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Researching Forums in Online Ethnography: Practice and Ethics

Big Data? Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research

ISBN: 978-1-78441-051-3, eISBN: 978-1-78441-050-6

Publication date: 3 November 2014



To examine the potential for including forums in an online ethnography that draws on data from multiple online sites.


Taking a broadly post-structuralist approach to identity and embodiment online, the research drew on three sources of data: asynchronous email interviews, in-game participant observation and six months of forum observation.


The community in question was socially located around multiple field sites online and forums remain an integral part of the social lives of online gamers. The practice and ethics for examining forums from a qualitative perspective are outlined and how this can fit into an ethnographic account. Some of the data is then presented from this strand of the research to illustrate how researching a forum as a ‘lurker’ can complement theoretical trajectories and analyses from other parts of the dataset.


This research details a novel way of examining forums qualitatively as part of a larger dataset. Furthermore, the chapter posits how relatively unobtrusive methods of observation can bring to the fore the ways in which prejudice still structures online social interaction.



Hutchinson, E. (2014), "Researching Forums in Online Ethnography: Practice and Ethics", Big Data? Qualitative Approaches to Digital Research (Studies in Qualitative Methodology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 91-112.



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