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Avatar Watching: Participant Observation in Graphical Online Environments

Williams, Matthew Leighton ORCID: 2007. Avatar Watching: Participant Observation in Graphical Online Environments. Qualitative Research 7 (1) , pp. 5-24. 10.1177/1468794107071408

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Increasingly, social science researchers are turning to the internet to study forms of ‘virtual’ culture. In tandem there has been a degree of trepidation and innovation in the application of research methodology to the online arena. As its focus this article takes the application of participant observation to the virtual field. Drawing upon narratives elicited from community members of an online graphical social space, methodological questions are raised about the viability of a ‘virtual ethnography’, while a more practical discussion focuses upon the re-engineering of participant observation for operation in an online pseudo-physical field. The impact of graphical pseudo-presence, avatar representation, physical online boundaries and multiple online sites upon the practice of participant observation are examined. The article concludes that the advent of new broadband technologies and the expansion of graphical online environments require online methods that are both responsive and adaptive in order to elicit reliable and valid data from rapidly changing online environments.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Uncontrolled Keywords: avatars, internet, online research, participant observation, virtual ethnography
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 1468-7941
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2022 09:25

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