Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

By Christine Hine | Go to book overview
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Virtual Methods and the Sociology of Cyber-
Social-Scientific Knowledge

Christine Hine


Introduction

The coming of the Internet has posed a significant challenge for our understanding of research methods. Across the social sciences and humanities people have found themselves wanting to explore the new social formations that arise when people communicate and organize themselves via email, web sites, mobile phones and the rest of the increasingly commonplace mediated forms of communication. Mediated interactions have come to the fore as key ways in which social practices are defined and experienced. Indeed, there are few researchers in the social sciences or humanities who could not find some aspect of their research interest manifested on the Internet. There is, then, a considerable will to research and understand technologically mediated interactions, both as a topic in their own right and as an important conduit for contemporary social life. At the same time, however, there is considerable anxiety about just how far existing tried and tested research methods are appropriate for technologically mediated interactions. New media seem to offer the hope of reaching different populations of research subjects in new ways, but their promise is tinged with anxiety. Methodological solutions gain much of their authority through precedent, and it is not clear as yet just how far the heritage of research methodology applies to new media and what gaps in our understanding are still to be exposed.

This volume contains a series of case studies and reviews which explore methodological solutions to understanding the social interactions mediated by information and communications technologies. Each of the case studies here involved its author(s) in working out a situated response to the research question they wished to address, appropriate to the conditions which they found in context. In each of the chapters general methodological lessons are drawn from these situated responses. By looking at research methods in this way, the aim is to provide guidance for researchers starting out on projects involving mediated interactions.

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