Digital Ethnography, Where Art Thou?
By Ashley Kim, Mellon Graduate Student Fellow from the Department of Sociology
As an ethnographer, I started my current project the way all brilliant researchers do: inspired by an intriguing research question that popped into my head right as I hit the pillow at night… or in the shower? One of the two.
I was intrigued by technological innovations in fertility health. Conception used to be a “natural” occurrence. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.” Such a popular little children’s song, right? In fact, high school health class made us all believe that if you sneezed too close to someone of the opposite sex, you’d get pregnant. Before we understood any science behind it, we were having babies (or so it seemed)! So what does conception mean today when we can plan, track, buy apps, watches, technology, ovulation strips, take our basal body temperature, and check our cervical mucus? Does science take the front stage? Or is conception still natural? Do we even want it to be natural or is that outdated? Who is *we*? What does natural even mean?
Well, this logic brought me to a rich field of fertility health that lives online. Technological products, online communities, webinars galore! As any ethnographer would do, I started to collect data and orient myself to the field. Along with interesting data came imposter syndrome: is this a legitimate methodology? Am I an ethnographer? Digital ethnographer? Is that even real? Are these field notes? Or is this textual analysis?
Whether it was imposter syndrome, a need to legitimize my methodology, or a longing for a warm, gemeinschaft-type of belonging, I started to dive into questioning *what* is digital ethnography?
So, if you found yourself here out of curiosity about different methodologies or just because you love digital humanities so much, I’m here to tell you that this methodology is an awesome, burgeoning field of research. A legitimate, awesome, burgeoning field of research! As I’ve begun my deep dive into my own project, utilizing this methodology, I’ve come to see how important it is to create a deeper understanding of how people live in this new and current digital era. Digital ethnography is an innovative method to study digital communication, media, information, and communities from an ethnographic standpoint. If you have a research question that aligns with this methodology, or you simply want to take a deeper look into digital humanities, I encourage you to go for it!