Patrick D. Murphy
In an effort to contend with virtual fields of communication and cultural exchange and institutional constraints, a growing corpus of ethnographic work within audience studies has dispatched with the notion that fieldwork is constituted through sustained encounters in stable, situated fieldsites, thus shifting the ethnographic mise-en-scène to more accessible networked worlds of virtual communities or to inquiry driven wholly by prearranged interviews, conducted outside the flow of everyday practices. These shifts have converged with institutional realities (e.g., restrictive travel funds, reductions in sabbaticals, elimination of internal summer grants). Together, these factors position observation through embodied fieldwork at the margins of much ethnographic practice within media studies. Given these investigative trajectories and institutional limitations, this chapter explores how audience researchers can return to a more existentially grounded notion of fieldwork, which is capable of enriching the study of networked communities as well as other areas of inquiry. Focusing on short-term fieldwork, I use tales from the field to make a case for how and why even abbreviated site visits can generate crucial data for crafting audience ethnographies that can help us interpret better the links between media consumption and production.
It's the summer of 2009, and I am about to enter a place called ...