Digital Methods for Ethnography: Analytical Concepts for Ethnographers Exploring Social Media Environments

Alessandro Caliandro

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The aim of this article is to introduce some analytical concepts suitable for ethnographers dealing with social media environments. As a result of the growth of social media, the Internet structure has become a very complex, fluid, and fragmented space. Within this space, it is not always possible to consider the “classical” online community as the privileged field site for the ethnographer, in which s/he immerses him/herself. Differently, taking inspiration from some methodological principles of the Digital Methods paradigm, I suggest that the main task for the ethnographer moving across social media environments should not be exclusively that of identifying an online community to delve into but of mapping the practices through which Internet users and digital devices structure social formations around a focal object (e.g., a brand). In order to support the ethnographer in the mapping of social formations within social media environments, I propose five analytical concepts: community, public, crowd, self-presentation as a tool, and user as a device.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)551-578
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number5
Early online date29 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • community
  • crowd
  • digital methods
  • multisited ethnography
  • public
  • social media
  • virtual ethnography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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