5 November 2012

Building software to conduct ethnographic research of online communities

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putting people first
by experientia

While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that.

In the first of her three-part guest post series on Tricia Wang’s Ethnography Matters, she shows how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities.

By drawing on examples from her own research on independent rock musicians, she shares with us how she moved from being an ethnographer of purely physical domains to an ethnographer who built software programs to gather more relevant qualitative data.

“In this post, I’d like to foreground computational methodology in thinking about how we as ethnographers may deploy digital tools as we explore communities within and around digital infrastructures. I am particularly interested in how we use these tools to study communities that are digitally organized. How do we use and think about data ethnographically? How does one use computational tools to navigate in digital communities? What are the advantages of leveraging (small) data approaches in doing ethnographic work? While this post is focused on the study of digitally embedded communities, in my later posts, I will speak more broadly about how the digital may extend how we look at communities where face-to-face interactions are central.”

Wendy is currently a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center of Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College. She recently completed a Ph.D. in the Critical and Comparative Studies program in the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia.

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