(Paper presented at Social relations in turbulent times: 10th Conference of the European Sociological Association, Geneva, Switzerland, 7th-10th September 2011)
Although the history of the internet, and the social web in particular, is comparatively short, numerous publications have strived at establishing an understanding of what it means to undertake qualitative research on the internet. Early accounts of virtual ethnography or "netnography" focused mainly on the possibility to make use of web communities for researching identity performances and consumption patterns among other themes. During the last few years, the emergence of social network sites (SNS) has heavily redefined the social landscape of the internet since it involves a shift from thematically orientated communities to networks that are centred around the activity of the individual actor. Increasingly, these networks form the basis for a new way of interaction by means of user-generated content since people engage in social activities such as sharing, reviewing and commenting upon the information that each and other user generate. Taking these fundamental changes into account, Beer och Burrows (2007) point at the importance of adjusting research strategies to the conditions of the social web while at the same suggesting that users of SNS are to some extent already involved in a sort of vernacular sociology as part of their social practices. Taking these thoughts further, this paper sets forth to understand in what ways recent developments of SNS have provided a shift in the ways in which the social actor can possibly be delineated. Since SNS allow for a self-presentation and social interaction that largely depend upon the social connections to others, the conditions for communication and social interaction have been fundamentally altered and this state of affairs challenges the assumptions that underlie qualitative research in general and ethnography in particular. Theoretically elaborating on these thoughts, the overall objective with this paper is to explore the tensions between ethnographic practices on the internet and the fact that users of SNS are not only preoccupied with a vernacular sociology but are also, and more importantly, to a large extent delineated by their interpersonal actions and social connections.
Beer, D., & Burrows, R. (2007). Sociology And, of and in Web 2.0: Some Initial Considerations. Sociological Research Online, 12(5).