Ethnography of the Online/Offline Continuum: An Introductory Review (MSTU 4020 - Final)

Abstract Ethnographers researching social practices and interactive communication within computer and non-computer mediated environments face various challenges in the field. That is to say, ethnographic research methods have been further complicated by the online/offline continuum. For this analysis, the online/offline continuum is defined as an interactive and communication phenomenon characterized by the distribution of identities and social practices that shift between computer and non-computer mediated environments. The following literature review is an introductory exploration into various theories and constructs that guide discussion about meaningful approaches to conducting ethnography of the online/offline continuum. Specifically, the following questions are addressed:

1) How can conceptions of space, place, and time help us to understand and approach researching the online/offline continuum?

2) How have scholars been reworking ethnographic research methods of the online/offline continuum?

3) What new constructs and forms of ethnography are emerging because of online/offline continuum?

4) What new formulations have emerged as a result of the literature reviewed?


Based on literature presented, several new insights and formulations have emerged about ethnographies of the online/offline continuum.

First, emerging ethnographies of the online/offline phenomenon are characterized by connective methods, reflective approaches, experiential epistemologies, relational theories, and experimental practices.

Second, researchers must continually revisit interpretations of space, place, and time to further guide research of the online/offline continuum.

Third, ethnographers must formulate and rework definitions of the online/offline continuum and of alternative forms of ethnography to expand upon those mentioned here.

Fourth, ethnographers must continue to investigate social practices in relation to computer and non-computer-mediated environments.

Finally, researchers must be incline to consider the “cyberspace knowledge question” (Hakken p. 182) to better understand pedagogical approaches and assessment practices in relation to the online/offline continuum. The last formulation is also important to how we understand the influence of technologies on doing research (Wolf, 1992, p. 127) doing community, and seeing ourselves throughout the online/offline continuum.


Space, Place, & Time

  • Manuel Castells' Space of Flows (1996)

Virtual Ethnography

  • Christine Hine (2000)

Reworking Ethnographic Research Methods

  • Christine Hine's "connective ethnography" (2007)
  • danah boyd (2008)

Ethnography as Epistemology

  • David Hakken's "knowledge question of cyberspace" (1999)

Emerging Constructs & Ethnographies

  • Johan Fornas, et. al "digital borderlands" (2002)
  • Robert Kozinet's Netnography (2010)
  • Michael Wesch's digital ethnography (2010)