Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method


Edited by: Annette N. Markham & Nancy K. Baym

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    Introduction: Making Smart Choices on Shifting Ground

    Nancy K.Baym and Annette N.Markham

    Every generation believes it is singular in its experience of rapid and monumental social and technological changes. Ours is no exception. Early in the 21st century, “The Internet” marks our epochal particularity. The internet1—with all its capacities, interfaces, uses, and underlying technologies—both epitomizes and enables a seemingly constant barrage of reality-altering, globe-shifting changes. Far from slowing down, the barrage seems to continuously accelerate. Despite studying internet-related social phenomena since the early 1990s, the two of us regularly see new capacities and uses that shift how people make sense of and live their everyday lives and that raise profound challenges for researchers seeking to make sense of the internet's places and roles in this new world.

    As qualitative researchers of media-saturated phenomena, we notice how the internet brings into sharp relief previously assumed and invisible epistemologies and practices of inquiry. In fact, challenges of conducting internet research have prompted its researchers to confront, head-on, numerous questions that lurk less visibly in traditional research contexts. Consequently, internet researchers have been compelled to reconsider basic principles and practices of qualitative inquiry, with important critiques of a priori methodological certainties. This theme comprises a strong thread throughout the book, discussed in different ways by the authors of this collection.

    The internet changes the way we understand and conduct qualitative inquiry. This point is not new to the contributors to this collection, yet its resonance across this volume demonstrates its power. This came as somewhat of a revelation to us as editors. Qualitative scholars that we are, we studied the contributions once we had them in hand, individually and as a group, searching for common themes and patterns of meaning. What a surprise for us to discover that, although the main focus of the book is ostensibly the internet, the most important points contribute to nuanced and new understandings of qualitative inquiry in general.

    Why did we put together this collection? Both of us finished our PhDs in Communication Departments in the early 1990s with dissertations that were among the first to focus on the internet as a site for and object of qualitative research. We were naïve enough to think that it would be relatively straightforward to transfer research strategies developed for studying face-to-face contexts to life online. Since those early years, we've witnessed and contributed to critical analyses of this assumption. We've welcomed a small flurry of methodological books on internet research and critical reflections on qualitative internet research and ethnography (well represented by Hall, 2004; Hine, 2005a; Johns, Chen, & Jones, 1999; and Mann & Stewart, 2000). This book contributes to and extends that line of research reflexivity. We aim to make many of the challenges and issues in conducting qualitative internet inquiry explicit so that readers can see how others have worked through them and can thereby heighten their own sensitivity to those concerns.

    Qualitative approaches are open ended; the foundational principles of this epistemological category encourage practitioners to engage in dialogue that influences the structure of practice in the field: dialogue about critical decision points, ethical quandaries, and the uniqueness of the internet as a mediating factor in research (or the research site itself). Over the years, we found that our research approaches grew more sophisticated as we engaged in informal conversations with others who had studied similar contexts with different perspectives, or the inverse, with those who studied different contexts with similar perspectives. However, these discussions do not frequently appear in finished research reports or methods textbooks.

    Research reports are carefully edited retrospectives, selected among different story lines and options, depending on one's audience and goals. Within these reports, research designs are generally presented as a series of logical and chronologically ordered steps. Seasoned scholars know there's a complex backstage story line and have experienced such complexities themselves. But for novice scholars, it is easy to imagine that the researcher's route was successfully mapped out in advance and that interpretive findings simply emerged from the ground or fell conveniently into the path. Qualitative research requires a tolerance for chaos, ambiguity, and inductive thinking, yet its written accomplishments—particularly those published in chapters and articles rather than monographs—rarely display the researchers' inductive pathways or the decisions that led them down those routes.

    This book focuses on those decision-making processes in qualitative research that so often remain private. For this volume, we gathered some of the most accomplished qualitative internet researchers from varied intellectual traditions and asked them to explain how they have negotiated these challenges in their research practices, to make explicit the theoretical frameworks they have used to make decisions, and to offer advice to guide researchers as they confront these questions themselves.

    This collection also addresses the broader challenges associated with doing research in this era of media-saturated and ever-shifting sociocultural contexts. Not only are the objects of our research shifting, so too are traditional academic disciplines, which is particularly evident in the interdisciplinary characteristics of internet-related research. The authors in this collection have found themselves grappling with a multiplicity of concerns within and outside their home disciplines. Their success relies on their ability to remain grounded as the research contexts, technologies, and the very nature of their social worlds seem to change, converge, collide, or collapse. We review some of the challenges in this era of research in this introduction, noting that even in these amorphous contexts, quality and rigor emerge from our abilities to comprehend and heed the lessons learned by previous generations of researchers while understanding the need for flexible adaptation, a process of reconsideration without reinvention.

    Sociocultural Contexts in a Media-Saturated World

    Sociologists such as Bauman (2000), Sennett (1974), Appadurai (1996), and Giddens (1990) are among those who have described major transformations in the social order in the wake of increasingly global and capitalistic infrastructures and flows. The internet is directly implicated in at least four major transformations of our epoch: (1) media convergence, (2) mediated identities, (3) redefinitions of social boundaries, and (4) the transcendence of geographical boundaries. Each of these intertwined cultural contexts inevitably affects the identification of research objects, engagement with research fields, and design and conduct of qualitative inquiry of contemporary social life.

    Media are rapidly converging with one another. The (seemingly) neat worlds of face-to-face embodied conversation, public speaking, landline telephones, radio, television, and film have all but collapsed into a tangled web of video clips sent over mobile phones, music played over computers, refrigerators that suggest recipes on built-in computer screens, and sites like YouTube where clips of a broadcast television show sit on the same platform alongside home-made videos. Media are integral to the full range of human social practices. They are appropriated for the everyday conduct of social, occupational, and civic life in ways that bring these fields into new forms of convergence across time and space. Qualitative researchers must grapple more than ever with the problem of how to identify one phenomenon when convergence intertwines them all together. Although the authors advocate throughout this book that quality in research design relies on a good fit among question, phenomenon, and method, these choices are complicated by the cacophony of causal relationships in the field.

    The cacophony does not exist simply in the convergence of multiple media and the accompanying swarm of information but also in the shifting subjects of our inquiry. The contemporary self, which used to seem fairly reliably embedded in a human body, must now be seen as constructed with and in response to multiple media. Kenneth Gergen (1991) popularized the concept of “the saturated self,” arguing that modern identities are pieced together like quilts from the overwhelming expanses of mediated messages in our environments. As Radhika Gajjala and many of the authors note in this volume, our selves are produced through multiple media.

    The sociological subject is powerful, shifting, and, in terms of qualitative research design, confusing. Our research models do not fit the multiphrenic subject very well. For example, when conceptualizing, defining, protecting, interviewing, or observing the subject of inquiry, tradition dictates that the research participant have demographically verifiable characteristics. We are taught as a basic rule of thumb in methods courses to identify and categorize, even if only to protect the rights of our participants, but also to use these categories to help us build our interpretive frameworks. In internet research, this rule of thumb about categorizing has tended to result in researchers juxtaposing what happens online with what happens face-to-face, or to search for the real or authentic. Carried out for various reasons, this research practice simply doesn't fit anymore the multiphrenic or saturated subject. Yet as Shani Orgad discusses in Chapter 2, the question of how to treat data collected from online discussion forums and interviews relative to that collected in physically co-present interviews raises issues that go to the heart of how core concepts such as “authentic” or “trustworthy” are to be understood when experience and identity are saturated by so many communication media.

    The internet also highlights the contemporary disruption of social boundaries, as exemplified by the shifting nature of private and public, concepts that were never as simple as they might have appeared. On the internet's open forums people share their medication regimes, heartaches, and sexual preferences. Genres such as reality television, talk shows, and internet video sharing thrive on the willingness of private citizens to bare the most personal and private elements of their lives to mass audiences. As researchers Malin Sveningsson Elm, Elizabeth Buchanan, and Susannah Stern argue in Chapter 3, this inversion of public and private has profound implications for how researchers must approach the ethics of data collection in “public” internet sites, and also for how the very concept of “privacy” is constructed even in domains we thought we understood. In Chapter 4, Lori Kendall, Jenny Sundén, and John Edward Campbell further push us to consider what researchers might be losing when we omit our “private” feelings and desires from our scholarly analyses rather than allowing them into the process and public record.

