Digital ethnography, as Crystal Abidin and Gabriele de Seta put it, is “doing ethnographic research about, on, and through digital media” , meaning that the digital can be interpreted in three different directions. Research on digital media is done as soon as the internet is used to gather information about an object of research, which itself need not be a digital phenomenon. Research through digital media implies the use of digital technologies as research tools. Research about digital media, however, implies digital phenomena as objects of research.
Historically, ethnographies attempted to map the social and cultural practices of an ethnic group. Contemporary ethnographies, on the other hand, revolve around a broader range of social groups or communities of practice. The core method of ethnographic research is participant observation, a combination of being practically involved in the field while at the same time taking a critical outsider perspective towards yourself and the practices you’re engaged in. Ethical requirements include transparency and informed consent, avoiding harm, and building mutual trust based on reciprocity and dialogue.
Digital ethnography challenges us to transfer this methodology to the digital realm. For our project Digital Transformation and Formal Innovation in the Nigerian Music Industry , Tom Simmert has chosen Instagram and TikTok as a research field, where he regularly spends time, documenting his own use of these apps and his experiences using screenshots, screen recordings, and a field journal. In the next research stage, he will expand his methodology to include a hybrid approach, empirically investigating the use of these apps on site in Lagos, Nigeria, in order to evaluate his findings dialogically and from an actor-centred perspective.