Network Ethnography and the Hypermedia Organization: New Media, New Organizations, New Methods

Social scientists are increasingly interested in innovative organizational forms made possible with new media, known as epistemic communities, knowledge networks, or communities of practice, depending on the discipline. Some organizational forms can be difficult to study qualitatively because human, social, cultural, or symbolic capital is transmitted over significant distances with technologies that do not carry the full range of human expression that an ethnographer or participant observer hopes to experience. Whereas qualitative methods render rich description of human interaction, they can be unwieldy for studying complex formal and informal organizations that operate over great distances and through new media. Whereas social network analysis renders an overarching sketch of interaction, it will fail to capture detail on incommensurate yet meaningful relationships. Using social network analysis to justify case selection for ethnography, I propose `network ethnography’ as a synergistic research design for the study of the organizational forms built around new media.

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