Getting the Seats of Your Pants Dirty: Strategies for Ethnographic Research on Virtual Communities


  • Luciano Paccagnella

    1. Doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Milan (Italy). He graduated in 1994 at the University of Trento (Italy) with a dissertation titled Sociology of Cyberspace: The Social Construction of Reality on Computer Networks. He has been involved as a system operator in grassroots computer networks and is currently member of a team investigating cases of civic networking in Italy and abroad. His research interests include new social movements and innovative methods of social research. Mr. Paccagnella is also writing his doctoral dissertation on virtual communities.
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The study of social worlds built by people on computer networks challenges the classical dimensions of sociological research. CMC scholars are prompted to exploit the possibilities offered by new, powerful, and flexible analytic tools for inexpensively collecting, organizing, and exploring digital data. Such tools could be used within a Weberian perspective, to aid in systematic examination of logs and messages taken from the actual life of a virtual community. A proposal can then be made for a longitudinal strategy of research which systematically compares specific aspects of virtual communities over different periods of time and different socio-geographical contexts. The article summarizes a case study on an Italian computer conference, and concludes with a short outline of the new graphical CMC environments and their consequences for the rise of a multimedia cyber-anthropology.