School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne
SChool of Art and Humanities
The new sociology of childhood has encouraged social researchers to incorporate children in as much of the research process as possible. However, whilst some success has been achieved within traditional ethnographic studies, netnography has been slow to make this a reality. This article discusses the previous online research into children’s virtual worlds, which has rarely incorporated young children into the data collection or research analysis processes. The opportunity for researchers to use participatory approaches to collaborating with their child participants and collecting online data is limited due to ethical constraints. The ethical challenges of conducting netnography are compounded by a lack of clear policy about researching with children online. The issues of informed consent, the protection of children’s identities and the private versus public debate about the nature of the Internet have made conducting online research an ethical minefield. In many cases children’s voices have been excluded altogether, and researchers’ experiences within virtual worlds have been minimal. This article discusses all these issues, impacting online researchers’ ability to obtain ethics approval and conduct a participatory netnography with children. This article also explains the authors’ current netnography of investigating children’s use of virtual worlds. The ethical challenges of conducting a netnography and using a participatory approach to including children during the data collection process, is described. Whilst it can be challenging in overcoming the ethical barriers to conducting a participatory netnography, the authors describe one case in which their first child participant successfully captured some of their own online data. The collection of this data and the discussion that ensued, demonstrated the value of child participation in the data collection and analysis process.
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