A lack of mess? Advice on undertaking video-mediated participant observations

Ea Høg Utoft*, Mie Kusk Søndergaard, Anna-Kathrine Bendtsen

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskrift/Konferencebidrag i tidsskrift /Bidrag til avisTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


Purpose: This article offers practical advice to ethnographers venturing into doing participant
observations through, but not about, video-conferencing applications such as Zoom, for which the
methods literature offers little guidance.

Design/methodology/approach: The article stems from a research project about a BioMedical
Design Fellowship. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Fellowship converted all teaching activities to
online learning via Zoom, and our participant observations followed along. Taking an autoethnographic approach, we present and discuss concrete examples of encountered obstacles produced by the video-mediated format, such as limited access and interactions, technical glitches and changing experiences of embodiment.

Findings: Changing embodiment in particular initially led us to believe that the ‘messiness’ of
ethnography (i.e., misunderstandings, emotions, politics, self-doubts etc.) was lost online. However,
over time we realised that the mess was still there, albeit in new manifestations, because Zoom shaped the interactions of the people we observed, the observations we could make and how we related to our research participants and they to us.

Originality: The article positions video-mediated observations, via e.g. Zoom, which are distinctly
characterised by happening in real time and having an object of study other than the online sphere itself, vis-á-vis other ‘online ethnography’ methods. The article further aims to enable researchers to more rapidly re-discover and re-incite the new manifestations of the messiness of ethnography online, which is key to ensuring high-quality research.

Practical implications: The article succinctly summarises the key advice offered by the researchers
(see section 5) based on their experiences of converting on-site ethnographic observations into video-mediated observations enabling easy use by other researchers in relation to other projects and contexts.
TidsskriftJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Sider (fra-til)243-258
StatusUdgivet - nov. 2022


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