More on Digital Ethnography
by, 05-09-2013 at 03:18 PM (859 Views)
It is not often that I encounter across myself when researching a topic. I found the following in a recent article on the uses of ethnography in virtual environments:
Virtual Video Ethnography
Neither the virtual ethnography nor netnography seem to pay special attention to the visual aspect of cyberspace, which seems contradictory, since the great popularization of the online medium is mostly due to its visual appeal, both in the use of the graphic interface and in the presentation of multimedia pages on the World Wide Web. As Steven Johnson says, it is from the moment in which the computer gains a visual interface that one can speak of informational aesthetics, where one has the windows, icons and images on the screen acting like a symbolic system generating and being influenced by a culture of its own (JOHNSON, 2001).
This is particularly important on considering the modern virtual worlds, where the interactions are not registered in texts, but occur dynamically on the screen by means of synchronically animated images, many times simulating the three-dimensional aspect of the offline world. Seeking to address the need of registration and interpretation of this vast interactive environment, Michael Strangelove proposes a new technique, which he calls virtual video ethnography:
This work describes my use of the computer as a camera and camcorder for capturing the action within the virtual world – a technique referred to herein as virtual video ethnography. Virtual video ethnography is in a long tradition lineage that utilizes communication technologies, such as recorders, camcorders and video cameras for exploring human action." (STRANGELOVE, 2007, p. 3)
Of the techniques and variants of ethnography mentioned, the one proposed by Strangelove is the one which places more emphasis on the visual aspects of the online medium, an environment for which he anticipates a great growth of possibilities, not only of dangers, but of opportunities for learning, creativity and research. According to him, recording the experience of virtual worlds from the “vision” of the ethnographer’s computer gives not only a precise registration of what he or she is seeing on the screen, but it also serves as a space of reflexivity, where the researcher can reflect about his or her reactions and framing of the research field.
His proposal is an heir of the visual anthropology, which develops itself right at the beginnings of the history of Anthropology as a means of visually safeguarding (in film and photography) information of threatened or transforming cultures and also as an attempt at registering in a more precise way the visual observation of a culture (RIBEIRO, 2005). In fact, the work of Malinowski himself was strongly based on photographs and his images of the natives of Trobriand are not a mere appendage of his ethnographic text, but an essential part of it so that his anthropological description is in fact encompassing (SAMAIN, 1995).
However, according to Strangelove, registration and preservation are just the more primary levels of the use of technique. More sophisticated arrangements permit (depending on the technical limitations of the virtual world studied) to record the video from multiple camera angles, giving a multiple perspective of what occurs in the field, not only from the ethnographer's standpoint, but also from a third person's. More than the amount of data, this technique would bring a whole new layer of reflexivity upon the ethnographic experience. At the same time, the players/users of the virtual world can also record their own versions of the videos, serving as a counterpoint to the researcher's "authorized" vision: “Adding an omniscient perspective to our actions within the virtual realm also brings a new dimension to the way we experience the self and construct our identities.” (STRANGELOVE, 2007, p. 9)
The ethical concern of the defenders of netnography is echoed by Strangelove, when he points out that the technique of virtual video ethnography with multiple perspectives is highly reflexive and can make the online behaviour registrations more responsible towards the communities they intend to interpret:
The ‘intense and authority-giving personal experience of fieldwork’ is extending deep into the virtual realm. In-game video recording provides a novel tool for authoritative virtual fieldwork of an emotionally intense and highly personal nature. The virtual realm needs to be approached as a distinct realm of human action, one not to be collapsed into some other category of the ‘real’ or even the ‘hyperreal’. (STRANGELOVE, 2007)
This way, the arguments cited by Wittel concerning the limitations of interaction and participating observation in the online medium could be offset by the use of the virtual video ethnography, as it is proposed by Strangelove. This technique is widely applicable in the online games due to the way the virtual images that shape the shared environment are created.