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Online Social Research: Methods, Issues, and Ethics

Editor: Mark D. Johns, Shing-Ling Sarina Chen, G. Jon Hall
Publisher: New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 2004
Review Published: June 2006

 REVIEW 1: Jakob Linaa Jensen

Thanks to Jakob Jensen for a very thorough, and for the most part, accurate review of Online Social Research. On behalf of my co-editors, I will only quibble with a few details:

Jakob has accurately identified our biases toward symbolic interactionist perspectives and qualitative methods. However, we believe this perspective is sufficiently broad to open a wide range of theoretical lenses to be accommodated. Far from being a restrictive "trap," we believe that this perspective provides needed guidance for researchers confronted with issues of method, ethics and theoretical framework which, as Jakob notes, are tightly related.

Further, while it may be true that quantitative methods are "a bit under-represented" in our selection of chapters, as Norman Denzin points out in the introduction, we believe that a unique feature of online research is that the fundamental issues related to online data collection are the same, regardless of whether quantitative or qualitative methods of analysis are employed. Indeed, Denzin suggests that the traditional quantitative-qualitative distinctions become irrelevant when one steps into researching the online realm.

Finally, I wish to take issue with the suggestion, in regard to the book's final chapter, that the ethical approach we advocate transforms social scientists into "social workers." This is far from our intent. However, we feel strongly that research ought to be of some practical benefit for something other than creating another line in the researcher's vita. If researchers are to be, as our reviewer suggests, "objective reporters," then we have become journalists. We believe that research goes beyond reporting toward understanding, and certainly not least of all, assisting online communities to understand themselves. Only in this way can social research serve the larger society.

Shing-Ling S. Chen, G. Jon Hall and I thank Jakob Jensen for his insightful critique, and we thank David Silver and RCCS for providing this forum.

Mark D. Johns


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