Modes of organization in mediated sociality, EPIC 2005 Abstract draft

EPIC Abstract; Submission for Methods/Case Studies Paper (10 pages)

Title: Modes of organization in mediated sociality: ethnographic
studies of cyber-sociality and the implications for "virtual teams"

Ethnography, or rather the ethnographic stance in observation is a
“family” of approaches. These are commonly descriptive accounts with
different foci (yielding a plethora of prefixes, e.g., cyber
ethnography, media ethnography, virtual ethnography – all prefixes
which say more about the focus of bounded such ethnographies than the
method itself). However, ethnography goes beyond reporting events and
details of experience and works to explain how these represent the webs
of meaning in which we live”. We, as ethnographers, bring the
“insider’s perspective”, ideally showing regular patterns in what we
see not just descriptions of isolated events.

In this paper, we present work in three arenas to illustrate the
issues involved in using ethnographic methods to give “insider’s view”
of sociality in distributed work situations. When writing the culture
of online sociality in distributed teams, we cannot simply carry out
“cyber-ethnography” to gain an understanding of the flows in which work
take place. Nor can we simply observe interactions in physical
workplaces to understand the work practice and the substrates of
sociality within teams. A complex triangulation of data, with a deep
understanding of the setting in which the tele-sociality more broadly
takes place, the multiple social and technical worlds in which
individuals must enact social competence must take place. And in all of
this, issues of power and ownership of information, surveillance must
be addressed.

In this paper we offer three examples from our own work (text-based
environments for work centered collaboration, “commercial” engagements
in massively multiplayer graphical environments, and tele-sociality in
distributed teams). By articulating the details of these ethnographies
we illustrate the challenges in maintaining an ethnographic sensibility
in these scenarios. We illustrate the difficulties in reflecting the
“insider’s view” when data gathering is restricted by social, technical
and temporal limitations and results are politically sensitive.


Graue, M.E. (in press) Definition of ethnography. In C.A. Grant
& G. Ladson-Billings (Eds.) Dictionary of multicultural education.
New York: The Oryx Press

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