    Convergence, mediated selves, and shifts in social boundaries are situated within and create contexts in which geographical and temporal boundaries must be reconsidered. When people can have speedy and regular contact across distances using a variety of mediated means for as many purposes as there are conversations, or shared traditionally conceptually geographic and temporal space is less forceful than ever before in bounding our identities, relationships, collaborators, information sources, entertainment, or financial dealings. Instead, the temporal and spatial boundaries influencing social interaction and structures are shifting, ad hoc. For the qualitative researcher, trained in methods of studying a physically grounded site, this raises questions of how to frame the boundaries of a study when any practice is bounded in many ways through space and time, as Christine Hine, Lori Kendall, and danah boyd examine in Chapter 1.

    The changes in global communication infrastructures in recent times also shift the traditional grounds and audiences for our research. A researcher's work is liable to be read in contexts it never would have been in years past, which, as the contributors to Chapter 5 (Annette Markham, Elaine Lally, and Ramesh Srinivasan) discuss, creates both methodological and rhetorical challenges in constructing and presenting our work.

    Choices within the Rubric of Qualitative Research

    Anyone who wants to use qualitative methods to study the internet must comprehend and select from a dizzying array of choices, depending on what region and/or discipline he or she is approaching the internet from, what advice is received from friends or mentors, and what books are randomly picked off the shelves to assist in developing the study. While there are models and general rubrics to guide one's choices, qualitative internet research is still novel enough to make those decisions difficult.

    In common definition and traditional application, qualitative methods have been associated with close analysis and interpretation by the researcher, trained in various specific methods of information collection (e.g., interviewing, participant observation in the field, and notation or collection of such things as written texts, transcripts of conversations, documents, and artifacts) and in even more specific methods of data analysis within one's school of thought (e.g., conversation analysis, grounded theory, deconstruction, rhetorical criticism, network analysis, phenomenology, and so forth).

    Each of these methods (and others not mentioned here) of data collection, analysis, interpretation, and writing exists within cultural, historical, and political frameworks that delimit one's activities as a researcher. Each of these procedures has also been deconstructed in the wake of postmodernism. Qualitative approaches look decidedly different from country to country, even within disciplines. Alternately, qualitative approaches seem easily lumped together. Subtle distinctions in epistemological grounding can make a big difference in one's approach, but it may be difficult to comprehend this effect when the labels seem similar. This is particularly challenging for newcomers unfamiliar with the historical evolution of a method or longstanding methodological debates. We cannot answer the question, “What is qualitative method?” but the complexity of the question must be noted. As Hine aptly notes (2005b), the phrase “qualitative method” itself may be inappropriate because it cannot adequately encapsulate the practices said to be housed under its roof.

    Let's face it: Everything appears to be up for grabs in this era of research, internet or no. Studies and study results emerge in different forms and venues, with different standards of quality, based on an unimaginably broad range of perspectives and methods. We are undoubtedly not the only ones to notice this phenomenon, but because our object of research, the internet, both contributes to and is entangled in this shifting ground, we feel the impact.

    The Changing Role of Disciplinarity

    How then do we grapple with the choices? Do we cling to tradition because it has steadier grounding? Or do we continually experiment? People from many disciplines are drawn to study the internet for many reasons. Some want to use the technologies to conduct traditional research within their disciplinary groundings, others to be freed from the shackles of traditional disciplinary practices. Some want to understand something about particular technologies, but have little training in the methods for studying them. Others know a lot about the methods of social research but little about the technologically mediated context they're studying.

