Category Archives: Abstracts

The Diversity of CyberEthnography EPIC 2005 Abstract

Submission for EPIC 2005 Methods PaperTitle: The Diversity of Cyberethnography: Approaches to the Study of Sociality in Virtual Lifescapes

Authors: E.F. Churchill, R. Moore andB. Jordan
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 Books.

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.

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.

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

What’s Cyber about CyberEthnography? Notes on Methods for Research on (cyber)Sociality

What’s Cyber about CyberEthnography? Notes on Methods for Research on (cyber)Sociality

Abstract:

In considering the term “cyber”, one wonders what the prefix could
add to the encompassing, entirely worldy word “ethnography”.
Ethnography, after all, means to write culture. So, one wonders first
what are the rhetorical reasons for the appearance of such a term,
prefixed as it is with a word that means (apparently) governo or
helmsman. Is there a world beyond ethnography that needs a helmsman?
That said, William Gibson is credited with the appearance of the term
“cyberspace” in his novel of Neuromancer published in 1984, and here
the term seems to mean something different. Cyberspace, for Gibson, is:

“The total interconnectedness of human beings through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical geography.”

But of course, reacting to the world post mid AI boom, Gibson’s
helmsman is the control of the system into which we are also born. The
lack of regard for physical geography brings a disconnected
interconnectedness of being “jacked in” to a reality that is painted in
bits and bytes.

The term “cyberethnography” therefore, by derivation and colloquial
extraction but without the dystopian fear of control that runs through
Gibson’s text, is the ethnography, the writing of the culture(s) of the
computer mediated, tele-sociality of the physically disconnected. For
ethnographers, for whom seeing, observing, recording and analyzing
patterns of activity across and through time, such disconnectedness is
more than Gergen’s postmodern fragmentation of the saturated,
information loaded self, it is positively maddening in its
methodological complexity. It turns out humans live lives beyond our
gaze. Palpably so. 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.

In this paper we present an ecology of communication technologies,
but focus on those through the lens of an ecology of flows, spaces, and
connection practices. We consider what is changing in the world from
conventional ethnography to current ethnographic ‘need’. We consider
what the field is and where it may be found. 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 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. We ground our comments in three
examples: 1. video conferences in distributed teams, 2. gaming, 3.
working in a text based world. 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.