Location: VWER meeting
Image courtesy of Wrenaria
On August 30, authors Tom Boellstroff and Celia Pearce met to discuss their book, Ethnography & Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. The transcript of their voice interview with AJ Kelton is now available here.
Pearce, Boellstroff, and their coauthors have accomplished something important with this work. The ethics of working in virtual worlds should be paramount for anyone who calls him or herself an ethnographer. As I have opined here before, many folks in Second Life call themselves "educators," but what does that mean?
Whatever one's institutional affiliation or lack of it, when doing research on human subjects, even those behind avatarian masks, two our VWER guests find essential the following points. The ideas were paraphrased by our transcribers, including me. Any faults are then our own, not Tom's and Celia's.
The Dangers Amateur "Ethnography"
- "There is a danger…folks calling themselves researchers and publishing screen names of subjects" (Tom)
- "one (person doing research) had sexual and romantic relationships (with subjects)" (Celia)
- "One must have good research design and take care when generalizing. So there is no difference (between face-to-face and virtual research)" (Tom).
- Both Tom and Celia use their real-life names in parts of their profiles to let subjects know who they really are. They do not use ALTs to conduct research.
- "The popularity of people claiming to be ethnographers can undermine our work" (Tom)
Anonymity of Subjects:
- In Indonesia, because gay men are ostracized, I often get pseudonyms from those I interview. This does not invalidate the research…and we cannot assume the same online " (Tom)
- "My research ethics committee wanted paper signed copies and I could not do that, so this was new for the committee to get their head around" (Celia).