Applying Internet ethnography in a study of transnational practices
Department of Education University of Tampere Tampere, Finland
Most scholars in the field of transnational migration recognize the importance of new communication technologies in creating and maintaining social relations across the national borders. For transnational migrants, Internet offers a space for social organization and networking. It also offers a place to display emerging, new cultural identities in different types of virtual communities. Yet, so far only few studies focus on possibilities of Internet in studying transnational migrants' everyday practices and networks.
This paper explores the possibilities of applying Internet ethnography as a complimentary method in studies on transnational migrants' everyday practices. Concrete examples are taken from the author's on-going PhD study that focuses on transnational practices, strategies and networks of Moroccan students in France. The data of this study combines 20 semi-structured face-to-face interviews combined with interviews conducted 'online' (i.e. on Internet), together with observations both online and offline.
Today, North Africans in France do not necessarily share the same experience of "double absence" (Sayad, 1999) of the first generation immigrants, since the new communication technologies allow virtual presence both "here and there". Internet provides an accessible way of staying in real time contact with friends and relatives in other countries. Therefore, discussions with family members abroad, using applications such as Skype or MSN Messenger that allow live video conversations, have become a part of everyday routine to many transmigrants. At the same time, different internet discussion forums and free-access social networking websites such as Facebook offer new platforms and spaces where identities and belongings can be negotiated in new ways. Students are often among the early adapters of new communication technologies.
Applying on the empirical data, this paper addresses the following questions:
1) How Internet ethnography can be implemented in the studies of transnational practices as a complimentary method?
2) What kind of methodological possibilities and challenges emerge when Internet ethnography is combined with "traditional" ethnographic methods such as interviews and observations?
3) How Moroccan students use Internet in their transnational practices?