Review Essay: Ethnomusicology and the Use(fulness) of the Internet in 2011

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Review Essay: Ethnomusicology and the Use(fulness) of the Internet in 2011

Eight years ago, Suzel Reily predicted that the Internet would not just become a major source of information, but that it would also become a primary medium of communication and maybe even replace the print mode (Reily 2003:187). In 2003, my own use of the Internet had mostly been that of email communication, research in databases, and looking for information, but wireless Internet access had not yet spread to the area in Portugal where I undertook field research at that time, nor did I know of Facebook or Skype. However, WLAN (Wireless Local Area Networks) became popular in my research area in 2006, followed by an increasing Web presence of local performative traditions on websites, weblogs, and social network platforms, such as MySpace.

This essay deals with the role of the Internet in the professional life of an ethnomusicologist as a tool for the dissemination of research results on the one hand, and as a fieldwork site on the other. It discusses ways in which the Internet can facilitate life, but also some of the dangers it presents. Issues that have become even more relevant since 2003, and that are discussed here, are related to the shiftin technology and communication standards provoked by the Internet, such as e-publishing, social network platforms, data transfer, data provision, e-learning, and virtual fieldwork. My essay considers Internet tools that might be new and useful for many of us; it looks less into personal website models maintained by ethnomusicologists.

E-publishing online enables the dissemination of research to a wide public and the generation of timely discussions of research outputs, with less costs for publishers. However, it also involves dangers when used without caution. Issues that should be borne in mind when publishing one's work online are: the characteristics of the publishing platform, the peer-review process involved, the implications of open access, and the advantages of the virtual sphere over the hard-copy medium. Some publishing platforms, such as Lambert Academic Press (VDM Verlag, in Germany) or David Publishing Co., are attractive because they offer to publish works in digital or paper format for free. However, they need to be examined carefully as they often do not provide any peer review and may make changes without authorization by the author. If opting for online publication, it is recommended that they be hosted on university library servers or on self-publishing sites such as Amazon's CreateSpace or Scribd. And, of course, publishing with a well-established academic publisher is still the most prestigious option.

Attention must be paid to sites like, which are reported to reproduce academic material found on the Internet without authorization. Apart from fostering plagiarism, works on such sites become affiliated with the corporations advertised on the website and site managers choose their own tags for locating works in the search engine, which might not correspond to the author's intentions. Providing open access to the words, music, and performances of people collaborating in our research further involves ethical issues. From my experience, however, most research consultants are happy to see a broad dissemination of their cultural practices and feel valorized even if they are only presented through a YouTube video. For them, works seem more visible and thus more important when presented via the Internet.

The attractiveness of e-publishing also lies in the possibility it provides for including audio and video clips as well as links and reader comments next to text and images. Victor Grauer, for example, has recently released his book serially as an interactive blog book, where he offers the possibility for readers to criticize, correct, or make suggestions regarding content ( Although the dialogical mode renders possible a multivocal form of ethnographic representation, it does not seem that there are presently many online publications where the voices of the researched are included in the form of comments. …