Ethnographic Inquiry in the “Digitized” Fields of Madre de Dios, Peru and Oaxaca, Mexico: Methodological and Ethical Issues
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 89, Number 2, Spring 2016
- pp. 539-560
- Additional Information
Instant messaging and video teleconferencing over social media are common 21st century ethnographic practices that crisscross physical and digital spaces. While this multimodal approach to fieldwork has increasingly become the norm in anthropology and other related disciplines, there is little discussion of the dynamism between various computer/smartphone-mediated forms of inquiry and how digital and face-to-face “classical” ethnographic methods influence fieldwork practices. We use this piece to address three questions that remain unanswered in conducting ethnography that traverses both digital and physical spaces: 1) How does online ethnographic inquiry influence the relationship between researcher and research participant in both online and offline field settings? 2) How do ethnographers address methodological issues—such as third-party-present effect, language competency, and the challenges of “netspeak” in native languages—and temporality issues involving synchronous, asynchronous, and syncopated communication? 3) What are the ethical ramifications of utilizing digital platforms for ethnographic queries, especially with regard to privacy issues spurred by growing state surveillance and the commodification of personal data by private entities? We address these questions using experiences in two different time periods and unique research settings, Ulmer’s recent fieldwork with conservation workers in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios, Peru and Cohen’s work in the late 1990s and early 2000s with craft producers in central Oaxaca, Mexico.