POPREBEL Ethnography Polish Fieldwork

Hi all, in this thread I will be sharing weekly memos, that shed light on what’s happening in my fieldwork.

Case-study outline
Method: digital ethnography, classic ethnography
Research group: users of the Polish-speaking web that engage in online discussions on current topics,
Study overview: In general, in this study, I will provide an in-depth overview of social responses from across the political spectrum to health-related governmental action, politics, and policies during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, I want to explore the narratives and practices of research participants, who are Polish and were in need of medical treatment during the pandemic, and used the Internet for help or information.**
Fieldwork: Health communication mediascape, which consists of various social networking sites, imageboards, healthcare forums, blogs, and alternative media outlets, among others.

Aims of the study:

  • Collect a number of biographical narratives from research participants in order to see how their political interests are shaped by their day-to-day life, major life events, and general wellbeing.
  • To map Polish digital public sphere to support the understanding of the political debate/discussion dynamics across the Polish speaking-web (and to understand from where the interviewees are coming from, as they are to be ‘recruited’ in those various spaces that represent various demographics).

Research focus

Based on the preliminary findings from the pilot study, the topics of interest are:

  • narratives on Poland being a cardboard state, and related issues,
  • expert and public authority crisis, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic being a most vivid example of changing social dynamics in that regard.
  • picking up on emotions: fear (lęk), anger (gniew), shame (wstyd),
  • polarization: socio-cultural, political, economic,
  • gender issues: predominantly cases of women rights (pay gap, unpaid informal work of women, reproductive rights in Poland (abortion, in-vitro), LGBTQ rights, the so-called “gender ideology” particularly in the context of the EU,
  • generational differences: is C19 strengthening a sense of insecurity in the younger generation, that gets introduced to adulthood in the pandemic times?
  • Catholic church: changing the perception of the church in relation to various controversies, primarily the pedophilia cases, reflection on the oppressive nature of conservative values.

Participant observation in digital public spaces
The role of participant observation will be twofold. First, to locate and map various spaces of discussion across the Polish-speaking web to aid the understanding of the digital public sphere in Poland. Second, to invite Internet users with diverse backgrounds to take part in the study, either by agreeing to be interviewed, or joining the Edgeryders community to engage in discussions and exchange views.

Digital interviews, either video, voice, or through chats:
Digital interviews play a substantial role in the study, as an addition to the textual analysis of conversations taking place on the Edgeryders platform. Interviews will be focused on life-stories, following the biographical method.

Edgeryders discussions
An interactive research engagement with research participants in discussions on topics of relevance.

Research plan

  • To have minimum 5 interviews by the end of the March, and keep growing that number over the next several months.
  • Invite a number of interviewees to group discussions at the ER platform, starting mid April.
  • Pick a few joint topics that emerge from digital fieldworks in Germany and Czechia and discuss them with ER users across the platform (as in the three Wellbeing subcategories).

Detailed issues to be discussed:

  1. Experiences of accessibility of healthcare services pre-pandemic, in the beginning, and now, in the midst of the 2nd pandemic wave;
  2. Practices and, perhaps, strategies of living with various pandemic restrictions, including ways of using the Web for information.
  3. Questions regarding various pandemic-related policies and politics: (1) Trust towards healthcare authorities and information sources – investigating anti-intellectualist narratives of the conservative right, as well as perceptions of competency and incompetency in general, and in particular amongst healthcare practitioners (ambiguity of facts, medical mistakes, science mistakes, corona skepticism, misinformation); (2) Governmental support to help families, businesses, precarious workers, and economic sectors in crisis – comments on broader consequences of pandemic restrictions and lockdown policies; (3) 2020 presidential elections, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-migration narratives during the pandemic as substitute topics to distract the public from the governmental inability to handle the coronavirus outbreak. (4) Recent reproductive rights protests against the anti-abortion ruling of the Constitutional Court – was the ruling scheduled now because the government hoped the public will not notice preoccupied with the pandemic, or won’t protest because of it, OR, rather, it is itself a distraction from how bad the government is dealing with the pandemic – and that it passed a law that some say will make COVID-19 vaccination obligatory?
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Fieldwork context 01-23.03.
The past weeks were politically turbulent, in relation to the pandemic, mostly, but also otherwise, including scandals related to the ruling party.

