Is Netnography Just a Synonym for Online Ethnography?

netnography_artAt the risk of turning this blog into an advice column, I want to share an interested letter I just received. This sort of correspondence is actually fairly common, and I think the question and answer may be of wider general interest to the readers of this blog.
“Dear R. Kozinets,

My name is Maria Luisa Malerba and I am a PhD student at the Open University of Catalonia (Barcelona, Spain). I am writing because I am currently writing my PhD thesis after the field work and I have a problem of terminology. Despite having read your book, which I found extremely helpful for my investigation, I am still confused about the correct meaning and the exact difference (if any) existing among the following neologisms:

  • netnography
  • virtual ethnography
  • online ethnography
  • digital ethnography
In my investigation I conduct an analysis of informal second language learners on online communites” designed for language learning, such as Livemocha and Busuu. Being this study about learners’ behaviours, the online aspect plays a fundamental role and this research has a primarily netnographic focus. I conducted participant observation, I submitted an online survey, I interviewed learners online and I analyzed the online interaction occurred through the chat that learners submitted to me.My question is: is there a clear distinction among the aforementioned expressions? If I use the term “netnography”, how do I justify that I do not adopt the other expressions, which to me sound like synonyms?Thank you in advance. Looking forward for your answer.

Maria-Luisa Malerba”

In my answer, I tried to be brief but to the point.

“Dear Maria-Luisa:

Thank you for your question. A lot of people ask this, so I will write more about it.

Online ethnography and digital ethnography are generic terms for doing any sort of ethnographic work using some sort of online or digital method. When you use those terms, it is unclear what you have done in terms of what procedures you used, what the methodology is, such as what ethical guidelines you used for example. The literature base you will cite is also a bit amorphous.

Virtual ethnography is the term coined by Christine Hine, and it refers to a method that sees online work as only partial and incomplete. I would expect that if you called your online ethnography a virtual ethnography, then you would adhere fairly closely to the research attitudes and practices, in fact the methodology of combined research philosophy and actions, of Professor Hine as she demonstrated them in her book.

Netnography refers to a specific set of online ethnographic procedures characterized by a particular methodology, including an epistemological background, analytic frameworks, and a consistent and evolving set of guidelines for entree, observation, data analysis, ethics, and so on.

Does that help?

And at what point is something not a neologism? Ethnography, as I write in the book, was a neologism at one time. Netnography is now 18 years old, old enough to vote, drink, marry, and drive in many nations. Hey, netnography, pass me a beer.


To my mind, you can say you are a healer, or you can say you are a cardiologist, or an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor, or an energetic healer. When you link yourself with a particular practice, you do more than simply adopt a neologism. You link yourself to a rigorous set of practices and a set of related literatures. Certainly, there is room for innovation. But clarity is very important in the social sciences. And clarity is something that has not been particular well-served by the rapidity of change and silos present in the social media research field.
Is that clearer?

Let It Never Be

As I posted in my last post, at the July 2012 CCT conference in Oxford I presented a few of my poems, which are now collected and published in a volume called “Clarence Clobbers Tenderly.”

One of the poetry readings was captured on mobile phone video by my friend and colleague Ingeborg Kleppe, who generously shared it with me. I recently posted it to Youtube and link to it here.

Because the background sounds are a bit loud, and the recording begins partway into the reading, it is difficult to make out some of the poem. Following is the written version of poem, which is called:

Let It Never Be

And it is said

by those

who find philosophy

in the smashing

of strange

quarks, hadrons, and baryons

with even stranger consciousness

that the mind is

the world’s author

that awareness surgically bifurcates

and every decision we make

cuts a fork into reality

splitting spacetime

like a ribbon.


And so with each choice

we make

we break


and leave

behind living

shards shadow

beings who did not

so choose.


And through our life

times of choosing

these twin beings

grow to crowds

to villages and cities

whole worlds perhaps

of yous and mes

built of decisions

created of collisions and in

some automatic

and undecided way

they still exist


following roads

we long abandoned.


Let them have them.


Let us never feel that urge

to gaze out

across this sea of broken paths and pasts

to peer into the eyes

of all the relinquished yous and mes.


And let us never wander to that shore

and never feel compelled to call out

a reminder across this vast ocean

of forsaken lives

whose remainder in sum is life

our life still living not lived yet

and never ever have to say

let it go

let it go

let it go.


And let it never be said

that together we did not

create universes.


