Monthly Archives: June 2005

The Diversity of Cyberethnography: Approaches to the Study of Sociality in Virtual Lifescapes

Submission for EPIC 2005: Methods Paper (10 page limit)

Title: The Diversity of Cyberethnography: Approaches to the Study of Sociality in Virtual Lifescapes

Authors: E.F. Churchill, B. Jordan and R. Moore

Abstract:

If cyberspace is “the total interconnectedness of human beings
through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical
geography” (Gibson, 1984), then cybersociality lies in the details of
engaging, maintaining and indeed managing this disembodied, mediated
interconnectedness. For ethnographers, for whom seeing, observing,
recording and analyzing patterns of activity across and through time is
the very foundation of understanding sociality, such disconnectedness
is more than Gergen’s postmodern fragmentation of the saturated,
information loaded self; it is positively maddening in its
methodological implications (Gergen, 1991). It highlights that humans
live lives beyond our gaze – palpably so – and often actively operating
simultaneously within multiple “social worlds” as they switch between
different mediated engagements (Strauss, 1978).

“Cyberethnography”, by derivation and colloquial extraction, is the
ethnography, the writing of the culture(s) of the computer mediated,
telesociality of the physically disconnected (Gajjala, 2002; Hine,
2000). We have been using ethnographic methods (again, cyber and
otherwise) to paint in the details of interconnection in “global
corporations”, “virtual teams” and “cybercommerce” settings. Unlike
many excellent cyberethnographies which focus solely on life “online”,
we have triangulated online and offline observation.

We present highlights from three studies, which lie along a
continuum of ‘cybersociality’ and ‘cybermodification’ possibilities
(i.e., offering more or less latitude for modification of the
technology, the virtual experience and therefore, presumably, the
social experience). The first is a study of distributed teams
collaborating through video and digital shared workspaces; the second a
study of collaborative work in a text-based virtual environment where
interactions take place mostly in the virtual environment, but also on
occasion, face to face; and the third, interactions in massively
multiplayer environments, where virtual commerce is growing but where
people never meet in person, always in persona (avatar). In all three
cases, we present an ecology of communication technologies, but focus
on those through the lens of an ecology of flows, spaces, and
connection practices – within the context of the broader social
settings within which the interactions we have observed take place.

We illustrate how, in our studies, an understanding of that which
lies beyond the keyboard and screen frames our understanding of what
takes place “virtually”. We consider what can be recorded (technically,
ethically and legally); what can be analysed (time, distance, data
complexity issues), and finally what can be reported effectively.

Finally, we reflect on cyberethnography itself. While we have drawn
on data gathering and analysis methods in cyberethnography texts, we
ponder what the prefix ‘cyber’ adds to the encompassing, entirely
worldy word “ethnography”. Ethnography, after all, means to write
culture. We reflect on how questions raised (e.g., what is “the field”
and where it may be found; what are appropriate data for reflecting
sociality in these contexts; what does it mean to get permission to
record from an avatar, one persona of many?) differ from debates within
ethnography as a whole. In our online/offline ethnographies, have we
seen anything that makes us more ‘cyber’ than we were before, or is it
just what we have done?

References
Gajjala, R. 2002. An interrupted postcolonial/feminist
cyberethnography: complicity and resistance in the ‘cyberfield’.
Feminist Media Studies 2 (2): 177-93.

Gergen, K.J. (1991). The saturated self: Dilemmas of identity in contemporary life. New York: Basic Books.

Gibson, W. (1984) Neuromancer. Ace Book.
Hine, C. 2000. Virtual ethnography. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage.
Strauss, A. (1978). A social worlds perspective. In N. Denzin (ed.),
Studies in Symbolic Interaction, vol. 1, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press,
119–128.

Hine, C. 2000. Virtual ethnography. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage.
Strauss, A. (1978). A social worlds perspective. In N. Denzin (ed.),
Studies in Symbolic Interaction, vol. 1, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press,
119–128.

