Ethnographic Research

Researches and studies especially in Human Computer Interaction field regard ethnography as a crucial methodology. Then what does ethnography mean? You could find its definition in many books as ethnography is an approach to learning about social and cultural life of individuals, communities, organizations, etc. I first knew it from Bryan, who is the instuctor of our HCI course. He also introduced us several methods of ethnography such as field observation, survey, interview, experiments, etc.

I gradually find that I cannot do research without ethnography. What I’m doing currently or in the past are all based on user observation, interviews, questionnaires and experiments.  Hypotheses always get proved by analyzing the ethnographic data via both qualitative method and quantitative method.

However, here comes an issue that, since our study involves human being, we should pay attention to ethics. In other words, how can we obtain data from people legally, and what data of people can we interpret and publish. Especially, people today have formed an habit, which is to post private information online. Some people even don’t aware the risk of information security. Frankly speaking, our behaviors have exposed online as long as we are online users. For instance, our browsing histories direct the advertise recommendation to us. These online information are pretty useful for behavior researchers as well as marketing specialists. This is still a big concern for HCI researchers at present.

As for ethnographic research, I want to talk a little bit about the data collection, especially in online and offline data acquisition. Orgad (2009) mentioned in her book that online and offline are two main resources of obtaining data. She also stated that internet itself differentiate the online and offline data. Internet as a medium has its own features. Hine (2000) called internet as a plausible research field site. Namely, Internet provides us another research platform, especially for social behaviors. However, can these two resources be obtained at the same time? Orgad (2009) demonstrated in her book that it depended on what question we wanted to ask. For example, if we want to ask about the connection between online and offline social environments, we need both of them. Also, she stated in her conclusion that what valued most is the quality of data not if it is online or offline.

When it comes to my own research project, I think it is quite complex. Last class, Jenny didn’t suggest me to do an experiment about sociability of online and offline. Therefore, I’m trying to come up with a new methodology to conduct this study.  Thus, if I finally need to collect data, what data should I collect? Based on Orgad’s theory, I need to collect both of them since my study connects online environment to real scenario.  My research question could be:

  • Can social media environment weaken one’s social ability in real scenario? (making friends)
  • Will people act differently on social media from real scenario? Why? (making friends)

I’m working hard on figuring out what data should I obtain.


References: Orgad, Shani. (2009). How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online andoffline data? In A. Markham & N. Baym (Ed.s), Internet inquiry: Conversations about method (pp. 33-67).

2 thoughts on “Ethnographic Research”

  1. Have you read Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together? It’s her latest book. It received a great deal of attention and controversy. It also might give you some ideas for further reading in this area of social media and social ability.

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