The objective of this research is to examine the adoption and use oftechnology in situ in a complex social process involving numerous stakeholders in order to develop a grounded understanding of the phenomena. Our aim here is to observe what people actually do rather than what they say they do or what they say they should be doing. We rely on ethnography to observe, document and interpret the appropriation of technology in arranged marriages in India.
Ethnography as a research method was developed by social and cultural anthropologists where the researcher spends a considerable amount of time in the field observing the phenomenon within its social and cultural context (Myers, 1999). In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed by researchers on the social and organizational contexts of information systems and ethnographic research has emerged as an important tool for studying these contexts (Myers, 1999; Schultze & Leidner, 2002). Early IS research that used the ethnographic approach focused on human-computer communications (Suchman, 1987) and was the basis for the widely known In the Age of the Smart Machine by Zuboff (1988). More recently, ethnography has been used to study management of information systems (Davies & Nielsen, 1992), development of information systems (Orlikowski, 1991; Myers & Young, 1997), their implementation (Orlikowski, 1992a), knowledge work (Schultze & Leidner, 2002), and their impact (Randall et al., 1999).
With its emphasis on participant observation over extended periods of time, ethnography is considered to be one ofthe most in-depth research methods possible (Myers, 1999). The method places primacy over first-hand observations made by researchers who are immersed in the social and work lives of their subjects (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994; Myers, 1999). By focusing on socially-situated observations, we develop rich descriptions of the how participants in arranged marriage engage with each other, adopt and appropriate technology and analyze the role of technology in shaping the social context to generate theoretical insights. As ethnographers we adopt a sense-making and learning role as compared to the more conventional scientific approach of formulating and testing hypotheses. The approach deploys a flexible and somewhat unstructured research design where the actual progression ofthe phenomenon (e. g., an arranged marriage) and study participants drive the data collection process.
As ethnographers, researchers act as their own research instrument; as a result they are driven by their unique identity, knowledge, experience and subjectivity. The researcher has to rely on his/her personal experience in engaging with the research phenomenon to develop an understanding and generate theoretical insights. The ethnographic narrative arising from the study then become experiences of shared subjectivity. In writing ethnography, researchers often engage in writing and rewriting their own identities (Chawla, 2006). Given that ethnography is often associated with observing cultural context as an outsider (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994), we as natives1 ofthe culture are in some ways ‘insiders’ to social setting in which we perform our investigation. However, it offers the advantage ofbeing readily accepted, having a shared history, understanding of the context and related experiences. Moreover, participants are less likely to view us as outside observers because we look native, speak the language, and are to some degree (albeit loosely) embedded in the social fabric of their daily lives. Chawla (2006) argues that as an ethnographer, native or otherwise, researchers enter the field entrenched with degrees of outsiderness that instills a certain amount of objectivity and distance into their observation and analysis. Moreover, just like other research that adopts a more scientific approach, ethnographic research is expected to meet standards of objectivity (Schultze & Leidner, 2002). As scientists, ethnographic researchers have to balance subjectivity and objectivity in a manner that convinces the academic community of the generalizability and reliability oftheir inferences.