Week 5 Summary

October 27th, 2009 - 

Week 5 has been the best so far for me. As I said in a mail to Jen and Sian earlier this week:

‘I studied Anthrpology for a year at Uni (having to drop it after year one to concentrate on other subjects) and I’ve always harboured fantasies about going back to it. In a way this course feels slightly like I have. Having a ball.’

In addition to snippets of the main readings from this block, my lifestream (notably my Tumblr feed, which becomes more and more useful by the day) for this week is a mish-mash of quotes, sketches, videos and random links all around the subject of ‘virtual enthnography’. Clifford Geertz and his ‘thick descriptions’ have really caught my attention.

Here are some that have really resonated for me and will feature as guiding principles as I set out to do my ethnography:

‘The concept of culture I espouse is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.’

Geertz, C. ‘Thick description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture’ in ‘Anthropology in Theory’ eds. Moore & Sanders. Blackwell, Oxford, 2006.

And then Hine:

The point for the ethnographer is not to bring some external criterion for judging whether it is safe to believe what informants say, but rather to come to understand how it is that informants judge authenticity.

Hine, C (2000) The virtual objects of ethnography, chapter 3 of Virtual ethnography. London: Sage. pp41-66

But what about ethical issues?

Ethical concerns over netnography turn on early concerns about whether online forums are to be considered a private or a public site, and about what constitutes informed consent in cyberspace (see Paccagnella 1997). In a major departure from traditional methods, netnography uses cultural information that is not given specifically, and in confidence, to the researcher. The consumers who originally created the data do not necessarily intend or welcome its use in research representations. Netnography therefore offers specific guidelines regarding when to cite online posters and authors, how to cite them, what to consider in an ethical netnographic representation, when to ask permission, and when permission is not necessary (Kozinets 2002). As quoted on Wikipedia.

And finally, the notion which has struck me the most:

Clifford Geertz’s own fieldwork used elements of a phenomenological approach to fieldwork, tracing not just the doings of people, but the cultural elements themselves. For example, if within a group of people, winking was a communicative gesture, he sought to first determine what kinds of things a wink might mean (it might mean several things). Then, he sought to determine in what contexts winks were used, and whether, as one moved about a region, winks remained meaningful in the same way. In this way, cultural boundaries of communication could be explored, as opposed to using linguistic boundaries or notions about residence. Geertz, while still following something of a traditional ethnographic outline, moved outside that outline to talk about “webs” instead of “outlines” [15] of culture.  From Wikipedia.

I’ll return to this notion of ‘digital winks’ in another blog post, specifically trying to see how Hine’s observations about virtual ethnography might be compatible with Geertz’s ‘thick descriptions’.


Finally, I also bookmarked a few blogs and papers that may be of interest to others.

Researching the Internet, by Dr. John Postill, Sheffield Hallam University.

Virtual Ethnography Course, University of Philipines

VKS Ethnography Blog


There’s more what that came from, in my Delicious feed.