Ethical considerations and challenges for using digital ethnography to research vulnerable populations

Alex Thompson, Lindsay Stringfellow, Mairi Maclean, Amal Nazzal

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The social technologies of the web permit new techniques of research to emerge, often with novel ethical challenges. One such technique is digital ethnography. While there is a robust literature associated with digital approaches to ethnography, there is a lack of development in how digital ethnography can be used when researching vulnerable populations. This article seeks to clarify these methodological considerations, addressing the role of the researcher, data representation, and the ethical considerations necessary to research vulnerable consumers. We consider the various roles that digital ethnography can play in understanding emerging forms of social order in vulnerable consumer contexts, in generating social knowledge that is nuanced, participative, holistic, and practically orientated. We highlight a selection of the core issues concerning the use, practice and dissemination of digital ethnographic research available to social researchers, and how the incorporation of such methods can invigorate research on vulnerable consumers with new methodological innovations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-683
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Business Research
Early online date14 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2021


  • Digital ethnography
  • Data analysis
  • Ethics
  • Participant observation
  • Research design
  • Vulnerable consumers
  • Sustainability


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