Immersed in literature

Hine's (2004) examination of Internet ethnography, just like Wheeler (2010) and Miller and Slater (2000), among many others, conceptualizes the Internet as a 'place', a 'network' or a 'community'. One thus studies a part of the Internet just as one would study a village, a grassroots association or a practice - by examining the people linked to them and the relationships between them.

However, discussing my thesis proposal with Professor Grimes today, it hit me that not all parts of the Internet are conducive to this type of study. In fact, some parts of the Internet would better be qualified as 'technologies' or even 'artifacts' than 'places'. This applies to my chosen area of study, the US Government's geographic information system. While an ethnographic lens, particularly the one described by Star (1999), may be useful in examining the politics and of the GIS, Pinch and Bijker's (1984) social construction of technology framework/method might provide the right bridge between relationships and technology.

In this line of thought, at the DIY Citizenship conference at the University of Toronto this weekend, Ron Deibert of the Citizen Lab talked about the methods that his team used to study cyber attacks on the Office of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. Deibert discussed what he termed 'fusion methodology' which consists of field methods (participant observation + focused interviews) and technical interrogation (in-depth analysis of the technologies in play). This gives equal value to the social interactions and the technology itself, differing from Star's method which examines technology only as a small part of the ethnographic study.

The final report, entitled Shadows in the Cloud and produced by the Information Warfare Monitor and the Shadowserver Foundation, provides an interesting description of the mixed method - definitely worth considering for those approaching their research through science and technology studies.

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