Student Ethnography on the Internet

UPDATE: A handout for this session can be found here:

Kyle Schiefelbein (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary) and Martha Reineke (University of Northern Iowa) are proposing a session on courses or projects within courses that use the internet as a site for students’  ethnographic research.   We will be happy to have others join us in making presentations during this session.

Martha Reineke’s presentation:   Martha will report on how she used Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Robert Emerson, Rachel Fretz, and Linda Shaw in a course on contemporary Judaism.  Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes is aimed at beginning ethnographers; indeed, the authors propose a kind of “ethnography across the curriculum” use for their book.  Electronic ethnography is ideal for the rural location of Martha’s university, which poses a challenge for ethnographic research projects..  She will report on how she created assignments drawn from Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes that enable students to conduct research in an electronic rather than actual field and complete ethnographic projects/reports. Key themes include acquainting students with insider/outsider categories, members’ meanings, etc. 

Kyle Schiefelbein’s presentation:  Another component of ethnography is examining the quantitative data available, especially when crafting a study on a particular geographic area.  Kyle will report on how his students engage in online demographic study to supplement their congregational ethnographies for a first-year seminary course.  Such study includes census data, relationships to civil society partners, crime statistics, and data provided by the congregation, the judicatory and other denominational studies.  We will also investigate what to actually do with this data and how to present in a full ethnographic study.

Martha and Kyle are not experts in ethnography but have found it to be a useful resource for working with students.  For Martha, when students learn ethnographic research methods, they are more able to approach religious websites with an eye for insider/outsider meanings and to use their critical thinking skills within a next context.   Kyle has engaged in the practice while doing his own studies of congregations and teaching students how to “read’ their congregations.  These observational skills, including field notes, interviews and quantitative data analysis, can transcend disciplines in the humanities.  


One Response to Student Ethnography on the Internet

  1. My students do an ethnographic study for one of their courses, and they use the internet for the demographic information (census, crime, denomination stats, etc.) to supplement the interviews that they conduct. I’d be willing to work with you on that side of things if you think that would would help your session.

    Kyle Schiefelbein
    Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary