Laboratory methods are useful for providing statistical answers to specific questions concerning comparative uses of information systems and similar concerns. However, often the research questions we need to ask are much more diffuse and concern everyday practice rather than artificial, laboratory-bound tasks. We might be interested in how the arrival of portable MP3 players affects how people find, share, and experience music; or what the Internet means to those who have left their families to work abroad; or how computer-based networks are affecting how we think about social relationships. These sorts of questions do not lend themselves easily to quantitative analysis, because the object of the research is not to categorize action but to figure out what sorts of categories might even make sense. They are concerned not simply with actions but with meaning and experience. To answer these sorts of questions, we need to turn to different methods.

The goal of this class is to introduce you to the qualitative research methods, and in particular the use of Grounded Theory methods for grappling with materials in ethnographic fieldwork. Broadly, there are three concerns to be addressed. First, what are ethnographic methods, and how do we make use of them in the context of Informatics research; second, how do you go about conducting ethnographic research and analysing materials; and third, what are the contemporary debates concerning the use and development of ethnographic methods. We will focus in particular on ethnographic methods as a set of textual practices -- practices for producing, interpreting, manipulating, and shaping texts. In other words, we'll be emphasizing both sides of ethno-graphy -- that not only is ethnography a method for inquiring into the internal structure of cultural experiences (ethno-) but also that it is a means of writing about them (-graphy).

We will do this primarily through project work. In groups of two or three, all students in the class will undertake projects based on ethnographic techniques. We will devote as many class meetings as we can to "data sessions," where we collectively explore and analyse data that you bring to class. Project work will be supplemented with a range of in-class discussions and readings. You will be evaluated on your contributions to in-class discussions as well as on a final written report on your particular project.