Downton Abbey Ethnography


Welcome to my micro-ethnography which considers some of the communities and behaviours that have built up around the ITV series Downton Abbey. The idea of focussing my project on a TV programme was inspired by the work shared from last year’s EDC cohort as a member of this cohort had focussed their work on Torchwood. This seemed like an achievable focus and scope for the work in the given timeframe and the time I had lost in identifying a topic for study. I set out to gain a better understanding of ethnography as a research process ‘through participation and observation’ (Hine, 2000, p.42), which I presumed to be the focus of the activity, and the chosen context of the study to be of interest, but lesser significance. Neverthless, I find Downton Abbey a most enjoyable programme and felt motivated and interested in immersing myself in the associated virtual communities for a while YouTube Preview Image

Barriers and Ethics

I decided very early on in this task that I had to ‘find’ a new community/ culture to study for my ethnography. I currently belong to a number of forums and communities of practice that could have provided a robust context for this study, especially as I already belonged to the forums and so had a degree of immersion and knowledge about the group culture. However this was not possible for two reasons. Firstly, in some instances there were ethical considerations and I would have had to seek permission from the group for this study which was not really an option in the given timeframe for the work. Secondly, there is not a lot of activity in the groups at the moment, so on closer inspection they were no robust enough at this moment in time to give me enough of a virtual field-trip. I think this is to do with the fact that the groups are not open access, so have limited scope for participation – e.g. a community of practice concerned with assessment in HE which is populated by colleagues.

The groups and forums that I connected with for this study were all open access and in the public domain and as such in an open environment where ethical considerations are much less signioficant.  

Approach and Methodology

I was inspired by the Hine’s idea that ‘the challenge of virtual ethnography is to explore the making of boundaries and the making of connections, especially between the ‘virtual’ and the ‘real’ (Hine, 2000, p.64). I considered how my methodology could make the most of the ideas of boundaries and connections, so followed trails of links and connections shared from one site to another. I used delicious to store the trail and also communicated my finds between different environments, leaving messages and suggestions. I also looked for connections shared by others to see where the trail led me. I have collected a series of Downton Abbey links which I have stored in Delicious . I have posted a comment on a Downton Abbey article on an article on the Independent website and to date 3 people like my posting – validation by the ‘Downtonian’ community. I have read blogs and other comments, posting my own endorsements. However, the key Downton Abbey immersion has been achieved via Twitter. I watched this week’s episode with my laptop on my knee and logged onto Twitter. It was not quite a Synchtube experience, but not far off, as the meta-commentary from the Twitter community added to the experience of watching the programme. The take up was such that #downtonabbey was ‘trending’ (I admit I had to look this up, as I didn’t know what this meant!)Success indeed, I had contributed to a trending community.


The results from this project cannot be viewed as ethnography as such, but rather as findings inspired by ideas of virtual ethnography following Hine’s ideas of ‘making connections’ and the boundaries between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ (p.64 quoted above). I will present my findings with these ideas in mind. I have constructed a prezi entitled Making Connections: Downton Abbey to visualise these results.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Downton Abbey Ethnography”

  1.   Sharon Boydon 06 Nov 2010 at 2:15 pm 1

    Linda, this is really great – and you can soon add me to your Downton Abbey community, though I reckon I’ve got a lot of catch-up to do :)

    I love the way you have knitted together all the strands of your ethnographic work, both through this reflection here and in the screenshots, videos and images that you have used for your Prezi. I also love simple things like the Prezi theme you chose (very calming and I smiled to see the shot of Upstairs Downstairs as this is what the theme reminded me of – the opening credits of U/D)

    I reflected on your experience with the live Twitter participation during the show – thinking it must have had the same electric feeling I had watching people add their profile images to the book jacket in my ethnography, that real-time connection with a wider community watching with you – success for sure!

    Thank you for your introduction to Downton Abbey (I love Maggie Smith, that quote from her in the clip is classic!), and you’ve got a convert!

  2.   Alison Johnsonon 07 Nov 2010 at 10:50 am 2

    Hi Linda

    I too liked the way you knitted your ethnographic trail together. I watch the drama avidly – the collusions and conspiracies upstairs and down but was completely unaware of the fraternity coalescing ‘onstairs’. I think you depict an emerging community in coalescence – an additional window on a community not covered by others.

    The simultaneous twittorial seems similar to those which run alongside conferences – did you get any offensive, disgruntled or rude comments appearing in the thread as often appear in conferences and if so how did others respond to it? Did the tweets distract from the viewing?

    I enjoyed your ethnographical portrait very much -

  3.   Siân Bayneon 10 Nov 2010 at 11:37 am 3

    I really enjoyed this Linda – the trail of your ethnography across multiple sites is delicate but coherent, and the visual pulling of it all together in prezi works really well (I like the final, ambiguous ‘messy room’ bit in particular!) . It’d be interesting to see more on how you see these fragmented conversations as constituting community – I guess a bigger project might look at how fans operate across multiple sites and how different networking environments and hierarchies influence and form the fanbase.

    I see there’s only one episode up on ITV player now – what a pity, I love a costume drama!

  4.   Charmaine McKenzieon 11 Nov 2010 at 10:29 pm 4

    Linda, I enjoyed all the threads of this research and the way you wove them together. I liked your use of Prezi.

    I see that you had the same discussion I had with myself about whether your project was an ethnography and you came out deciding that it was not.

  5.   Linda Matthewson 13 Nov 2010 at 3:40 pm 5

    Perphaps I need to make it more explicit within the ethnography that the community itself created the links/ network, as one thread led to another. In this way the commuity can be seen as a ‘travelling’ and fluid, moving from one social platform to another.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply