Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

Virtual Methods: Issues in Social Research on the Internet

Synopsis

Virtual Methods provides concrete advice for all stages of the research process. Anyone planning a research project involving the Internet will find this book an essential guide.
Can offline and online observations be combined? Are online interviews able to produce high quality data? How does a researcher sort through the vast mass of material available? From hyperlink analysis to the sex industry online, case studies sensitively highlight the difficulties researchers face, point out the opportunities to be seized, and offer practical solutions.

Excerpt

Research Relationships and Online Relationships: The Problem

Much has been written about the constraints of computer-mediated communication, focusing on its limitations for the formation of intimate relationships and the expression of emotion. A tersely expressed textual communication, received and read in a context far detached in time, space and warmth of social connection from the circumstances in which it was written, provides the stereotype for a mode of communication which seems hopelessly inadequate for the formation of intimacy. Qualitative research, on the other hand, has come to be seen as dependent on the achievement of trusting relationships with informants. Research encounters are occasions for development of rich mutual understanding, and for acquiring a multifaceted perspective on experiences and lives. At the outset, then, there seems to be a problem with employing CMC in qualitative research.

If qualitative research entails particular sets of beliefs about the adequacy of data and the form of relationship which best produces that data, it appears that use of CMC in qualitative research is doomed to disaster. That this is by now patently not the case is demonstrated by a substantial body of research that now attests to the vibrant social and cultural formations that occur online, and the depth and intimacy of the social relations that can happen in cyberspace. Counter to the stereotype, online interactions can be socially rich interactions. However, just as the stereotype was not fair to CMC, so unfortunately for qualitative researchers it was not entirely untrue either. Online research encounters can still be unrewarding, stilted, terse and unenlightening (just as offline encounters can be). In order for their research not to suffer these disappointments, qualitative researchers must become skilled at making and sustaining relationships online. Just as in face-toface interactions, researchers need to both draw on their existing social abilities and develop new talents. They need to become adept at creating comfortable spaces for informants and interviewees to share their experiences, and they have . . .

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