Logging into the Field—Methodological Reflections on Ethnographic Research in a Pluri-Local and Computer-Mediated Field
This article aims to introduce an ethnic group inhabiting a common virtual space in the World Wide Web (WWW), while being physically located in different socio-geographical contexts. Potentially global in its geographical extent, this social formation is constituted by means of interrelating virtual-global dimensions with physically grounded parts of the actors' lifeworlds. In addition, the communities' social life relies on specific communicative practices joining mediated forms of communication with co-presence based encounters. Ethnographic research in a pluri-local and computer-mediated field poses a set of problems which demand thorough reflection as well as a search for creative solutions. How can the boundaries of the field be determined? What does "being there" signify in such a case? Is it possible to enter the field while sitting at my own desk, just by visiting the respective site in the WWW, simply observing the communication going on without even being noticed by the subjects in the field? Or does "being in the field" imply that I ought to turn into a member of the studied community? Am I supposed to effectively live with the others for a while? And then, what can "living together" actually mean in that case? Will I learn enough about the field simply by participating in its virtual activities? Or do I have to account for the physically grounded dimensions of the actors' lifeworlds, as well? Ethnographic research in a pluri-local and computer-mediated field in practice raises a lot of questions regarding the ways of entering the field and being in the field. Some of them will be discussed in this paper by means of reflecting research experiences gained in the context of a recently concluded case study.
ethnography; ethnomethodology; transnational migration; Internet