Laura Robinson
ContactDigital Inequalities & Youth BrazilDigital Sociology & Qualitative MethodsPublications

Digital Sociology 

Qualitative Methods, ​Interaction, and Identity Work 

Published in New Media & Society, my article on the cyberself was selected by the ASA Communication and Information Technology Section for its 2007 Outstanding Paper Award. In the article, I analyze identity signaling from a symbolic interactionist perspective to unify theories of offline and online self constitution, as well as juxtaposing symbolic interactionist and postmodern interpretations of cyberself-ing. At the same time, I employ empirical data to demonstrate how the tension between these theoretical stances reflects their rootedness in different perspectives on online social life associated with different stages in the evolution of the internet. 

I have also authored three publications on qualitative methods. My article introducing the Iterated Questioning Approach (IQA) was published in Sociological Methodology. IQA is an interviewing technique augments the interviewer’s methodological arsenal by exploiting insights from symbolic interactionism. Capitalizing on Goffman’s dramaturgical framework, IQA produces readily classifiable forms of talk that correspond to frontstage and backstage self-presentations. As a result, IQA ensures replicability and allows interviewers to systematically analyze comparable talk within the same interview as well as across multiple respondents. 

Another article on evolving forms of ethnographic practice was published in Sociology. Featured in a special e-issue and reprinted, the article delineates three phases of cyberethnographic inquiry — pioneering, legitimizing, and multi-modal — that correspond to shifts in user populations and the convergence technologies made possible by Web 2.0. In my book chapter “New Fieldsites, New Methods: New Ethnographic Opportunities” in The Handbook of Emergent Technologies in Social Research (Oxford University Press), I examine how to transform offline methods to online practice

Negotiating 9/11: Cultural Repertoires and Discourses in Brazilian, French, and American Online Fora

2011 Top Four Faculty Paper: 
NCA International and Intercultural Communication Division

2007 Outstanding Dissertation of the Year
NCA International and Intercultural Communication Division

2005 AOIR Student Paper Award
Association of Internet Researchers

2005 CITASA Best Graduate Student Paper
Communication and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association

Following September 11, 2001, I conducted a cyberethnography of three online fora hosted by flagship newspapers in Brazil, France, and the U.S.: O Estado de São Paulo, Le Monde, and The New York Times. Funded by a Mellon Grant in Latin American Studies and a Bourse d’Accueil from the l’École Normale Supérieure, my project analyzes identity work and interaction across the three cases. The research uncovers cross-national variation in how Brazilian, French, and Americans frame identities and construct moral boundaries in culturally specific ways. I use a multi-method approach (ethnography, content analysis, and interviewing) to show how social actors create context-dependent identities through mediated interaction. 

The research advances the study of mediated interaction on three levels. On a semantic level, the research shows how participants with different sets of views and ideological orientations express their views about polarizing topics. On an interactional level, the analysis uncovers interactional styles. On a social-behavioral level, it charts similarities and differences between patterns of participation, power, conflict and consensus, and group membership for particular behaviors. By examining how participants in each forum create stable ideological divisions, the paper addresses the effects of these discursive proclivities, as well as delineating how interactional strategies may facilitate continued dialogue in the face of division. Thus, this tripartite comparison enables us to understand how fora can simultaneously be sites of consensus building, civil disagreement, and passionate conflict.

I advance a synthetic theoretical agenda by integrating symbolic interactionist and social constructionist perspectives across multiple national case studies. In defining the twofold character of online interaction as having both endogenous and exogenous aspects, the analysis brings symbolic interactionist concepts to bear on the study of collective identity. In addition, the work makes badly needed contributions to literature on non-Anglophone populations by comparing the Brazilian and French cases to the American case. Contrary to the assumptions made by theorists relying solely on Anglophone-centric models, the work elucidates how interactants bring cultural and interactional norms from the offline world to new communication venues. These findings put the generalizations of new media theorists in a cross-national perspective. In so doing, the research gives empirical underpinning to the mainly theoretical literature on boundary drawing, the shaping of spheres of moral concern, and moral accounting from a global perspective.

The study has garnered four awards including Best Dissertation in 2007 and Top Four Faculty Paper 2011 from the NCA IICD. An article published in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication was chosen as Best Graduate Student Paper by the ASA Communication and Information Technology Section and also for the Student Paper Award by the Association of Internet Researchers. 

eBay France & eBay USA

While training in ethnographic research methods at UCLA, I launched my research career by studying eBay. In The eBay Reader, I examine an early cyberprotest known as the “Black Friday” online boycott. Here, I explore how eBay users join together in solidarity as a community against what they frame as the greedy corporate interests pursued by the site. I also contrast the identity work carried out by French and American eBay users when engaging in risky economic transactions in two other publications: my article in The Social Science Computer Review and book chapter in Les Actes de l’Art & @rt. Expanding on my work on eBay, in Qualitative Sociology, David Halle and I analyze how new technologies impact the dissemination and consumption of cultural products in terms of risk, deception, and intellectual property in key case studies: eBay, Napster, and the SAG/AFTRA strike in 2000. 