Notes on Cyberethnography for EPIC 2005

Cyberethography and cybersociality in virtual lifescapes: methods, obstructions and abstractions

Abstract:

If cyberspace is “the total interconnectedness of human beings
through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical
geography” (Gibson, 1984), then cybersociality lies in the details of
engaging, maintaining and indeed managing this disembodied, mediated
interconnectedness, operating simultaneously within multiple “social
worlds” (Strauss, 1978). Reacting to the embrace of graphical
simulation, the emergence of “virtual reality” and the promise of
artificially intelligent agents, Gibson’s dystopian cyber(meaning
helmsman in Greek)space is a simulated structured world where one can
“jack in”, away from this corporeal world.

“Cyberethnography”, by derivation and colloquial extraction, is the
ethnography, the writing of the culture(s) of the computer mediated,
telesociality of the physically disconnected.

We have been using ethnographic methods (cyber and otherwise) to
paint in the details of these acts of interconnection in “global
corporations”, “virtual teams” and “cybercommerce” settings. Unlike
many cyberethnographies (but entirely in keeping with ethnography
unbounded by mediated or physically collocated locales of activity), we
triangulate online and offline observation.

In this paper we present highlights from three studies, which we
believe lie along a continuum of Gibson’s ‘cyberness’, with more or
less latitude for personal agency and modification of the technology
itself to manage the telemediated interaction. The first is a study of
distributed teams collaborating primarily through video and digital
shared workspaces. The second is a study of collaborative work in a
text-based virtual environment where interactions take place mostly in
the virtual environment, but also on occasion, face to face. Finally,
we present interactions in massively multiplayer environments, where
collaboration and commerce are growing, and where control over one’s
presence is entirely in the hands of the individual to the point of
multiple personae with multiple appearances. In all three cases, we
present an ecology of communication technologies, but focus on those
through the lens of an ecology of flows, spaces, and connection
practices – within the context of the broader social settings within
which the interactions we have observed take place.

These studies are used to render visible the often tacit boundaries
of ethnographic data collection methods and reportage. While we draw on
methods in all cases that have been loosely called cyberethnography,
interested as we are in mediated sociality, we illustrate how an
understanding of that which lies beyond the keyboard and screen frames
what is understood. This triangulation drives new forms of data
analysis.

In this paper we consider 1. what can be recorded (logistically, it
is getting increasingly important that we are very technically oriented
to gather our data; many field sites in business contexts create
restrictions that curtail broad data collection; many ethical issues
arise); 2. what can be analysed (time is the biggest constraint in many
business ethnography settings, and this is amplified in studying these
distributed settings), and finally 3. what can be reported (in many
settings what is seen cannot be reported or will not be heard).

References
Gibson, W. (1984) Neuromancer. Ace Book.

Strauss, A. (1978). A social worlds perspective. In N. Denzin (ed.),
Studies in Symbolic Interaction, vol. 1, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press,
119–128.

Gitte’s references

THANKS for these Gitte – excellent list of references, I want to read several papers right now!

Arthur, Brian
2002 Is the Information Revolution Dead? Business 2.0. March 2002:65-72.
2003 Why Tech Is Still the Future. Fortune Magazine, Monday, Nov. 24.

Baba, M. L., J. Gluesing, H. Ratner, and K. H. Wagner. 2004. The Context of Knowing: Natural History of a Globally Distributed Team. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 25(5), 547-587. (GDT)

Cramton, Catherine Durnell
2002 Attribution in Distributed Work Groups. Pp. 191-212 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Davey, Theresa, Anastasia Envall, Mark Gernerd, Tiffanne Mahomes, Maria Monroe, Jenna Nowak, Matthew Patricoski, Jacob Weiler
2005 Instant Messaging: Functions of a New Communicative Tool. http://www.nd.edu/~sblum/Instant Messaging.pdf. [Very interesting paper written by a group of students in an anthro class at Notre Dame University]

David, Ken and J. R. Lloyd
2003 Tools for organizational learning and organizational teaching: Learning and communicating about collaboration in dispersed engineering design projects.” Chapter 21 of Field Book in Collaborative Work Systems, G. Klein and J. Nemiro, eds. Center for the Study of Work Teams, University of North Texas. Jossey-Bass.