    Many are drawn to the internet as a research topic because its self-replenishing novelty always holds out the promise for unique intellectual spaces. Research in this area tends to chase new technologies. Related, more current, or cutting-edge research is often valued more highly than what are seen as its out-of-date, old-fashioned counterparts. New kinds of interactions emerge so rapidly that the opportunities to contribute something original to an area by incorporating the internet into research are endlessly open. But novel research terrain brings with it novel difficulties. It is hard to know how well older theoretical and methodological frameworks can be applied to understand contemporary social formations. Can we still draw on theories that were developed in an earlier epoch to frame our inquiry and explain our findings? How do we apply procedural models to a study when these models do not seem to fit anymore? How can we move beyond documenting the new to saying things of lasting value about phenomena that change so rapidly?

    In the context of this mixed allure and challenge, few people who study the internet are trained by a person, let alone a program, that gave them specialized guidance on how to do it well. Quality in academia is a discipline-specific assessment, and the arbiters tend to be those flagship journals, each of which aligns with editorial divisions of publishing houses that publish our research, host the conferences where we present our work, and provide institutional homes. While most disciplines have awakened to an understanding of the importance of the internet in their fields, most do not have a richly developed core of scholars who agree on methodological approaches or standards. This absence of disciplinary boundaries keeps internet studies both desirable and frustrating.

    Layered atop this, the global nature of the internet exposes many cultural differences in assumptions, approaches, and interpretations, as many of the authors discuss in this volume. This exposure is not a bad thing, in that it forces internet researchers to continually evaluate their own work in light of contrasting perspectives. Internet researchers push the boundaries of disciplinary belonging in ways that exemplify what all academic researchers would do well to problematize.

    Because disciplinary journals, editorial boards, and reviewers may have lacked expertise in internet research (a situation that is changing now, of course), the quality of published qualitative research of the internet varies widely. Although certain scholars can cite hallmark exemplars (as illustrated by the recommended reading authors chose to include in this volume) or name current key journals (such as new media & society, Information Society, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and Information Community & Society), these provide interesting illustrations of potential rather than guides for new researchers in the field. This absence of canonical texts indicates a markedly undisciplined field for inquiry and offers much potential for creative research endeavors. Quality must be evaluated at the individual rather than institutional level, a challenge that forces researchers to strive to understand a broad array of theories and methods from multiple disciplines.

    Those who turn to the internet as a new topic of study may find it easy to forget that we are not the first people to live through times of technological, cultural, or disciplinary change. Even those on the cutting edge need to know what remains continuous across these changes and what history has to teach us. If the lack of obvious and singular cultural, methodological, or disciplinary context is taken to mean that there is nothing to be learned from disciplinary traditions or studies of earlier media, the result is liable to be weak work. One of this book's central messages is the importance of historical understanding in making sense of novel research topics. Chasing the new in an academic context is in many ways a lost cause: There is no way to keep ahead of the ever-shifting postmodern subject living in interwoven political, economic, and social contexts that are media saturated. One makes lasting contributions and manages the challenges by grounding research. This, of course, is a complicated goal, not achieved solely by reading the literature in one's own field, but certainly aided by a clear understanding of the tools one is using and a keen reflexivity about the situatedness of the self, one's discipline, and the object and context of research.

    Reconsidering without Reinventing

    What qualitative internet researchers need is thus an exaggerated form of what all qualitative researchers require—a way to navigate the novelty of the contemporary landscape while drawing on and contributing to the accumulated methodological and topical wisdom of relevant pasts. The particular novelty and multiple contextualities of internet research increase the need to be able to articulate and defend the processes of decision making during research. The authors in this collection are all drawn to studying the novel, but they share a commitment to making sense of the new by understanding their research processes' and objects' continuity with the past.

    This book comes out of the belief that credible research is driven by clearly defined questions and adaptability in answering them. As Sally Jackson (1986) aptly reminds us, method is not a recipe for success, but a means of argument. The procedures we learn and teach are not a means of ensuring truth, but of anticipating possible counter-arguments. Procedures are designed in order to raise broader issues, as Stern notes in Chapter 3, and we need to consider those broader issues in making wise methodological choices. The “steps taken” to solve a “problem” constitute method, but these steps are loaded with assumptions and premises before the process even begins. To understand and apply the appropriate method, one must also examine the guiding assumptions. Then, one must match the most appropriate method to the question, retaining consistency among one's ontological, epistemological, and methodological premises.

