Cyberspace: A New "Fieldwork" Experience For Sociologists

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 47
Oral Presentation
Hugo LOISEAU , Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC, Canada
While cyberspace clearly is a new research field, scholars are just starting to study how to grasp the full meaning of social relations in cyberspace. This question puzzles numerous disciplines of social sciences. Traditionally, the explanation of the process of research means that researchers have to go back and forth between the theoretical perspective and the empirical reality. They essentially start from one of these two starting points to get towards the other. But how to do that in the digital world? This space shares characteristics of both theoretical and empirical worlds, but nevertheless, differs greatly from both. The paper proposes a transformation of the tools and concepts used in social research to properly use cyberspace as a tool of investigation and analysis in social research. To do this, the paper addresses a shortcoming found in the literature i.e. the lack of a clear definition of the concept of fieldwork in social sciences. Thus, the paper exposes three main reasons why and how cyberspace should be designed as a field of investigation: 1) because it is a place (cyberspace is a space in the geographical sense), 2) there are several methods to do research in cyberspace and 3) there is an ethic of research inherent to it. We therefore believe it is possible to say that cyberspace is not a field like any other. It is rather a new mediator between theory and reality. A better understanding of this cyberspace field should provide better tools and concepts to apprehend the social reality in the digital world. The originality of the paper is based on the current inability of different research methods to understand and analyze cyberspace as a research object but also on their inability to understand and properly analyze the social phenomenon of cyberspace.