PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Virtual ethnography

Christine Hine   Brunel University, UK

This paper addresses the conference theme considering the practitioners of scientific and technological culture by addressing the extent to which the social sciences must share in that culture in order to produce an adequate analysis. It is suggested that through considering our analytic stance in the light of a new substantive area, we may shed light both on what we assume to be special about that area and on the assumptions of our analytic practices.

The paper draws on data from a conventional, face-to-face ethnographic study of scientists using information technology, and from an exercise in virtual ethnography across a computer network. The paper considers the extent to which conventional ethnography ignores certain aspects of technological culture, and questions the need for sociologists in technological settings to themselves become technological adepts. Problems for this approach are raised where analysis involves attempts to translate virtual interactions into conventional terms. Analysis of the process of becoming a technological adept as sociologist is used as a means to reflect on the implications of technological culture.

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