    The Format of the Book

    The reader will note that unlike most edited collections, each chapter in this book is titled as a question. We developed these questions to provoke explicit consideration of key issues. We narrowed them down to six, which are by no means exhaustive, but which we have found especially salient in conducting, reading, and teaching qualitative internet inquiry:

    • How can qualitative internet researchers define the boundaries of their projects?
    • How can researchers make sense of the issues involved in collecting and interpreting online and offline data?
    • How do various notions of privacy influence decisions in qualitative internet research?
    • How do issues of gender and sexuality influence the structures and processes of qualitative internet research?
    • How can qualitative researchers produce work that is meaningful across time, location, and culture?
    • What constitutes quality in qualitative internet research?

    We asked scholars whose work exemplifies how to handle these issues well to explain how they think through these questions, in general and in practice. At the end of each chapter, after the first author has offered his or her essay addressing the question and provided some key reading references, responses are provided by additional authors. The resulting range of perspectives offers conceptual, theoretical, and practical guidance while demonstrating that there are many defensible directions in which any research project could go. Rather than making the decisions that lead to one right answer, research must make strong, context-sensitive choices that lead to insightful answers.

    In the first chapter, sociologist Christine Hine, whose research focuses on the sociology of science and technology, including ethnographic studies of scientific culture, looks at how to define the boundaries of a research project, both its starting and stopping points. Responses are offered by sociologist Lori Kendall, who uses symbolic interactionism and feminist approaches to study information technologies and culture, including online community and identity, and danah boyd, an information studies scholar with a background in computer science, who studies emergent social practices in networked publics.

    In the second chapter, media and communication scholar Shani Orgad, whose research uses constructivist and narrative approaches to explore communicative processes in mediated contexts, offers her analysis of how to grapple with the issue of online versus offline in collecting information and making sense of it in qualitative internet analysis. The respondents are audience/media scholar Maria Bakardjieva, who uses phenomenological sociology to examine how users mobilize and appropriate the internet in a variety of social contexts including the home, educational settings, and online and local communities; and Radhika Gajjala, a feminist, postcolonialist media scholar who studies the intersections of culture and technology.

    In the third chapter, the question of the extent to which privacy or perceived privacy is an issue for qualitative internet researchers is taken on by Malin Sveningsson Elm, a media and communication studies scholar who studies social interaction online, particularly the presentation of self in online communities and relationships. Responses are offered by Elizabeth Buchanan, an information studies and education researcher, who examines ethical practices and regulations associated with information science and internet research from a social constructivist perspective; and Susannah Stern, a mass communications scholar who uses critical methods to study uses and effects of electronic media, with a special interest in children and youth.

    In the fourth chapter, Lori Kendall returns with a provocative analysis of how issues of gender and sexuality influenced structures and processes of qualitative internet research in her work on masculinity in an online discussion group. Responses are offered by Jenny Sundén, a researcher of media technology and communication studies who has studied online embodiment and cyberfeminist politics, and John Edward Campbell, a communications scholar who studies masculinity in gay spaces on the internet.

    In the fifth chapter, Annette Markham considers the question of how to produce work that is meaningful across time and location, given that internet technologies change radically and are used in very different ways across contexts. Elaine Lally, a cultural studies and anthropology scholar who studies information and communication technologies as forms of material culture, and Ramesh Srinivasan, an information scientist conducting research on culture and globalism, respond.

    In the final chapter, Nancy Baym argues that the concept of dialectics can help frame the issue of quality in qualitative internet research. She draws on the chapters included here, her own research experience, and what others have written about standards in qualitative research to offer guidelines on what constitutes quality. Annette Markham responds.

    The result of our collaboration is not a “how-to” guide. It is, rather, an exploration and explanation of vantage points, a project meant to stimulate thinking.

