Although fieldwork is the foundation of robust ethnographic inquiry in physical settings, the practical methods have never fit comfortably in digital contexts. For many researchers, the activities of fieldwork must be so radically adjusted, they hardly resemble fieldwork anymore. How does one conduct “participant observation” of Twitter? When identities and cultural formations are located in or made of information flows through global networks, where are the boundaries of “the field”? In such global networks, what strategies do we use to get close to people? What might count as an interview? This essay discusses the persistent challenges of transferring fieldwork methods intended for physically situated contexts to digitally-mediated social contexts. I offer provocations for considering the premises rather than the procedures of fieldwork. These may not be seen on the surface level of method but operate at a level below method, or in everyday inquiry practices. I suggest that a practice of reflexive methodological analysis allows for more resonant and adaptive fieldwork suitable for studying 21st century networked communication practices and cultural formations.
- © 2014 The Regents of the University of California