Cheris Shun-ching Chan Paul Joosse Sylvia J. Martin Xiaoli Tian

Ethnography in calamitous times

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Ethnographers in ordinary times constantly strike a balance between two core concerns: gaining access and being ethical. Textbooks and handbooks on ethnographic research have provided good insights into the ethical considerations and practical protocols for how to obtain access to field sites. But how is this balance altered in calamitous times – times when a globally-relevant disaster is rapidly making itself known? In times of a pandemic when the value of non-life-saving research is increasingly being called into question and when «social distancing» is not only a norm but an injunction, how can we position ourselves to achieve ethical access? In this paper, we do not claim to reach a conclusive position on these questions. Instead, we discuss the challenges that ethnographers face in times of calamity and explore alternative ethnographic strategies. Specifically, we explore the utility of online ethnography and interface ethnography during the time of Covid-19.


  • Covid-19
  • interface ethnography
  • online ethnography
  • research access
  • research ethics


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