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Digital Ethnography

Key Information

Course details
Digital Social Research Option Paper Group A; Hilary Term
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Dr William Kelly


Analysis of qualitative data gathered during the course of social research and the Internet requires both a set of specialized skills and an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of qualitative approaches to social research. Ethnographic approaches to research in particular are often employed in the study of ICTs, particularly since they are well suited to the study of leading-edge developments.

They also provide a means for complementing more quantitative studies through the collection of in-depth and contextualized observations. This module will:

  1. provide an overview of the ethnographic tradition;
  2. explore the new opportunities and challenges the Internet has presented for those interested in carrying out ethnography;
  3. examine the more practical aspects of how to go about an ethnographic study;
  4. discuss novel methods that are being used to analyse web based data and how using these methods may actually be changing what ethnography originally set out to be;
  5. explore some of the ethical considerations that arise in online ethnography.

This course will have a strong theoretical basis throughout, and is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to carry out qualitative data analysis of a variety of kinds of data (e.g. text, photos, videos) collected from both online and offline settings. Students will gain familiarity with techniques for using a variety of Internet-related methods, and will understand their challenges.


At the end of the course students will be able to: Understand the strengths and limitations of engaging in participant observation of digitally mediated communities; Identify, gather, manage, and analyse multiple types of qualitative data to support ethnographic investigation; and Understand the ethical considerations unique to participatory qualitative methods.

Past projects

Past student projects in this course have included studies of communities that share YouTube videos on a particular topic, fandom and specific fan communities, communities that deviate from standard norms, online support groups, and a range of other groups online that merit deep investigation to better understand online norms, cultures, and identities.