Ethnography and Virtual Worlds

Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method

TOM BOELLSTORFF
BONNIE NARDI
CELIA PEARCE
T.L. TAYLOR
Copyright Date: August 2012
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.cttq9s20
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  • Book Info
    Ethnography and Virtual Worlds
    Book Description:

    Ethnography and Virtual Worlds is the only book of its kind--a concise, comprehensive, and practical guide for students, teachers, designers, and scholars interested in using ethnographic methods to study online virtual worlds, including both game and nongame environments. Written by leading ethnographers of virtual worlds, and focusing on the key method of participant observation, the book provides invaluable advice, tips, guidelines, and principles to aid researchers through every stage of a project, from choosing an online fieldsite to writing and publishing the results.

    Provides practical and detailed techniques for ethnographic research customized to reflect the specific issues of online virtual worlds, both game and nongame Draws on research in a range of virtual worlds, including Everquest, Second Life, There.com, and World of Warcraft Provides suggestions for dealing with institutional review boards, human subjects protocols, and ethical issues Guides the reader through the full trajectory of ethnographic research, from research design to data collection, data analysis, and writing up and publishing research results Addresses myths and misunderstandings about ethnographic research, and argues for the scientific value of ethnography

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4528-6
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    George Marcus

    So reads the inside cover copy of Notes and Queries on Anthropology (sixth edition, 1967; first edition, 1897!), revised and rewritten by a committee of the Royal Anthropological Institution of Great Britain and Ireland—the venerable handbook that has served generations of fieldworkers—professional and the curious amateur alike. Considerably more contemporary and addressed specifically to a new frontier of research, Ethnography and Virtual Worlds, a work by four authors writing also in an impressively seamless and collective voice, is offered nonetheless in the very same spirit. “Handbook” is one of the common labeling terms nowadays to dub contributions to...

  5. CHAPTER ONE WHY THIS HANDBOOK?
    (pp. 1-12)

    Virtual worlds are places of imagination that encompass practices of play, performance, creativity, and ritual. The social lifeworlds that emerge within them are very real. They represent a complex transaction between their designers, who have certain goals and desires about what people will do, and the denizens of virtual worlds themselves, who exercise individual and collective agency. They draw upon physical world cultures in multiple ways yet at the same time create possibilities for the emergence of new cultures and practices. Just as in the physical world, people within virtual worlds perform and cycle through different roles and identities. Virtual...

  6. CHAPTER TWO THREE BRIEF HISTORIES
    (pp. 13-28)

    In this chapter we offer some background on the central topics of this handbook, ethnography and virtual worlds. We provide a history of ethnographic methods, a history of virtual worlds, and a history of ethnographic methods as used in virtual worlds. Each history is brief but points to key ideas shaping what we know about the development of ethnography as a scholarly practice and virtual worlds as important sites of human activity.

    Why bother to elucidate these histories? In the hype-filled culture of technology research, it is easy to mislead oneself into thinking that everything is new: “too often internet...

  7. CHAPTER THREE TEN MYTHS ABOUT ETHNOGRAPHY
    (pp. 29-51)

    We hope that our discussion of the history, practice, and promise of ethnographic methods in the previous two chapters has inspired a sense of excitement about the power, even the beauty, of this approach. In this chapter we build on that sense of promise by examining common myths about ethnography that we have encountered in classroom discussions, public forums, written texts, and informal conversations, and while reviewing paper submissions and developing interdisciplinary research proposals.

    Specifically, we now tackle ten myths that, in our experience, have led to misunderstandings about the role and value of ethnographic methods. If you worry that...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR RESEARCH DESIGN AND PREPARATION
    (pp. 52-64)

    The most fundamental, consequential, and personal step in designing an ethnographic project is choosing the question we seek to answer. It is the decision from which all other choices and challenges follow, including that of selecting informants and fieldsites. Any ethnographer of virtual worlds must “ensure that that his or her research questions are both coherently addressed and adapted to the cultural landscape that emerges” (Hine 2009:2). We discuss three principal concerns regarding formulating a research question: emergence, relevance, and personal interest.

    An obvious yet profound insight of ethnographic research is that in the end, everything is connected to everything...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION IN VIRTUAL WORLDS
    (pp. 65-91)

    Ethnographers have an extremely broad methodological palette. Our work can include everything from individual and group interviews to historical research, quantitative surveys, and analyzing mass media, to name only a few common approaches. However, one method above all others is fundamental to ethnographic research. This method is participant observation, the cornerstone of ethnography. Participant observation is the embodied emplacement of the researching self in a fieldsite as a consequential social actor. We participate in everyday life and become wellknown to our informants. If a methodological toolbox does not include participant observation, the approach may be legitimate and effective for exploring...