    Cross-Cutting Conclusions

    In closing the introduction to this collection, we want to identify six cross-cutting issues raised by the authors in this collection—issues that are fundamental to all qualitative research, not just internet-related research, and that reverberate throughout all of the essays included here.

    First, research design is always ongoing. Theory and method inform one another so that the study is continuously reframed throughout the research process. Different questions occur at different stages of a research process, and the same questions reappear at different points.

    Second, the constitution of data is the result of a series of decisions at critical junctures in the design and conduct of a study. The endless and jumbled network of links that comprise our research sites and subjects create endless sources of information that could be used as data in a project. We must constantly and thoroughly evaluate what will count as data and how we are distinguishing side issues from key sources of information. Reflexivity may enable us to minimize or at least acknowledge the ways in which our culturally embedded rationalities influence what is eventually labeled “data.”

    Third, ethical treatment of human subjects is inductive and context-sensitive. As almost all the authors in this collection discuss, ethical issues are neither simple nor universal. The context-specific uses of the internet highlight many of the complications associated with determining moral or legal parameters for protecting the participants of research projects. Given the complex ways in which people adapt and appropriate technologies for interaction, researchers must reconsider carefully the frameworks that delimit concepts such as trust, authenticity, privacy, and consent. Although one might wish for clear guidelines, navigating these issues in the contexts of specific projects must be inductive rather than rule driven.

    Fourth, the role of the self in research is a subject for reflexive inquiry. The often ostensibly disembodied internet calls into question the nature and place of the self in research at a level different from the related postmodern questions of the self as part of the research process. The internet highlights the extent to which researchers co-create the fields of study. Our choices, because they occur in contexts that have no standard rules for research design and practice, seem more poignant and meaningful. What decisions are we making to seek consent; what counts as an authentic self-representation? How are we conceptualizing the embodied persons we study? How are we framing our own embodied sensibilities? Do we approach what we are studying as traces left in public spaces or as embodied activities by people situated in rich offline contexts? We must consider how to interpret other people's selves and how to represent ourselves to the people we study, especially when we may not be meeting them in person. The connection of researcher and researched is a phenomenon heightened by the often invisible bodies of the researcher and researched in internet contexts. The researchers in this collection make powerful arguments for embracing the challenge of understanding how we are connected in multiple and complex ways to the contexts we create, study, and report.

    Fifth, research practices are situated. An awareness of our emotional, bodily, institutional, economic, and social situations inevitably has an impact on all the choices we make in the field, including choices about how we approach the field, collect and interpret data, and represent our work. As research contexts and publishing venues become more globally accessible, we become more accountable for taking this situatedness into consideration. Crafting work that speaks to people in other places and future times requires attention to the situated nature of our methods and the products of our inquiry.

    Finally, research requires the ongoing balance of dialectical tensions. The authors in these chapters point to a number of dialectics—messiness vs. neatness, depth vs. breadth, local vs. global—and one could identify others. These dialectics pull researchers in opposing directions, and a step toward either side entails some sacrifice of insights that the other side would offer. Researchers must be able to identify, articulate, and make reasoned comparisons regarding what might be gained and lost with each research option they might follow.

    These six cross-cutting issues relate to any qualitative inquiry and are not internet specific. Yet the particularities of internet contexts highlight these issues as important markers for reflection and attention.

    In sum, although the internet has made more data available to researchers than ever before and created seemingly infinite, alluring research opportunities, the process of conducting qualitative internet research—indeed all qualitative research, and arguably all research—is more complex than ever before. We hope that the insights gathered in the chapters that follow serve as exemplars and sources of advice to help readers manage these challenges with rigor in their own research.

    “Internet” is often spelled with a capital “I.” In keeping with current trends in internet studies, we prefer the lower case “i.” Capitalizing suggests that “internet” is a proper noun and implies either that it is a being, like Nancy or Annette, or that it is a specific place, like Madison or Lawrence. Both metaphors lead to granting the internet agency and power that are better granted to those who develop and use it.

