Crossroads for ethnography: studying the space between real and virtual experiences
Marques da Silva, Sofia
Faculty of Psychology and Sciences of Education University of Porto Porto, Portugal
FPCEUP Faculdade de Psicologia e de Ciências da Educação da Universidade do Porto Porto, Portugal
What kind of knowledge are we still producing through ethnographic methods?
Using insights from an ethnographic study in a Youth Centre (2005-2007), we argue that ethnography has felt some difficulties in researching youth cultures. Youth studies quickly become outdated, especially if we take into account new realities, as virtual ones, where youngsters are producing their subjectivity and identity in everyday life.
The above mentioned study suggested that young people need offline spaces, sometimes at the same time they interact in online spaces, creating a new nature for youth community. This subjective conciliation between diverse and dispersed locations causes for a particular set of challenges for the researcher.
More used to real ethnographies, this study confronted us with youngsters? strategies for imagining and living online and offline experiences. Especially allowed to understand how an individual integrate in his/her life these apparently opposite experiences. Through virtual experiences some youngsters of marginalized groups, living experiences of soft exclusion, are suspending, through the simulacrum, images of themselves more related to structural social inequalities that they don?t control. In order to feel safe and protected young people create links and belongings to different worlds, conciliating what seems to be contradictory.
In this study we felt that the ethnographic method needed to be updated in order to understand some segments of young people life that can only be visible if we stand in the crossroad of both virtual world, where youngsters produce almost ?bodyless? relations, and real world, where they feel structural constrains in their own body. Taking these assumptions into account we will try to discuss some methodological questions, namely the adaptation of traditional features of ethnography to study the cultures and practices existing in the space between virtual contexts and real contexts. Can we still use ethnography to understand youth experiences in those ?spaces between?? How ethnographic research methods can assist the understanding of online environments in relation with offline environments?