Jul 28, 2009

Paper: Potentials and Limitations of Discourse-Centred Online Ethnography

Source: Androutsopoulos, J. (2008). Potentials and Limitations of Discourse-Centered Online Ethnography. Language@Internet, 5. (html here)

There are different approaches to ethrnography on the Internet, which is reflected in a variety of terms such as "virtual ethnography", network ethnography, netnography, cyberethnography, and webnography. However, the linguistic analysis of log data that doesn't include direct contact with users still prevails. To address these issues, a combination of methods called discourse-centered online ethnography (DCOE) is proposed. This methodology combines the systematic observation of selected sites of online discourse with direct contact with its social actors. This approach is grounded in the ethnography of communication (Hymes, Saville-Troike) and socially oriented linguistics (Eckert, 2000; Rampton, 2006). These methods study patterns of communication and social relationships accomplished through language in a community or group.

DCOE consists of systematic observation and contact with Internet actors. Systematic observation helps to understand the complex of relationships and processes that comprise a particular computer-mediated space. The space is reconstructed in terms of a core-periphery scheme, with a core being determined by sites' popularity and awareness among users. The questions to ask during systematic observation include What activities are unfolding in these environments, what is their pace or rate of change, who are their main actors, and how do they interact or interrelate? Another set of questions focuses on semiotic features - What are the semiotic (including linguistic) resources recurrently deployed in this field, what characteristic clusters do they form, and how do different environments, participants, and genres differ in their use of these resources?

Understanding a field (Bourdieu) as a space of positions with differential access to resources (e.g., visitors and ads) captures the difference between sites of edited content (homepages) and community discourse (boards). They differ in terms of authorship, institutionalization, and professionalization. This results in different language norms and practices.

The contact with Internet actors follows from the first. It is better to contact non-random actors to carry out meaningful interviews. Through interviews the researcher can grasp patterns of engagement with the online activities and confirm insights that came from observation.