Gibson, Cristina B. and Susan G. Cohen, eds.
2003 Virtual Teams that Work: Creating Conditions for Virtual Team Effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Grinter, Rebecca, James D. Herbsleb and Dewayne E. Perry
1999 The Geography of Coordination: Dealing with Distance in R&D Work. GROUP 99: 306-

Herbsleb, James D. and Rebecca E. Grinter
1998 Conceptual Simplicity Meets Organizational Complexity: Case Study of a Corporate Metrics Program. In Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Software Engineering. Pp. 271-280. Kyoto, Japan: IEEE.

Herbsleb on attribution

Herbsleb and Grinter
1999,
2002

Hind, Pamela and Sara Kiesler, eds.
2002 Distributed Work. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hine, Christine
2000 Virtual Ethnography. London: SAGE.

Jones, Steve., ed.
1999 Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Jordan on learning and work

Jordan on diffusion?

Kiesler and Cummings
2002 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Kitchin, Rob
1998 Cyberspace: The World in Wires. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Kraut et al
2002 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Mannix, Elizabeth, Terri Griffith and Margaret Neale
2002 The Phenomenology of Conflict in Distributed Work Teams. p. 212- 233 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Mason, Bruce
2003 Issues in Virtual Ethnography. In: Ethnographic Studies in Real and Virtual Environments: Inhabited Information Spaces and Connected Communities. Proceedings of 1999 Esprit i3 Workshop on Ethnographic Studies, K. Buckner, ed.

Nardi
2002 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Olson et al
2002 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Ruhleder, Karen and Brigitte Jordan
2001 Co-Constructing Non-Mutual Realities: Delay-Generated Trouble in Distributed Interaction. Journal of Computer Supported Cooperative Work 10:1:113-138.

Suchman on learning + work

Walther on attribution

Wasson, Christina
2004 Multitasking in Virtual Meetings. Human Resource Planning 27(4):47-60.

Weisband, Susan: Maintaining Awareness in Distributed Team Collaboration: Implications for Leadership and Performance. Pp. 311-333 in Distributed Work, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, eds.

Abstract again – sampled thoughts

Illusory boundaries in the “cyber-sociality” of virtual teams: ethnographic methods, the offline in the online and cautionary tales of business cyber ethnography.

Abstract:

If cyberspace is “the total interconnectedness of human beings through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical geography” (Gibson, 1984), then cyber-sociality lies in the details of engaging, maintaining and indeed managing this disembodied, mediated interconnectedness, operating simultaneously within multiple “social worlds” (Strauss, 1978). Reacting to the embrace of graphical simulation, the emergence of “virtual reality” and the promise of artificially intelligent agents, Gibson’s dystopian cyber(meaning helmsman in Greek)space is a simulated structured world where one can “jack in”, away from this corporeal world.

“Cyberethnography”, by derivation and colloquial extraction, is the ethnography, the writing of the culture(s) of the computer mediated, tele-sociality of the physically disconnected. We have been using ethnographic methods (cyber and otherwise) to paint in the details of these acts of interconnection in “global corporations”, “virtual teams” and “cybercommerce” settings. Unlike many cyber-ethnographies (but entirely in keeping with ethnography unbounded by mediated or physically collocated locales of activity), we triangulate online and offline observation.

In this paper we present highlights from three case studies, which we believe lie along a continuum of Gibson’s ‘cyber’ness, with more or less latitude for personal agency and modification of the technology itself to manage the tele-mediated interaction. The first is a study of distributed teams collaborating primarily through video conferences and email. The second is a study of collaborative work in a text-based virtual environment where interaction take place mostly online but also face to face. Finally, we present interactions in massively multiplayer environments, where collaboration and commerce are growing, and where control over one’s presence is entirely in the hands of the individual. In all three cases, we present an ecology of communication technologies, but focus on those through the lens of an ecology of flows, spaces, and connection practices – within the context of the broader social settings within which the interactions we have observed take place.

