Looking, but not listening? Theorizing the practice and ethics of online ethnography

Rachel Winter, Anna Lavis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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There are debates across disciplines regarding how to research and represent digital cultures ethically. Against this
background, there is a need to reflect on the practice and ethics of online ethnography. Ambiguities surrounding researcher
“participation” online have led this to be equated largely with observation. This has deprivileged the act of listening in both
research practice and the methodological and ethical debates that underpin this. Utilizing ethnographic research into selfharm
and social media as a critical lens, this article advocates for listening as a mode of participating in, as well as observing,
online spaces. In proposing “active listening” and “adaptive listening” to explore the polyphonic and heterogeneous nature
of social media, we argue that listening is key to representing online spaces in all their cultural diversity and emotional
complexity. Reflecting on listening is necessary to forging a practical ethics of online ethnography, and is relevant to digital
research more widely.
digital culture, ethical practice, ethnography, self-harm, social media
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2019


  • digital culture
  • ethical practice
  • ethnography
  • self-harm,
  • social media


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