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The ethics of digital ethnography in a team project

Tagg, Caroline, Lyons, Agnieszka, Hu, Rachel and Rock, Frances 2016. The ethics of digital ethnography in a team project. Applied Linguistics Review 8 (2-3) , pp. 271-292.

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This article draws on researcher vignettes to explore ethical decisions made in the process of collecting and analysing mobile messaging data as part of a team ethnographic project exploring multilingualism in superdiverse UK cities. The research involves observing key participants at work as well as recording them at home and collecting their digital interactions. The nature of ethnographic research raises ethical issues which highlight the impossibility of divorcing ethics from project decision-making. We therefore take on board a reconceptualisation of research ethics not as an external set of guidelines but as being at the core of research, driving decision-making at all steps of the process. The researcher vignettes on which we draw in exploring this process facilitate a reflexive approach and enable us to identify and address ethical issues in our research. In this article, we focus on the potential impact that digital communication technologies can have on the kinds of relationships that are possible between researchers and research participants, and on the roles that both carry out within the project. In doing so, we explore the part that digital communications play in the co-construction of social distance and closeness in research relationships. Our discussions around these issues highlight the need for an awareness not only of how our participants’ media ideologies shape their use and perceptions of digital technologies, but also how our own assumptions inform our handling of the digital data.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords: blended ethnography, digital data, ethics, media ideologies
Publisher: De Gruyter
ISSN: 1868-6311
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 26 October 2016
Date of Acceptance: 19 October 2016
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2017 11:22

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