RMeS Digital Ethnography Seminar with Dr. Nermin Elsherif and Dr. Marissa Willcox

Digital Ethnography’s Ethical Dilemmas: Doing Sensitive or Antagonistic Fieldwork

A conversation with Dr. Nermin Elsherif (Utrecht University) and Dr. Marissa Willcox (University of Amsterdam)

When: 28 May 2024 | 2:30-4:00 p.m. CET
Where: Utrecht University – Hybrid (exact room, see below)
In person: Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 – T.0.05; Grote Zaal
Online: Teams link will be sent to all registered participants
ECTS: 2-4 EC. More information about credits and assignments, see below
Coordinator: Prof. dr Annette Markham (Utrecht University)
Organisation: Prof. dr Annette Markham, Department of Media and culture Studies (Utrecht University) and RMeS
For: PhD Candidates and RMa students in Media Studies, who are a member of a Dutch Graduate Research School (onderzoekschool). RMeS staff and other interested colleagues are welcome to sit in on specific sessions.

Registration via THIS LINK. IMPORTANT NOTE: When registering, please specify at ‘remarks’ if you want to attend IN PERSON or ONLINE.

This seminar is part of the RMeS Digital Ethnography Seminar Series 2024: Tools, Ethics, Futures. More information can be found here.

Digital Ethnography’s Ethical Dilemmas: Doing Sensitive or Antagonistic Fieldwork

In contexts or communities that are precarious or antagonistic, how do digital ethnographers frame and conduct their research with a feminist ethics of care? How do they address social inequalities and risk for themselves and their participants, while also offering their participants a space to tell their stories in meaningful ways? This session takes two types of situations as examples, to reflect on some theoretical, methodological, and ethical challenges: Elsherif has studied politically conservative Facebook communities in post 2013 Egypt, where questions arise such as: how can we study political ideologies that drastically go against our own values without being patronizing or condescending? Willcox has worked with queer and feminist artists on Instagram that are known public figures or influencers with broad followings, which raised questions like: What types of ethical accountability and responsibility become apparent when working with marginalized and targeted people who are also public figures? In this talk, Willcox and Elsherif both address through different lenses, the combined elements of risk, care and community that go along with the building of a digital ethnographic study. In conversation, they ask; What creative digital ethnographic tools can we build to hold space for an empathetic critical reflection with our participants? How can we do research with marginalised or conservative communities that engages the participants while also allowing for rigorous, ethical and critical academic discussion?

Nermin Elsherif is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Media & Culture Studies at Utrecht University. She is a critical geographer, designer, and an urban researcher, with a range of experiences between academia and the heritage practice since 2012. Her counter mapping collaborations with communities foregrounds question about what ‘remembering together’ means in the age of social media, and the kinds of subjectivities that are produced through this memory work.

Marissa Willcox is a Digital Ethnographer and feminist theorist. She works at the University of Amsterdam in the Media Studies Department as a Lecturer and Researcher. A former member of DERC, the Digital Ethnography Research Centre in Melbourne, Willcox has experimented with various techniques for engaging in the hybrid, networked and ever-shifting ‘field’ of Instagram. An important strand of her research research looks at how feminist, queer, non binary and POC artists use Instagram to create belonging for marginalised groups.


General readings about ethics:
González, M.C. (2003). An Ethics for Postcolonial Ethnography. in Clair, R. (Ed). Expressions of Ethnography (78–86). Albany: SUNY Press. (alternative source: González, M.C. (2000). (alternate if the above source is not available: The Four Seasons of Ethnography: a
creation-centered ontology for ethnography, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(5), 623-650.

Luka, M. E., & Millette, M. (2018). (Re)framing Big Data: Activating Situated Knowledges and a Feminist Ethics of Care in Social Media Research. Social Media + Society, 4(2).

Tiidenberg, K. (2018). Research ethics, vulnerability, and trust on the internet. in Hunsinger, J. et al. (Eds). Second International Handbook of Internet Research. author copy available here on researchgate.

Zhao, Y. (2024). TikTok and Researcher Positionality: Considering the Methodological and Ethical Implications of an Experimental Digital Ethnography. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 23.

To learn more about the featured speakers:
Elsherif Nermin (2023). Co-producing the Good Old Days Nostalgia, Social Media, and the Search for a Better Image of the Egyptian Nation. Dissertation.


To earn ECTS credit for this series, students in RMA or PhD programs may choose from the following options:

2 ECTS: Attend five of the six Seminar sessions. No further requirements

4 ECTS: Attend four of the six seminar sessions. In advance of each session attended, students should prepare and upload to a designated course folder a single PDF document that comprises four questions, based on the reading materials, that could be posed to one or both of the featured speakers. Each question should be framed or situated by a short (approx 600-750 words) blogpost style essay that provides background on why or how the question is relevant and more specifically, how it is derived from the student’s personal reading and comprehension of the materials provided/suggested for each seminar session. Other source material may be added. (total word count per seminar attended is 2400-3000 words. Over the course of the entire series, the student will produce 9200-12000 words). Expression of ideas in a blogpost style post indicates that informal, first person writing style is allowed. Within this, proper citations and a consistent citation style should be used. Essays are evaluated as Pass/Fail, on the basis of completion and evidence of basic comprehension. Students should not expect any feedback from the facilitator on content.