  • Acknowledgments

    First and foremost Nancy wants to thank Annette for her vision and persistence in spearheading this book and for her friendship. She'd also like to thank the students in her graduate seminars in Qualitative Methods at the University of Kansas who helped her think through many of the issues raised in this book; Margaret Seawell for originally taking this book on and Todd Armstrong at SAGE for seeing it through; and last but never least, Rex, Zane, and Eli.

    Annette would like to thank the contributors, whose work inspired the book from the beginning. Without them, this project would not exist. It wouldn't have been finished, either, without the persistent support of her friends within the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR), who have become the stable community in her gypsy life. Among this community, Nancy has been steady and true. She was a fantastic colleague throughout this project, proving that it can be fun to do collaborative work with good friends.

    In addition, many thanks to our colleagues whose keen sensibilities in reading early versions gave strength and shape to this volume: John W. Creswell (University of Nebraska–Lincoln); Norman Denzin (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign); Klaus Bruhn Jensen (University of Copenhagen); Mark D. Johns (Luther College); Steve Jones (University of Illinois, Chicago); and William K. Rawlins (Ohio University).


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    About the Contributors

    Maria Bakardjieva is an associate professor in the Faculty of Communication and Culture, University of Calgary. She is the author of Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life (2005, Sage). Her research examines how users mobilize and appropriate the internet in a variety of social contexts including the home, educational settings, and online and local communities.

    Nancy Baym is an associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas. She has written many widely cited articles about online fan communities and social aspects of online interaction and is the author of the book, Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom, and Online Community (2000, Sage). She is a co-founder and past president of the Association of Internet Researchers. She is an award-winning teacher whose courses address the use of new communication technologies in creating identities, relationships, and communities; interpersonal communication; and qualitative research methods. She serves on the editorial boards of the premier journals in the field, including New Media & Society, Journal of Communication, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and Information Society. Her blog about fan activity on the internet can be found at

    Danah Boyd is a doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California-Berkeley and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Her dissertation focuses on how youth engage in networked publics like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Xanga, and the like. In particular, she is interested in how American teens formulate a presentation of self and negotiate socialization in mediated contexts amidst invisible audiences. This work is funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of a broader grant on digital youth and informal learning. danah also holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University and a master's degree in sociable media from MIT Media Lab.

    Elizabeth Buchanan is an associate professor and director of the Center for Information Policy Research, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She researches and teaches courses in the areas of information ethics and research methods. She serves as co-director of the International Society of Ethics and Information Technology (INSEIT), chair of the Association of Internet Researchers Ethics Working Group, and is chair elect of the Wisconsin Library Association Intellectual Freedom Round Table. She spends her time with her systems librarian husband, two children, five cats, numerous fish, and one lizard.

    John Edward Campbell is a doctoral candidate at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an instructor at the University of Minnesota. He is interested in the construction of identity and community in cyberspace and how it is increasingly shaped by the commercial forces of target marketing and consumer surveillance. He is currently working on his second book, which examines the commodification of online communities. His first book, Getting It On Online: Cyberspace, Gay Male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity, was published by Haworth Press in 2004. John also holds a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst.

    Malin Sveningsson Elm is an assistant professor in the department of Media and Communication studies at Karlstad University, Sweden. She received her PhD from the Department of Communication Studies at Linköping University, Sweden. Her publications include Creating a Sense of Community. Experiences from a Swedish Web Chat, and she is a co-author of the edited collections, Digital Borderlands: Cultural Studies of Identity and Interactivity on the Internet and Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights. Gender and Digital Media in a Nordic Context. She is also a co-author of a Swedish textbook on internet research methods. Her research interests include computer-mediated communication, social interaction, youth culture, and gender and identity.

    Radhika Gajjala, who received her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the School of Communication Studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Her research interests include Science and Technology Studies, ICTs and globalization, South Asians and cyberspace, and the production of race online and in virtual learning environments. Her work has appeared in Feminist Media Studies, International and Intercultural Annual, Contemporary South Asia, Technospaces: Inside the New Media (2001), and Domain Errors! Cyberfeminist Practices (2003). Her book, Cyberselves:Feminist Ethnographies of South Asian Women, was published by Altamira Press in 2004. She is currently co-editing two interdisciplinary collections of essays, one on South Asian technospaces and the other on webbing cyberfeminist practice. She is also working on a book to be titled Technocultural Agency: Production of Identity Through Presence/Absence at the Intersection of Virtual/Real Digital Cultures (under contract with Lexington).

