important aspect of any study. It may even be possible that a researcher transforms into a well-known persona because of his or her participation. At very least this participation changes the way the researcher understands the world around him/her. From previous ethnography we know that it may be troublesome to find a way of being involved without intervening too much OOC (out of character, from role play contexts). On the other hand it was suggested that the different roles researchers take while participating and observing simultaneously should be argued based on the aims of the study. After all, the researcher is usually intervening in a way or another and this is a feature to be aware of instead of denying it. In some studies it may occur that the primary participant under study is the researcher her/himself.

Doing research in highly mediated setting such as the internet offers possibilities that make it easier for a researcher to get involved in action and reflection in numerous ways. This often results that the researcher becomes more embedded into the field and the boundaries of the research practice and non‐research practice get blurred. There is no lab to leave in the afternoon (or night) and ‘field’ becomes settled in the private house of a researcher. When the field appears virtual and immaterial, it is also hard to find. New ‘places’ force researchers to invent versatile ways to find people to study ‐ to locate them in the Internet for example. In addition, notions of co‐presence, performance, transformation, being embedded, feeling of being there, reconfiguring the ‘armchair’ and seduction seem fruitful concepts for future ethnographers.

Development of methods also leads to the development of writing up research. Many of the innovative research tools already integrate writing outside field notes into the process of ethnography. Playful ethnography and writing, the suggested “vertical slice” and other examples were brought up during the workshop. Also ways to include (text that has originally been) hypertext and other experimental formats into a research paper were discussed.

November 6, 2008

Research participant

Changing contribution and meaning of a research participant was another widely discussed theme during the workshop. Referring to my previous post, it is a rather radical change to think participants as possible authors of research. Ethnographic action research and action research in general are, however, methods that have been used for decades with good outcomes. Lower degrees of participant involvement are everyday and more widely accepted. It was discussed how researchers need to take the research participants into account as audience members, for example. They may be reading papers written by the researcher. It was discussed how to write for wide audiences which may include research participants.

Participants are often selected by researchers and this affects on the possible outcomes. Personal preferences can lead researcher’s decisions, which is important to note when writing about research.

It was discussed how participants also react differently based on what they know about the researcher. An example was given about marital status as a basis of trust in cultures where it affects on the interaction between men and women.

November 5, 2008


Most of the papers presented during the workshop were about studies done in mediated or online settings. The technologies that pervade these settings (and therefore also confronting researchers) pose new questions and challenges for ethnographic work. It was considered as a common problem, not so much as an advantage, among participants that one’s field is at times pervasive, and feel as though it is always available and easily present. New means for making notes, establishing and maintaining relationships and organizing the practice are required. But it is not unimportant for a researcher to go through the same learning processes as his/her participants do: finding a place, learning to use it technically, learning to participate culturally and socially and becoming a member in a community. So, the newness of these technologies is not something only researchers face, but their participants are in front of them as well. It is the very first step of ethnographic research in such places to study how they work.

Material related to online events challenges its ethnographer. Thus very practical tasks, such as taking of screen captures, could be made easier with more efficient technology. It appears as a problem that the amount of available data online is so enormous that handling of it becomes very laborious. However, it was noted that handling of ethnographic material has always required a lot of work. Finally, the ways in which technologies not only help to facilitate the research but also bring along values, their own agency, use practices, cultural meaning and so on, should be studied more carefully. For example blogging has made it possible to combine the writings of a researcher/blogger and participant/commenter, which then has showed a great influence on the research practices such as a potential decrease of the need for participant’s anonymity in some settings.

November 4, 2008

Ethnography 2.0

So, here comes the first bit of workshop report:

Variety of available technologies, such as blogs and Internet discussion fora, are challenging the way ethnography can be understood. Notions of ‘lab’, ‘fieldwork’, researcher’s involvement and participants’ position became revised during the workshop as changing tools and practices seem to require it. While the three first papers presented were directly linked to research methodologies and suggested novel ways of conducting what has traditionally been known as fieldwork, several questions on future practices were raised during the other paper presentations, too. Researcher’s subjectivity, participants’ possibilities to actively participate in the research, ethical dilemmas and help of technological apparatus’ and software were among the themes discussed.

Generally, discussion moved between contesting and broadening the idea of ethnographic tradition(s) to labeling participants’ own work different from it. What became clear after the discussions was that many of the participants of the workshop seemed to feel that their research varies substantially from what they think ethnography is and how it should be conducted. At the same time participants’ practice seemed well‐developed and they were surprisingly like‐minded. The workshop made it possible to bring together ideas that would have been difficult or impossible to discuss in several other contexts. Many of the participants of the workshop do not, for example, have colleagues working with ethnography at their own departments.

The themes presented in the later posts were discussed throughout the workshop as fragments but were brought up several times. They reflect pressures and surprises researchers face when conducting ethnographic research on virtual environments and with new technologies. They are also about the intents to develop means, methods and methodologies in order to make things work in the middle of this changing environment.