‘Symmetrical Ethnography. Giving place to artefacts in the study of Internet practices’

Nos han aceptado para presentar un póster en el workshop Virtual Ethnography in Contemporary Social Science, que se celebra en Amsterdam, entre los días 27 y 29 de septiembre de 2006. Lo prepararemos entre mis directoras Elisenda Ardèvol y Agnès Vayreda, y un servidor. La propuesta e usar el marco teórico de la Teoría del Actor-Red como marco teórico para desarrollar una etnografía de Internet. La propuesta, que ya he mencionado en otras ocasiones, es desarrollar una etnografía simétrica.

‘Symmetrical Ethnography. Giving place to artefacts in the study of Internet practices’

[Adolfo Estalella, Elisenda Ardèvol, Agnès Vayreda]

This paper is a practical response to the problems we have faced in our fieldwork during the last two years that we have been studding the blog phenomenon. We want to propose a symmetrical approach to the ethnography on or of the Internet that aims to introduce the material dimension of technical artefacts in the analysis of Internet social practices.

Even though virtual ethnography has left away the analytical dichotomy between the real and the virtual, ethnographical analysis of the Internet continues considering the social practices under study as dematerialized, abstracting them from any reference to the material dimension of technical artefacts. In our fieldwork we have rejected this dichotomies and given voice to the artefacts because we have found that: (i) bloggers usually avoid to make any distinction between real and virtual when managing their interactions (whether on or off-line), (ii) the immediate off-line context is essential (and at the same time it becomes accessible) to give meaning to many phenomena and social practices of bloggers (such as the massive live blogging in face to faced meetings), and (iii) blogs (and other technical mechanisms related) are used not only as communicative device, but as mediators, in the sense given by Latour.

We propose a symmetrical perspective in the ethnography of the Internet inspired by the “generalized principle of symmetry” that: (i) translate the real/virtual dichotomy into a research problem, instead of using it as analytical point of departure, (ii) substitute the community by the concept of collective, meaning by that an heterogeneous entity composed by human and artefacts, and (iii) rethink the notion of ‘field’ as a fixed pre-existing object and substitute it by the concept of field as a continuous process of constructing links and following up connections. Our methodological approach sympathises with previous ethnographic works that have tried to introduce the presence of the technical artefacts mediation in the social analysis of Internet, following the path of the works developed by Daniel Miller and Don Slater on the Internet and Trinidad, the virtual ethnography proposal based in the Social Construction of Technology by Christine Hine, the ethnography of infrastructure by Susan Leigh Star, and the connective ethnography formulated by Kevin Leander and Kelly McKim.

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