  • A major publicity gained the real estate affair regarding Daniel Obajtek, who is a favorite of Kaczyński. Rumors have it he was supposed to be the next prime minister, replacing Mateusz Morawiecki, but the scandal regarding his multiple properties that he suspiciously acquire with a preferential cost over the years. Who is Daniel Obajtek? He is a Law and Justice politician who started as a councilman in a Pcim village (ironically, Pcim is an epitome of a middle-of-nowhere town).
    Though not having a real higher education degree (he bought himself an MBA diploma in his friend’s educational foundation), after being a major of Pcim for 9 years, after PiS gained the majority power in 2015, in 2016 he suddenly became the president of the Agency for Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture (2016-2017), and a member of the supervisory board of Lotos Biofuels, a large state-owned firm (2016-2018), to next become the president of the Energa energy group in 2017–2018, and finally the president of Polski Koncern Naftowy Orlen from 2018, the Polish state oil company, despite having no qualification to hold any of those offices.

  • The Supreme Court controversy: https://oko.press/prokuratura-krajowa-szykuje-nalot-na-sn-zarzuty-groza-malgorzacie-gersdorf-i-sedziom-izby-karnej/

  • Critiques of the government/the ruling party are calling those spectacular examples of party-favouritism a return to communism, using references to famous satirical and comic political commentary from the Polish Republic of People.

  • There is a growing popularity of satirical social media pages/profiles/accounts that offer an ongoing commentary of current political events. They represent a particularly dark sense of humour and attract various age groups, being directed either at millennials or Gen Z, though significantly less so. The role of satirical commentary across the Web seems to play an unprecedented role in engaging Internet users in political commentary - I dived into it over the last week and will be posting notes, and interviews out of those networked spaces.

  • I am observing significant differences in types of citizen political engagement and commentary across social media, depending on the platform used. Broadly speaking, millennials use IG and FB, but to a lesser extent, while opinion leaders of the generation also use YT. Gen Z expresses its political views on IG, to a lesser extend on TikTok, engaging in Facebook political action only when it’s on a large scale.

  • Astra-Zeneca controversies and anti-vaccination protests that happened over the last weekend in Europe where a major topic of discussion across the networked public sphere of the Polish-speaking web. I hope to have convinced

Next fieldnotes will describe those networked spaces that I focused on since the beginning of March and from where my interviewees come from.


The networked online spaces I study are:

  • Political satire pages on Instagram,
  • Facebook pages of Gazeta Wyborcza and wSieci, which are both popular media outlets and are also antagonizing various political groups around them, which can be seen in vivid discussions under posts,
  • Opinion leaders on how to deal with pandemic economic crisis,
  • Health advice groups on Facebook.

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Fieldwork contexts 23-31.03

Public sphere was mostly occupied with a discussion around the Eastern lockdown and related governmental policies:

  • Critique of the Eastern lockdown timeline being from the 27.03 till 09.04, ending conveniently a day before the 11th Smoleńsk catastrophe anniversary --> sparked both anger and laughter.
  • Churches remaining open despite all other places for public gatherings remain closed.
  • A construction of a new energy plant Elektrownia Ostrołęka was suddenly stopped, costing the state 1,3 billion PLN. The plant was supposed to be the last coal-opperating plant to be build in Poland. Local politicians responsible for the investment, and the construction’s management all have strong ties with the Law and Justice party. More on the topic here. The controversy around the construction stoppage made another major financial controversy related to the rule of PiS, expect recent Obajtek controversies, surface yet again - the 70 billion zlotys spent by Jacek Sasin, PiS politician, a vice PM, and a minister of state assets in the second cabinet of the current prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who paid the Polish Post for printing voting cards for the May presidential elections, before it was confirmed whether or not they are postponed.
  • Generally speaking, in march the edge of critique towards the government was focusing on corruption and nepotism, across the political spectrum of the opposition.
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Fieldwork contexts 01.04 - 09.04

  • Unrest regarding Astra-Zeneca vaccine, controversies being spoken about, a general confusion on how to deal with the vaccine continues.
  • Issues with vaccine distribution: a case of system error, that suddenly invited for vaccination people aged 40-60, with a very little time to come to the visit, but some of those invited went and got the vaccine, despite the glitch being quickly noticed and the vaccinations called off. Interestingly, it happened on the 1st of April, that is on April Fool’s.
  • Issues with vaccine distribution: a case of Rzeszów, where a private medical centre Medyk managed to successfully and quickly vaccinate over a half of the population of this regional city in the South of Poland, inhabited by close to 160 thousand people, becoming the most vaccinated city in Poland (64%). Some commentators claim it is a part of an electoral campaign by the city’s mayor, who belongs to the PiS party. Read more here in Polish.
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