Marketing Poetics: Video, Print, and Live in Oxford

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have written several times in the past about the value of alternative forms of representation of marketing knowledge and consumer research insights. One of the forms of representation in which I have been interested for a long time is poetry. And, for some wonderful reasons, I’ve found my poetic muse lately and have been inspired to write a lot of poetry. Much of which I hope to share with you in various forms and fora.

In this past blog entry, I presented a poem called “Stigmatic Enterprise” and speculated about whether a poem could be translated, or “transmuted” meaningfully into positive knowledge assertion in the form of propositions or even hypotheses.  Here, I wrote about a memorable poetry reading at the 2010 Consumer Culture Theory conference, in which I presented the poem “Marketing Life 101″ to the dubstep accompaniment of DJ Risto Roman.

Well, this year the Consumer Culture Theory conference is back and it is better than ever. August the 16th to the 19th in Oxford England, located in the famous and historic Oxford University. And the poetry session this year promises to be one of the best ever. To honor and promote the event, I am sharing this wonderful poster that promotes the event (I have a matching one hanging in the Schulich offices, and another one on my office door). The themes, as you can plainly see, is “Clarence Clobbers Tenderly.” And really, Gentle Readers, is there a better way to clobber, if you really, really need to clobber, than tenderly?

Clarence Clobbers CCT Consumer Conference Theory Poetry Poetics boxing Oxford 2012

The two other things I will offer and mention are both related to the intriguing, controversial, and I believe stimulating idea that poetry can be a form of research. This discussion has been occuring for a while in the social sciences, particularly in sociology.

In our own field of consumer and marketing research, I’d say that the three most prominent and interesting scholars in this area are John Sherry, John Schouten, and Roel Wijland. The two Johns wrote a very important article on the topic that was published in the field-leading Journal of Consumer Research in 2002. I wrote about and cited that article quite extensively in this blog entry on “iphone Haiku and the poetics of scientific representation.”

In the last several year, Roel Wijland has become an extremely importanr voice and agent provacateur in this area. A former advertising executive with a definite poetic gift, his dissertation was a wry, brilliant, and courageous piece of work that combined poetry with marketing history and analysis. Since doing that important work, he has spearheaded and organized bringing poetry into the field (alongside John Sherry, as you can see in the poster).

Roel approaches the poetic enterprise with serious intent, but a good dose of humor and fun. He is located at Otago University in Dunedin, New Zealand. As a poetry published, he has made up an invented press called the University of St. Bathans Press, which has done a very nice job of publishing all of the CCT conference poems.However,  St Bathans is the village in New Zealand where he live. It has no university. And, actually, it has a population of only 5 people!

If you are interested in consumer, marketing, and brand related poetry, I highly recommend you check out Roel’s web-site,

desert pilgrim videography burning man kozinets poemAnd at the risk of making this a really long blog post, I want to close by saying that the styles and approaches of poetry can be extremely diverse. Ever since 1998, when I wrote and performed the Burning Man research poem “Desert Pilgrim” (available through the link on YouTube), I have been interested in experimenting with poetry that contained actual consumer data within it (I was inspired by sociologist Laurel Richardson‘s work which did this). I also attach the printed 2002 version of the poem Desert Pilgrim which was printed in Consumption, Marketing, and Culture with a number of B&W photographs. You might want to read the poem first, and then hear it performed as it was originally intended, spoken voice over video.  desert pilgrim burning man kozinets poem poetry poetics

Last year, Stephen Gould, the master of introspection asked me to contribute something to a special issue of the Journal of Business Research. I immediately wanted to write an introspective research poem. That poem was published last year, titled “me/my research/avatar.”

  • Kozinets, Robert V. (2012), “me/my research/avatar Journal of Business Research, 65 (April), 478-482.

That poem takes a “behind-the-scenes” look that the project of research ethnography, and uses fieldnotes, published cites, reflections and several unpublished interview questions (i.e., the questions I asked people in interviews, which are usually not published because we only publish their answers; in those questions, I chose ones which were particularly self-revealing) as the grist for my introspective poetic mill. And along the way, I invented a sort of research avatar, a rather shady and cynical being, who also has moments of stunning insight, called “Dark Freddy” (don’t ask me where I got that name, as I have no idea).

The poem from Consumption, Markets, and Culture is available if you click the citation here:

  • Kozinets, Robert V. (2002), “Desert PilgrimConsumption, Markets and Culture, 5 (September), 171-186.

I hope you enjoy the many poems and thoughts about the poetics of consumer research representation available in this post. And I hope to see some of you at the poetry reading in Oxford on the night of August 17, 2012.