Last week I presented at BCU’s ethnography conference, Fieldwork: Doing Ethnographic Research. I was talking through my final weeks of fieldwork for my PhD ethnography earlier this year, but it was the following presentation that struck up more interest, for Suay Ozkula’s suggestion that we might remove the term ‘digital’ from digital ethnography. First of all, I was happy to see we were talking about digital rather than ‘virtual’ ethnography, where I’m uncomfortable with the whole virtual/real polarity. The argument itself was based on the idea that when we look at digital ethnography these days it is rarely in the isolation of a space or community on the Internet with no impact beyond in other aspects of our lives. And in my case, I understand where this might be coming from, where I am looking at the use of a digital space in a neighbourhood, and how that’s tied into everyday living, so it is an ethnography both online and offline, but where digital is part of the focus obviously. But in questions, I think there was some concern that this assumed that without the prefix digital, we assume that those spaces are the same as offline ones, with the same social rules, laws and behaviours. It got me wondering, because we have newsroom ethnography, and workplace ethnography, but which other prefixes are used, to denote or identify something as being somehow different? A study of the differences between how people communicate amongst their family as opposed to their peers wouldn’t be called family ethnography, would it?

And then we descend into concerns of terminology, and I think those conversations can only go so far before we forget what we were talking about in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, using the prefix is a handy tool to help people understand what I’m doing, where a lengthier explanation then follows as their eyes glaze over…

The conference as a whole was very interesting, and well attended, with a good range of speakers.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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