This site is for students and researchers who want to do ethnographic research from a distance.
It was originally developed during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. To be sure, the possibilities for creating empathetic, humanistic ethnographies through in-person research were severely limited due to travel restrictions and safety measures. At the time, ethnographers working from their home and office computers dug into archives to do historical research while others looked laterally and engaged in virtual ethnographies of online sites and social media. This site introduces a third alternative through what we call “remote ethnography” that uses techniques from both documentary filmmaking and data visualization. In the first instance, “remote ethnography” uses the filmic qualities of online, visual communication to create the vital sense of presence that characterizes documentary. In the second, it exploits remotely accessible structured data to create visualizations and maps that help to make sense of the complexities of our field sites and the wider invisible systems in which they are enmeshed. In short, this site has turned the constraints of the pandemic into visual research methods that can extend our eyes and sources of data beyond the perceptual and geographical limits of local ethnography.
This site is intended to enable researchers to use these documentary and data visualization with any topic. It is not intended to be a resource limited to using “digital methods” or doing “virtual ethnography” about online communities and social media. There are already many excellent sources on those topics. In fact, they would be very fitting topics to pursue with the techniques of remote ethnography that we introduce here! Whatever your research topic, we encourage experimentation with the possibilities for these methods.
- In the Remote Documentary section, you can begin to think of your fieldwork in terms of documentary styles. Follow the workflows for making recordings from online interviews and video footage that provide multiple editing and narrative options. You can learn to edit interviews and supplementary footage using documentary techniques to create ethnographically engaging and visual rich stories
- In both the Data Visualization and Maps sections, you can learn to use data from online sources to analyze field sites and create interactive data visualizations and maps that can contextualize and raise new questions about your field sites
The Remote Ethnography Workshop was produced in the Virtual VizE Lab by Princeton student research assistants Donovan Cassidy-Nolan ’21, Grace Logan ’21, Skyler Liu ’21, and Ipsita Dey GS. We benefitted from additional collaboration from Lauren McGrath ’21 and Carrie Hillebrand ’20. Thanks to Ben Johnston in The McGraw Center for his assistance.
Funding for this work has been provided by The Council for the Humanities (Magic Rapid Response Grants for Innovation) and The University Committee on Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Anonymous Undergraduate Research Fund).