These case studies are used to render visible the often tacit boundaries of ethnographic data collection methods and reportage. While we draw on methods in all cases that have been loosely called “cyber-ethnography”, interested as we are in sociality in mediated situations, we illustrate how an understanding of that which lies beyond the keyboard and screen frames what is understood, and therefore drives new forms of data analysis. Sometimes generating these understandings is positively maddening in its methodological complexity. Humans have always, in fact, lived lives beyond our gaze. But in these studies, we have experienced restrictions at many levels which can be broadly characterized as 1. what can be recorded (logistically, it is getting increasingly important that we are very technically oriented to gather our data; many field sites in business contexts create restrictions that curtail broad data collection; many ethical issues arise); 2. what can be analysed (time is the biggest constraint in many business ethnography settings, and this is amplified in studying these distributed settings), and finally 3. what can be reported (in many settings what is seen cannot be reported or will not be heard).

What does this mean for what we understand of sociality, and what does it mean for reflection of what can and cannot, has and has not been inferred. Ultimately in this paper, we consider what are data, and who owns the data for consent to be given for its collection, analysis and reportage: what does it mean for an avatar, one persona of many even in an organization for example, to grant me permission to record? Just as technology-supported communication generates new work practices, we are experiencing the old phenomena of multiple selves in interaction in new worlds. This paper reflects on the issues involved. Each example will consider 1. the importance for work practice analysis, 2. the need for agility in method, and 3. the importance of deep analysis for patterns over time and technologies.

References
Gibson, W. (1984) Neuromancer. Ace Book.

Strauss, A. (1978). A social worlds perspective. In N. Denzin (ed.), Studies in Symbolic Interaction, vol. 1, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 119–128.

EPIC 2005 Abstract on sociality #3

Ramblings for an abstract: bits will come from here

Illusory boundaries in the “cyber-sociality” of virtual teams: ethnographic methods, the offline in the online and cautionary tales of business cyber ethnography.

Abstract:

If cyberspace is “the total interconnectedness of human beings through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical geography” (Gibson, 1984), then cyber-sociality lies in the details of engaging, maintaining and indeed managing this disembodied, mediated interconnectedness, often within what Strauss would consider multiple “social worlds”. Reacting to the embrace of graphical simulation, the emergence of “virtual reality” and the promise of artificially intelligent agents, Gibson’s cyber (meaning helmsman in Greek) is the system that is in control that offers a place “jack in”, away from this corporeal world.

Cyberethnography”, by derivation and colloquial extraction, is the ethnography, the writing of the culture(s) of the computer mediated, tele-sociality of the physically disconnected.

We have been using ethnographic methods to paint in the details of these acts of interconnection in the context of the abstracted “global corporation” and “virtual” team. We ask: if work is in cyberspace, in virtual teams, what can we as ethnographers add to the understandings of such work, but also (being inevitably reflexive) what can we contribute to presenting the methods and representations of our own work. In our studies, where we triangulate online and offline observation, we find that people make sense of the world in familiar ways in both contexts – and that their actions are as bounded by what lies off-line as what occurs online. Although perhaps not a great surprise, this does have enormous implications for how we conduct our studies, what we can address and how we present our results.

We have been carrying out ethnographies of sociality in mediated contexts. In this paper we present highlights from three case studies, which we believe lie along a continuum of personal agency and control of the technology itself to manage the tele-mediated interaction: 1. distributed teams collaborating primarily through video conferences and email; 2. collaborative work in a text-based virtual environment; and 3. interactions in massively multiplayer environments, where collaboration and commerce are growing. In all three cases, we present an ecology of communication technologies, but focus on those through the lens of an ecology of flows, spaces, and connection practices.

These case studies are used to render visible the often tacit boundaries of ethnographic data collection methods and reportage. While we draw on methods in all cases that have been loosely called “cyber-ethnography”, interested as we are in sociality in mediated situations, we illustrate how an understanding of that which lies beyond the keyboard and screen frames what is understood, and therefore drives new forms of data analysis. Sometimes generating these understandings is positively maddening in its methodological complexity. Humans have always, in fact, lived lives beyond our gaze.