    Christine Hine is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. Her main research centers on the sociology of science and technology, including ethnographic studies of scientific culture, information technology, and the internet. Her published work on research methods and the internet includes Virtual Ethnography (2000, Sage) and the edited collection Virtual Methods (2005, Berg). Christine is currently president of the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology.

    Lori Kendall is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign. Her research focuses on information technologies and culture, including online community and identity. Her book Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online (2002) was published by the University of California Press. Other writings regarding online research methods can be found in Doing Internet Research (1999, Sage), Online Social Research: Methods, Issues, & Ethics (2004, Peter Lang), and Handbook of Research on New Literacies (in press, Lawrence Erlbaum).

    Elaine Lally is a senior research fellow and assistant director of the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney. She conducts research in the areas of art and technology as material culture and the role of arts and culture in regional development (especially in Western Sydney). Recent projects include the development of a digital cultural atlas to support cultural planning by local government, and she is currently undertaking a three-year Australian Research Council grant to document and evaluate an innovative contemporary arts-in-business initiative in Western Sydney. Dr. Lally is author of At Home with Computers (2002, Berg). She holds a PhD in Cultural Histories and Futures from the University of Western Sydney and a master's degree in Anthropology from Australian National University.

    Annette Markham is a senior research fellow in the Center for Information Policy Research at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, researching the connection between method and ethics and conducting research of decision-making processes in institutional review boards. She is also a senior development specialist for the State of Wisconsin, working with subject matter experts in the corrections system to design ethically grounded online training. Her primary research focuses on ethical practices in qualitative internet research and sense-making in technologically mediated spaces. Her book Life Online: Researching Real Experience in Virtual Space (1998, Alta Mira) has been regarded as a foundational sociological study of the internet experience. Other writing related to method can be found in the The SAGE Handbook for Qualitative Research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, 3rd ed, Sage); Qualitative Research: Theory, Method, and Practice (Silverman, 2004, Sage), and such journals as Qualitative Inquiry, Information Society, and Journal of Information Ethics. Annette received her PhD from Purdue University.

    Shani Orgad, PhD, is a lecturer in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her first book, Storytelling Online: Talking Breast Cancer on the Internet, explores the online communication of breast cancer patients (2005, Peter Lang). Her work has appeared also in journals including New Media & Society and Feminist Media Studies and in these edited collections: Oxford University Press Handbook on ICTs (2007, Oxford University Press), Virtual Methods (2005, Berg), and Web Studies (2004, Arnold).

    Ramesh Srinivasan, assistant professor of Information Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), has focused his research globally on the development of information systems within the context of culturally differentiated communities. He has studied how the cultural practices specific to communities can manifest themselves in an information system's architecture, particularly with respect to how it represents, categorizes, and disseminates the information it stores. His research has spanned such bounds as e-governance; public health; development informatics; and digital preservation across Asian, African, Australasian, and North American field environments. His research has received international acclaim and has appeared in top academic and international journals. For more detail, please consult his web page:

    Susannah Stern, who received her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is currently an associate professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of San Diego. Her research is situated at the intersection of electronic media and youth culture. She focuses on how young people experience the mediated world, how they use media to navigate through adolescence, and how they construct media messages to meet their own needs and fantasies. Her work has appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Women's Studies in Communication, and New Media & Society, as well as in several edited collections.

    Jenny Sundén is an assistant professor in Media Technology at the School of Computer Science and Communication, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. She received her PhD from the Department of Communication Studies, Linköping University. She has published primarily on new media, cultural studies, cyberfeminism, online ethnography, and digital textuality. She is the author of Material Virtualities: Approaching Online Textual Embodiment (2003, Peter Lang) and is a co-editor of Cyberfeminism in Northern Lights: Digital Media and Gender in a Nordic Context (2007, Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

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