  10. CHAPTER SIX INTERVIEWS AND VIRTUAL WORLDS RESEARCH
    (pp. 92-112)

    Interviewing occupies an important but frequently misunderstood place in the palette of ethnographic methods. On one hand, interviews are so central to effective ethnographic research that we cannot imagine a project that did not include them, nor can we recall any published ethnographic research that did not include interviews. On the other hand, interviews in isolation are insufficient to constitute ethnographic research. While interviews are a legitimate, useful, time-tested method in the social sciences, by themselves they do not yield a corpus of ethnographic data.

    We will speak of “ethnographic interviews” (or just “interviews” for short) to refer to the...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN OTHER DATA COLLECTION METHODS FOR VIRTUAL WORLDS RESEARCH
    (pp. 113-128)

    While we have emphasized participant observation and interviews as central to ethnographic research, ethnographers frequently augment these methods with other forms of data collection. Virtual worlds provide special affordances for certain types of data capture (some of which are shared with other online contexts). This ease of data capture can sometimes create the false impression that the methods enumerated earlier, such as taking fieldnotes based on participant observation, are unnecessary. Why go to all that trouble when we can just capture the data digitally? This temptation is false: we cannot stress enough that as useful as digital records are, they...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT ETHICS
    (pp. 129-150)

    Ethnographic inquiry is as varied as human activity itself. No set of a priori rules of ethics can predict the range of situations to which ethnographers must be prepared to respond with tact, sensitivity, and caution. Ethnographic research may lead us to private, sensitive aspects of social life, as well as the routine activities we normally study. Whatever situations we encounter in ethnographic research, we approach them with the guiding principle of care. Care is a core value to be internalized and acted on through the vigilance and commitment of the researcher. Any sets of research ethics guidelines and dicta...

  13. CHAPTER NINE HUMAN SUBJECTS CLEARANCE AND INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS
    (pp. 151-158)

    Institutional Review Boards, often known as “IRBs” or “Human Subjects Offices,” are administrative bodies that monitor research ethics. They can be part of a university, corporation, nonprofit organization, or government entity that conducts or sponsors human subjects research. They are prevalent throughout the United States, where IRB approval is typically mandatory for all research involving human subjects (whether biological or behavioral). In other countries ethical guidelines may not be governed by an internal IRB, but operate via a mix of institutional and national regulations, professional association guidelines, and national data protection offices (Respect Project 2004; CESSDA 2011).

    IRBs arose out...

  14. CHAPTER TEN DATA ANALYSIS
    (pp. 159-181)

    The work of data analysis is often forgotten in discussions of ethnographic research. Ethnographers write about their experiences “in the field,” discussing data collection in great detail. Particularly since the publication of Writing Culture (Clifford and Marcus 1986), ethnographers have also explored the process of writing itself. Both forms of reflexivity have been valuable, and of course this book addresses them. However, ethnographers have been far less transparent about the intermediate step of data analysis that makes possible the transition from data to text. Too often this step is treated as a black box, as if it is simply the...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN WRITING UP, PRESENTING, AND PUBLISHING ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
    (pp. 182-195)

    The process of writing up and presenting research is a key step in the crafting of the ethnographic work. As anthropologist Rena Lederman observed, a “written ethnography is not just a summary or selection of ‘what’s in the notes’ . . . the point of ethnography is . . . to enable one’s audience to understand something of interest about a corner of the world they have not experienced directly themselves” (Lederman 1990:82). In A Thrice-Told Tale (1992), Margery Wolf provided three descriptions of her fieldwork in Taiwan: once as raw fieldnotes (including notes taken by her native assistant), once...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE CONCLUSION: ARRIVALS AND NEW DEPARTURES
    (pp. 196-200)

    Historically, ethnographic texts have typically used the devices of arrival and departure to begin and end their narratives. For a handbook on ethnographic methods, the tropes of arrival and departure can be reversed. We began not with an arrival but a departure into issues of research design; this included dispelling myths about ethnography that can shortcircuit an appreciation of its value. We then discussed a wide palette of methods for data collection, paying special attention to the central method of participant observation. We also addressed questions of ethics and IRBs before discussing data analysis and ways to write up research...

  17. REFERENCES
    (pp. 201-222)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 223-237)