First observations on reading the Digital Objects of Ethnography chapter from Hine led me squarely to this quote:

“Travel has played an important part in the construction of an ethnographic authority. The days of reliance on second-hand accounts and the tales of travellers are cast as the bad-old days, in which the ethnographer was insufficiently embroiled with what was going on to be able to provide an authoritative analysis, and, worse, could be misled by relying on the re-representations of others ” (44).

This notion of travel, of actually situating oneself in the place being observed and analyzed, is critical to understanding. It is like presenting the emotional substance to back the intellectual claims. One is impossible without the other, especially if we are looking for a measure of authenticity in our observations. However, merely being in there does not equate to being of there. Let me explain.


If we want to keep with the motif of traveler’s accounts, these memoirs can be equally misleading, but for different reasons. An ethnographer as traveler implies simply passing through, a lack of situatedness in the process of observation. This element of transience will likely lead to skewed perceptions about what elements in a society serve as structure, which are merely ephemeral, which represent culture itself. This is true in both digital and physical cultures. I lived in Korea for eight years and didn’t feel terribly confident in my understanding of the culture and the motivations. I was a perpetual outsider, always on the outside looking in. However, this role can be liberating. I wasn’t expected to know, to participate fully, to ascribe to every detail of every bow, every custom, every more. It was a freedom of observation, one that seems conducive to ethnography. However, I would expand on travel as a metaphor and include some sense of situatedness; an expat rather than a backpacker.


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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