Moving Sensory Ethnography Online


This case study reflects on the process of migrating Sensory Ethnography online in response to the social distancing measures that came into effect in the UK to contain the spread of COVID-19. The research case study in focus sets out to examine whether new industrial robots’ impact how touch works in the industry, affecting the social and sensory character of manual labor. Fieldwork was initially designed with five selected sites. At the time of the first lockdown, three stints of fieldwork were complete; however, with physical access to the other sites no longer possible, the anticipated trajectory of the project was derailed. Consequently, the research focus was reorientated and was moved online through sensory interviews. This posed a set of challenges that were navigated and are reflected upon in this case study. Two reflexive strategies and a set of techniques are illustrated in retelling how the research pivoted online. Reflecting on these research experiences raises questions around the prospects for, and nature of, doing sensory ethnography online. Therefore, while this case is situated within the specific peculiarities of researching touch during the pandemic, the lessons that can be drawn from these experiences will resonate more broadly with a contemporary context where sensory researchers are operating in increasingly digital worlds.

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