Where do we stand with respect to "netnography"?

This is mostly a question for @Nica. Recently, it happened to me twice, in different contexts, that people insisted on calling what we do “netnography” (yes, we also do run-of-the-mill ethnography, for example in POPREBEL, but our main studies so far have been based on online fora on this plaform). Wikipedia offers a rather positive view on netnography, and it does seem an accurate description of those studies. I worry it might have been a fad, though Google Trends does not support this worry.

What do you think, Nica?

It’s a great question! I tend to be a little hesitant about the term, mostly because there isn’t consensus about what it is and what it is not in anthropology and allied disciplines that use ethnography. Basically there is a point of view that netnography is distinct from, for instance, digital ethnography because netnography is functionally “translating” or “adapting” classic ethnographic methods to a virtual format – so in-person survey becomes a web survey, in-person interview becomes a Zoom interview, in-person participant observation becomes a virtual participant observation (e.g. in an online game), while “digital ethnography” is the ethos of ethnography fundamentally transformed by the virtue of a new medium (see Richard Rogers “Digital Methods”) where the classic data sourcing (survey, interview, observation) merges with techniques that draw on data already existing on the internet (metrics inherent in
digital platforms, various kinds of information/meta-information)…BUT on the other hand, there is a large body of social science that uses “netnography” to also mean all those things, and uses netnography and digital ethnography/virtual ethnography as interchangeable nomenclature. So in short, I think it’s fine to use it, it would just be good to have a working definition saying “this is how we use it” – since the term circulates in ways that don’t have a clear consensus.

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Wonderful answer. Let’s make that policy. Thanks!

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