Lessons from digital (mobile) ethnography

According to the GRIT survey, mobile (or 'digital') ethnography is one of the top 20 emerging techniques in 2014. 

Sue and Lynne Freeman started experimenting with digital ethnography last Christmas.  Here, Lynne talks about what was learnt.

This was the third stage in a multi-stage qualitative methodological approach to explore the nature of the transition between Christmas and non-Christmas at the domestic level.  Our earlier online qualitative research had told us about the tensions that some people felt as the main grocery buyer tries to create the magic of Christmas that everyone seems to expect, but we were not sure what products and services they used in this process. As researchers our interest was in what took consumers from every day to the magical.  We asked people to take photos of what made Christmas for them.  Most took photos of them shopping, decorating the home and sending or receiving gifts. Some took photos of the Christmas meal itself.

Analysis of the photos revealed two very significant themes: that it is the minutiae of life - in many ways products and brands which are already owned or cheap to buy which start consumers on their journey towards Christmas.  For one Australian, 'Christmas started now' with the arrival of the first crate of mangoes. For someone in the UK, it was the arrival of the special edition of the “Radio Times”.  A second key theme was the use of food and nick-nacks to create communal bonding, the pinnacle of which is that great Christmas symbol the paper crown.

Using digital ethnography took us into homes at a time when a real home visit would have been impossible. There was great freedom in this technique for the participants; they could start and stop whenever they liked, for example. Empowering the participants to determine what was recorded and when ensured that we gained access to their Christmas and not one that conformed to a predetermined research framework.



Tags: Christmas, Ethnography

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