The Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) fosters cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and multi-sited research, especially in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. Through research and critical engagement, we collectively seek to push the boundaries and possibilities of ethnographic practice in, through and around digital media. DERC is a research centre in the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, affiliated with the Design Research Institute. Read more about digital ethnography. Sign up for our mailing list.

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About Us

With the increase in and embedding of digital and networked media in everyday life, researchers turned their gaze to the symbolic and cultural elements of technologies. From studying online game communities, locative and social media to YouTube and mobile media, ethnographic approaches to digital and networked media have helped to elucidate the dynamic cultural and social dimensions of media practice. Ethnography has been useful in conceptualising and analysing the often uneven and messy role of ‘participation’ from various perspectives (i.e. players, users, producers) and the types of attendant cultural practices across online and offline spaces. In addition, the focus upon participation and reflexivity has been critical to ethnography’s incorporation in disciplines ranging from cultural studies, media studies, design, internet and games studies.

The Digital Ethnography Research Centre (DERC) was founded in 2012 by Larissa Hjorth and Heather Horst as part of RMIT University's School of Media and Communication. Currently directed by Heather Horst, DERC’s mission is to foster cross-cultural, interdisciplinary and multi-sited research around this important field in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. DERC members will be focusing upon three research focii in 2014 and 2015: Media Methods; Design + Ethnography and Emergent Media Practices.

Media Methods

Led by Emma Witkowski, the Media Methods node will be focused upon consolidating and expanding our strengths in media methodologies. Two themes will be developed over the next two years: 

  1. Playfulness: This concept highlights current trends in game studies, specifically on the appropriation of play within formal rule sets and also within new understandings of players and ambient mobile technologies.
  2. The Politics of Practice-based and Practice-led research: This project looks at issues regarding local and institutional cultures/frameworks that shape the research process, probing at traditional ways of doing qualitative research in digitally mediated or digitally-associated environments. Innovative processes between method and transmission will be explored.


Design + Ethnography

Led by Yoko Akama, the Design + Ethnography node explores the productive friction that exists between the fields of Design and Ethnography through workshops, symposiums and research projects. Design + Ethnography is a methodological and practice-led enquiry that will benefit a broad constituent, which includes various groups and centres in the School and the Design Research Institute (DRI). This hybrid area of interest is tacitly assumed and practiced in HCI and becoming ‘commercialised’ through new fields like user-experience design and service design, though it is still nascent in theoretical development.

Emergent Media Practices

Led by Shelley Brunt, the Emergent Media Practices node provides a space for timely and theoretically-driven exploration of new platforms, themes and practices in the field of digital ethnography. Many of the cutting-edge topics in this area complement and reinforce the previous two nodes, but the focus in this area is on theoretical and research-based insights that will maintain and enhance DERC's leadership in this area.


What is Digital Ethnography?

Recognising the differential meanings and uses of the term ethnography across and between academic disciplines, DERC utilises a broad definition of ethnography that views ethnography as an approach for understanding the world that cannot be reduced to a single method. Through DERC, our aim is to engage in research and conversations that are committed to the following:

• transdisciplinary research that is inquiry-based;

• engagement with empirical research and/or materials;

• socially and historically contextualised analyses;

• comparison across local, national, regional and global frames.

DERC also welcomes partnerships and collaborations with national and international centres with expertise in digital media and ethnography. Through research, workshops, talks and publications, we collectively seek to critically engage with and push the boundaries of ethnographic practice in, through and around digital media. To learn more about our perspectives on Digital Ethnography see our Introduction (Horst, Hjorth & Tacchi 2012) and articles by Sarah Pink and John Postill in the Special Issue of Media International Australia published in 2012.