Mobile phones as an extension of the participant observer's self: reflections on the emergent role of an emergent technology

W Hein, Stephanie O'Donohoe, Annmarie Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Purpose – This paper examines the value of mobile phones in ethnographic research, and seeks to demonstrate how this particular technology can support and enhance participant observation.

Design/methodology/approach – Reflecting in detail on one researcher's experience of incorporating this technological device into an ethnographic study, the paper considers how new observational tools can contribute to research beyond data generation.

Findings – The study suggests that the mobile phone can be an extension of the ethnographer and act as a powerful prosthetic, allowing the researcher to translate ethnographic principles into practice.

Research limitations/implications – This paper reflects on the uses of a mobile phone in an ethnographic study of young men's consumer experiences. Thus, the discussion focuses on a research site where the mobile phone holds a ubiquitous position. However, there are now more than four billion mobile phones in circulation worldwide, so whilst acknowledging important differences in research sites, this research can be seen to have wide implications beyond the study of young consumers.

Practical implications – The paper argues that mobile phones allow researchers to record their observations, co-create data and share experiences with their participants in ways that enhance the quality of ethnographic interpretations and understanding.

Originality/value – Little research attention has been paid to how emerging technologies support the more traditional participant observer, or how researchers actually embed them within their fieldwork. This paper addresses this gap and considers the wide-ranging role that technology can have throughout this research process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-273
JournalQualitative Market Research: An International Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Ethnography, Interpretive consumer research, Mobile communication systems, Mobile phones, Participant observation, Technology


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