Researching the virtual: a framework for reflexivity in qualitative social media research

Hamid Pousti, Cathy Urquhart, Henry Linger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Recent years have seen an explosion in social media in our everyday lives, and a corresponding increase in social media research in IS. As social media researchers, we are intrigued by the problem of virtuality and context in social media research, and how we might apply reflexive research principles to such settings. In social media, the absence of a setting's real physical boundaries (to a large extent) limits participants' ability to create a common experience at the present time and develop a history of shared experiences. As a result, we would contend that many social media researchers' interpretations of data in social media settings are often black-boxed. In this paper, we argue that many of the challenges concerned with social media settings, by nature, are emergent and linked to their virtual and contextual features. We use the Klein and Myers (1999) framework for traditional interpretive field studies as a vehicle for unpacking these challenges. We contend that these challenges may remain unnoticed if researchers do not actively reflect upon their impact on the research process. In this paper, we present a framework for social media research, considering social media research as a reflexive space, building on the notion of three levels of reflexivity: theory, design and practice. Finally, we discuss some implications of reflexivity for qualitative social media research in IS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-383
Number of pages28
JournalInformation Systems Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • framework
  • qualitative
  • reflexivity
  • research setting
  • social media
  • virtual

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