But in these studies, we have experienced restrictions at many levels which can be broadly characterized as 1. what can be recorded (logistically, it is getting increasingly important that we are very technically oriented to gather our data; many field sites in business contexts create restrictions that curtail broad data collection; many ethical issues arise); 2. what can be analysed (time is the biggest constraint in many business ethnography settings, and this is amplified in studying these distributed settings), and finally 3. what can be reported (in many settings what is seen cannot be reported or will not be heard).

What does this mean for what we understand of sociality, and what does it mean for reflection of what can and cannot, has and has not been inferred. Ultimately in this paper, we consider what are data, and who owns the data for consent to be given for its collection, analysis and reportage: what does it mean for an avatar, one persona of many even in an organization for example, to grant me permission to record? Just as technology-supported communication generates new work practices, we are experiencing the old phenomena of multiple selves in interaction in new worlds. This paper reflects on the issues involved. Each example will consider 1. the importance for work practice analysis, 2. the need for agility in method, and 3. the importance of deep analysis for patterns over time and technologies.

Modes of organization in mediated sociality, EPIC 2005 Abstract draft

EPIC Abstract; Submission for Methods/Case Studies Paper (10 pages)

Title: Modes of organization in mediated sociality: ethnographic
studies of cyber-sociality and the implications for "virtual teams"

Ethnography, or rather the ethnographic stance in observation is a
“family” of approaches. These are commonly descriptive accounts with
different foci (yielding a plethora of prefixes, e.g., cyber
ethnography, media ethnography, virtual ethnography – all prefixes
which say more about the focus of bounded such ethnographies than the
method itself). However, ethnography goes beyond reporting events and
details of experience and works to explain how these represent the webs
of meaning in which we live”. We, as ethnographers, bring the
“insider’s perspective”, ideally showing regular patterns in what we
see not just descriptions of isolated events.

In this paper, we present work in three arenas to illustrate the
issues involved in using ethnographic methods to give “insider’s view”
of sociality in distributed work situations. When writing the culture
of online sociality in distributed teams, we cannot simply carry out
“cyber-ethnography” to gain an understanding of the flows in which work
take place. Nor can we simply observe interactions in physical
workplaces to understand the work practice and the substrates of
sociality within teams. A complex triangulation of data, with a deep
understanding of the setting in which the tele-sociality more broadly
takes place, the multiple social and technical worlds in which
individuals must enact social competence must take place. And in all of
this, issues of power and ownership of information, surveillance must
be addressed.

In this paper we offer three examples from our own work (text-based
environments for work centered collaboration, “commercial” engagements
in massively multiplayer graphical environments, and tele-sociality in
distributed teams). By articulating the details of these ethnographies
we illustrate the challenges in maintaining an ethnographic sensibility
in these scenarios. We illustrate the difficulties in reflecting the
“insider’s view” when data gathering is restricted by social, technical
and temporal limitations and results are politically sensitive.

References

Graue, M.E. (in press) Definition of ethnography. In C.A. Grant
& G. Ladson-Billings (Eds.) Dictionary of multicultural education.
New York: The Oryx Press

References for cybersociality paper

** References we have talked about for this paper specifically

Hine, C. 2000. Virtual ethnography. London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage.

** References I have just dug up (some again)

Boym, S. 2001. Nostalgia and global culture: from outer space to cyberspace. In The
Future of Nostalgia. New York: Basic Books.

Eichhorn, K. 2001. Sites unseen: ethnographic research in a textual community.
Qualitative Studies in Education 14 (4): 565-78.

Adi Kuntsman (Lancaster University) Cyberethnography as home-work1 Anthropology Matters Journal 2004, Vol 6 (2)

Markham, A.N. 2004. Reconsidering self and other: the methods, politics, and ethics
of representation in online ethnography. In Handbook of qualitative research (eds)
N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Miller, D. & D. Slater. 2000. The internet: an ethnographic approach. Oxford: Berg.

Paccagnella, L. 1997. Getting the seats of your pants dirty: Strategies for
ethnographic research on virtual communities.
http://www.ascusc.org/jcmc/vol3/issue1/paccagnella.html

** Refernces fron Moore previous papers

** References from JOrdan previous papers

** References from Churchill previous papers

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