Robinson, Laura and Jeremy Schulz. 2016. "Eliciting Frontstage and Backstage Talk with the Iterated Questioning Approach." Sociological Methodology. 

Schulz, Jeremy and Laura Robinson. 2013. “Shifting Grounds and Evolving Battlegrounds.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology.

Robinson, Laura and Jeremy Schulz. 2009. “New Avenues for Sociological Inquiry: Evolving Forms of Ethnographic Practice.” Sociology. 

     Featured 2012 Exploring Trends and Challenges in Sociological Research 
     Edited by L. Ryan and L. McKie (Sociology’s First E-Special Issue)

     Reprinted 2014 Approaches to Fieldwork
     Edited by S. Hillyard (SAGE Benchmarks in Social Research Methods Series)

     Reprinted 2012 Internet Research Methods
     Edited by J. Hughes (SAGE Library of Research Methods Series)

     Reprinted 2012 Virtual Research 
     Edited by C. Hine (SAGE Benchmarks in Social Research Methods Series)

Robinson, Laura. 2009. “Cultural Tropes and Discourse: Brazilians, French, and Americans
Debate September 11, 2001.” The International Journal of Communication. 

Robinson, Laura. 2008. “The Moral Accounting of Terrorism: Competing Interpretations of
September 11, 2001.” Qualitative Sociology. 

Robinson, Laura. 2007. “The Cyberself: Symbolic Interaction in the Digital Age.” New Media &
Society 9(1): 93-110.

​     Award 2007 CITASA Paper Award
     Communication and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association

     Reprinted 2009 Biograf Journal for Qualitative Research Vol. 50

Robinson, Laura. 2006. “Online Art Auctions à la française and à l’américaine: eBay France and eBay USA.” 2006. The Social Science Computer Review. 

Robinson, Laura. 2005. “Debating the Events of September 11th: Discursive and Interactional Dynamics in Three Online Fora.” The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 

      Award 2005 CITASA Best Graduate Student Paper
      Communication and Information Technologies Section of American Sociological Association

      Award 2005 AOIR Student Paper Award
      Association of Internet Researchers

Robinson, Laura and David Halle. 2002. “Digitization, the Internet, and the Arts: eBay, SAG, e-Books, and Napster.” Qualitative Sociology.


Robinson, Laura. Forthcoming. “Arielism, Cosmopolitanism, and Americanophilia as Identity Work: Exploring Brazilian Reaction to 9/11/01” in Brazil-US Colloquium on Communication Studies, edited by S. Virgínia Moreira and D. Ota. São Paulo: Intercom (Brazilian Society for Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication) and Campo Grande: Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Robinson, Laura. 2015. “Cosmopolitan Perspectives on Suffering” in World Suffering and Quality of Life (Social Indicators Research Series 56), edited by R. E. Anderson. Dordrecht: Springer. 

Robinson, Laura and Jeremy Schulz. 2011. “New Fieldsites, New Methods: New Ethnographic Opportunities” in The Handbook of Emergent Technologies in Social Research, edited by S. Hesse-Biber. New York: Oxford University Press.

Robinson, Laura. 2006. “Black Friday and Feedback Bombing: An Examination of Trust and Online Community in eBay’s Early History” in Everyday eBay Culture, Collecting, and Desire, edited by K. Hillis, M. Petit and N. Epley. New York: Routledge.

Robinson, Laura. 2006. “Cultural Constructions of Trust and Risk in Virtual Auction Houses: eBay France and eBay USA” in Art International, International Art Vol. 1(7), edited by L. Cormery. Paris: Editions Université Paris Diderot Paris 7.


Robinson, Laura, Jeremy Schulz, Shelia Cotten, Joy Hightower, Apryl Williams, and Tim Hale, editors. 2016. New Media Cultures: Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Emerald Studies in Media and Communications Vol. 11). Bingley: Emerald Books.

Robinson, Laura, Shelia Cotten, and Jeremy Schulz, editors. 2015. Politics, Participation, and Production: Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Emerald Studies in Media and Communications Vol. 9). Bingley: Emerald Books.


Robinson, Laura and Jeremy Schulz. Forthcoming 2016. “Sociology of Culture." 8 pages in International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy, edited by K. Bruhn Jensen (editor) and R. T. Craig, J. Pooley, and E. Rothenbuhler (associate editors). Malden: Wiley Blackwell. 

Robinson, Laura. 2012. “Email.” 4 pages in Encyclopedia of Global Studies, edited by M. Juergensmeyer and H. Anheier. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


Robinson, Laura. 2005. “Nationalism and Transnationalism: Brazilian, French, and American
Online Communities Respond to 9/11.” 26 pages in The World Society Foundation Focus Paper Series. 

     Award World Society Focus Paper 
     World Society Foundation’s Award Program for Research Papers


Robinson, Laura and Apryl Williams. 2015. “Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, and Where We’re Going.” Information, Communication and Society 18(5): 475-477.

Gina, Neff and Laura Robinson. 2012. “The Social Matrix of the Emergent Web: Governance, Exchange, Participation, and Engagement.” Information, Communication and Society 15(4): 449-454.