Ethnography is the study of people and culture, usually exploring specific cultural phenomena. There are many fields of ethnography, however, that greatly benefit when research is not reciprocal, but collaborative. Collaborative ethnography, according to Lassiter (2005, p. 15), is deliberately and explicitly collaborative – ethnographers engage with other academics and researchers throughout every step of their research process (such as fieldwork and writing). Often, this is the case for media research because it is inherently dynamic. As media devices and uses are constantly evolve and take on new meanings and forms, reciprocal research simply does not cut the mustard. It is only when ethnographers engage in this mutually beneficial process that ethnographic texts can flourish, as they are created with a much broader range of expertise and a more widespread and diverse reach.
A current media trend, for example, is the prevalence of using multiple media devices simultaneously. For me personally, this would mean watching Legally Blonde on the TV, scrolling through tumblr on my phone and writing this blog post on my laptop. Or more recently, I may have replaced Elle Woods with Orange is the New Black on Netflix, while tweeting on my phone.
But don’t tell Elle, she would not approve.
In fact, A.C. Nielson now reports that 75% of Australians browse the internet while watching TV. This figure is pretty astounding, and definitely speaks to the current media environment where producers have to essentially presume that full attention will probably not be given to any specific device at one time. This percentage, however, is pretty dry. When considered on its own, it does not tell you anything other than how many people can multitask. What devices are people using, how are they using them, and is multiple media use affecting how people are interacting with the television? When collaborative ethnography is employed, these questions can be answered as the scope of research is, as previously mentioned, much broader. This can help to eliminate conclusions of research that are casual and not interdependent. That being said – it is imperative for researches to determine whether their specific area of study would benefit more from qualitative or quantitative data, and thus whether collaborative ethnography is suitable. This, of course, is to be considered on a case by case analysis.
And to end on the note I began – Will it ever stop? Yo, I don’t know. (I actually assume that based on the current rate of media usage uptake and media research, no Vanilla Ice, it won’t stop).
Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethonography, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.