In this paper, we explore the contribution of material and digital ethnography to providing a deeper understanding of youth subcultures. We provide the context by reviewing some of the research carried out by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) to provide a historical overview of cultural studies and critically appraise how they have drawn on ethnography as a way of deepening our understanding of young people’s subculture. We then draw on digital ethnographic data to explore the lived experiences of Ana girls, that is, young women who advocate anorexic and bulimic behaviours as legitimate lifestyle choices, as they explore and negotiate their identity through online social media platforms with like-minded people. The aim is to demonstrate the potential of longitudinal digital ethnography to provide insights into these girls’ transgressive voices played out through online spaces. In narrating the Ana girls through digital storytelling, we argue that digital ethnography is the only way to access and understand their experiences and as such, has a unique role to play in advancing sociological understanding of their complex lived experiences. Thus, we suggest that digital ethnography provides a unique way of capturing longitudinal data and that this knowledge is important to bring about greater understanding of the challenges facing these girls as they grapple with complex problems. This greater understanding could inform changes to practice needed to better support Ana girls in online spaces.
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