Netnography #1. Communities?

flickr photo by ianguest shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Now I have Associate Membership of the Library, I’m able to borrow books. Yipee! I’ve decided to open with a few volumes which might inform my methodological approach or methods and have just completed ‘Netnography’ by Kozinets (2010). Whilst a post providing an overview and reflection on the messages therein might make sense, I felt I needed to get some of the thoughts it had provoked out of my mind. I suspect there might be one or two more posts to follow on this theme.

Kozinets opens by making the case for netnography being a special instance of, or subset of ethnography. As with conventional (is there such a thing?) ethnography, netnography has at its core a study of communities and cultures which Kozinets uses to provide the framework within which the remainder of the book is set.

He distinguishes between a ‘pure’ netnography as one in which all explorations are conducted online, gathering data solely through online techniques and interactions. A ‘pure’ ethnography would be undertaken offline through data gathered in face-to-face interactions, be they interviews, surveys, observations etc. A blended approach unsurprisingly is a combination of the two. My study will clearly begin online, but this set me thinking whether it might require a blended rather than pure netnographic approach. Kozinets helpfully differentiates between research into ‘communities online’ and online communities. The former are extant communities which conduct some of their interactions online, whereas the latter are communities forged online and who only ever interact online. A pure netnography would be appropriate with an online community whereas in order to capture a more holistic picture of the nature of a community online, a blended approach might be better. Unless of course in the latter case, it was only the online behaviours that provided the focal point of the study.

I can immediately see a possible banana skin for me. Kozinets clearly has communities in mind when providing these distinctions. I’m not sure yet that what I’ll be dealing with could be considered ‘a community’ and need to think more about the concept of community and how that might inform my approach. Moreover, I’m far from clear whether my approach will even be “netnographic,” so I need to delve further into whether ethnographies conducted wholly or partially online are distinct from one another, or if it’s simply semantic sparring.

Observation – although some of these issues swirled around in my brain for a while, I feel like I make better progress if I take the thoughts ‘out of my mind’ in order to hone them and see where they might lead. Writing seems to offer a different mechanism through which to reflect; perhaps it’s the attempt to structure the words in a particular way that encourages different viewpoints?

Kozinets, R.V., 2009. Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online. SAGE.


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