ISBN: 9780857855701 (pb)
Reviewed by Laura Hyrjak, Web Science Centre for Doctoral Training, University of Southampton
Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday Hine, Christine London: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing 2015 ISBN 9780857855701 £22.99, pb pp. viii + 221 When beginning Ethnography for the Internet I was hopeful yet cautious. An experienced and highly respected researcher in both qualitative methods and internet research, Hine is well placed to discuss such a topic; yet with an extensive bibliography I was curious as to whether this book would be a repetition of earlier work, in particular her former book similarly entitled Virtual Ethnography (Hine 2000). However, my fears were quickly alleviated. Within the introduction Hine acknowledges the similarity in focus to ‘Virtual Ethnography’ and manages to effectively defend the need for updated literature due to the ever changing nature of the Internet. Whilst Virtual Ethnography stresses purely online methods in an attempt to legitimise the Internet as a suitable tool for social research, now legitimised Ethnography for the Internet instead focuses “on ethnography for the Internet, rather than ethnography of the Internet” (p.5). Arguing that the Internet is now embedded, embodied and everyday, Hine advocates the need for flexible ethnographic methods to fit the multiple research questions that arise due to the complexities and widespread nature of today’s internet. An adaptive method, Hine notes that that we can and must modify ethnography, for example by performing auto-ethnography or even pop-up ethnography, without altering its underlying fundamental principles.
After an introductory chapter establishing Hine’s specific understandings of both the Internet and ethnography, chapters two and three are largely theoretical. Chapter two briefly outlines prior internet studies, before exploring Hine’s concept of the E3 Internet; an internet increasingly ‘embedded’ into everyday objects, an ‘embodied’ internet which becomes difficult to differentiate from our identities, and an ‘everyday’ internet, an unremarkable piece of infrastructure to be forgotten. Chapter three provides a comprehensive historical review of broader ethnographic strategies before considering what principles are needed to understand this E3 Internet. For example, Hine notes that ethnography must now be multisite in order to follow participants across the various spaces they inhabit. This chapter arguably forms the heart of the book and cumulates with a helpful list of eight key components to perform ethnography for the internet.
Chapters four to six are more practical in nature. Utilising her ample experience as an ethnographic researcher, Hine presents case studies of research methods she has employed in her own work. Exploring in turn Freecycle communities, biological taxonomy and audiences of the television programme the Antiques Roadshow, Hine highlights the benefits of her approach and outlines some of the more common challenges and strategies to confront them. These examples bring Hine’s theory to life and provide a starter point for those interested in employing their own version of Hine’s ethnography.
Whilst the latter chapters hold much utility in providing practical examples of the type of ethnography Hine champions and help the reader consider their own studies (for example via the included points for reflection), it is the earlier chapters which shine through and provide relevance beyond ethnographers. Hine articulates perfectly the modern world, and puts forward a clear vision for the type of social research necessary to understand it.
A theoretically complex book I would not recommend this for the novice qualitative researcher; the aim of this book is not to provide a step-by-step guide on how to complete online ethnography (of which other titles such as Boellstorff et al.’s (2012) Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method are perhaps more appropriate). However, for a more experienced postgraduate researcher or academic this book is fascinating. Whilst its focus may seem narrow initially I would recommend this book to all social researchers interested in not only the internet but how society is developing more generally, and what this might mean for social research methods. Whilst Virtual Ethnography was a must read in its time, Hine remains at the top of her game, and Ethnography for the Internet comes highly recommended.
HINE, C. 2000. Virtual Ethnography, London: Sage.