AKA the study of all those little micro things that can helping in unpacking some of those bigger things.
Streeck, J., and S. Mehus. (2005). Microethnography: The study of practices. In K. L. Fitch and R. E. Sanders (Eds.), Handbook of Language and Social Interaction (pp. 381–404). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Starting off with an overview of microethnography, Streeck & Mehus’s chapter on microethnography comes from the “Ethnography of Communication” section in Fitch and Sanders’ Handbook of Language and Social Interaction.
Contemporary microethnography, they argue in the beginning paragraphs, “largely shares its methods with interactionist modes of analysis, notably conversation analysis, which concentrate on the analysis of recorded specimens of interaction, usually without consulting participants’ judgements” (p. 381). Although there is no “school” of microethnography, the word “describes the work of humanist researchers who study how human realities are produced, activities are conducted, and sense is made, by inspecting video recordings of actual events frame by frame” (p. 382).
Streeck and Mehus review some precursors and influences on microethnography, noting Bateson and Mead (looking at minute scale phenomena such as how a hand is holding a pencil and the “sequential organization of interaction,” p. 383), Goffman (and his studies of everyday rituals in conjunction with sociological theories of social order, p. 384), Scheflen and Kendon (emphasizing cultural patterns and gestalt-like qualities of postural configurations), and ethnometholody (interest in the production of social order and “a movement from issues of form to issues of dynamic action,” p. 385).
The authors then make some important notes on current microethnographic practices:
- “Human activities must be studies in a microscopic, moment-by-moment fashion and with attention to the sequential progression of interactional processes within which they take place” (p. 388)
- “The importance of the material setting as a resource and medium of interaction and sense making was discovered: We not only communicate with our voices and bodies but also with material objects” (p. 389)
Grant more agency to objects → this is very human centered. Material objects (nonhuman) communicate and have agency as well!
- “Initiated out of a concern with large-scale patterns of inequality, microethnographers attended to the ways in which social asymmetries were produced through mundane interactional maneuvers” (p. 393)
- “There is a rapidly growing number of microethnographic investigations into human interactions with technologies” (p. 392)
To be unpacked:
Microethnography, in sum, is “a framework that captures the interactional and discursive constitution of human relations and social organization, does not abstract interaction from its material foundations and historical contexts, locates individual cognition as much as a socially shared symbol formation within moments of real social life, and bu keeping a steady focus on the moment-by-moment emergence of the microcosms of human life, lives up to rigorous standards of empirical adequacy”
Classical is more concerned with choreography of what humans do to communicate meaning, but G&K attend closely to things like videogame play (pushing it in a posthumanist direction).
Giddings, S. and Kennedy, H. (2008). Little jesuses and fuck-off robots: On aesthetics, cybernetics, and not being very good at Lego Star Wars. In J. Swalwell, M. and Wilson (Ed.), The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on Cultural History, Theory and Aesthetics. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 13–32.
This article was just as entertaining to read as it was challenging. The concepts covered are interesting, and I love the depth of analysis they give of the microethnography without slowing themselves down (as in, getting caught in describing scene after scene after scene…).
Giddings and Kennedy’s hypothesis is that “conventional assumptions that players learn the game system to achieve mastery over it — and that this mastery is the source of the prime pleasure of gameplay — is in fact an inversion of the dynamics and pleasures of videogame play” (p. 14). They are looking into the “aesthetics and agencies (both human and nonhuman) at play” (p. 17).
“The learning player does not so much make choices as attempt to work out what the game is expecting them to do; the game trains the player” (p. 18).
“Videogame play comes into being through a set of feedback loops between players, software, and hardware. Each of these is an agent or actor in the videogame event … Both humans and nonhumans are the playful objects here” (p. 21).
“Gameplay is constituted by the playful negotiation or exploration of the borders between player and nonplayer agency as well as any impulse toward mastery” (p. 28)
“But it is a spectrum and players’ relationship to the avatar and the world is responsive / possesive, containing complex elements of both a passive responsive ‘being acted upon’ and a sense of possession of that action — a performative possession: ‘I am doing,’ ‘I am being,’ as well as ‘ I am being made to do’” (p. 28).
“At the very least we can argue that ‘mastery’ is only one pleasure among many, that activity and passivity are not opposites in videogame play but fluctuations in the circuit, and thus that a new conceptual language is needed to attend to both the operations of nonhuman agency and the human pleasures of lack of agency, of being controlled, of being acted upon” (p. 30).
Silverman, M. (2016). Filming in the home: A reflexive account of microethnographic data collection with family caregivers of older adults. Qualitative Social Work, 15(4), 570–584.
This article is a reflexive account of Silverman’s microethnographic study of family caregivers of older adults in personal homes. Silverman “illustrates, through the use of journal and transcript excerpts, how the dynamic relationship between the researcher, the participants and the camera creates overlapping and complementary layers of information that together form a cohesive portrait of the action” (p. 570). In the article, she aims to “demonstrate from an inside perspective how reflexivity can be used as a research tool” (p. 581).
Silverman addresses, from a self-reflexive position, her “experience of being both behind and in front of the camera and how these locations corresponded with my shifting positions as researcher, professional, doctoral student and observer” (p. 572).
Although Silverman entered the homes of the five dyads (the caregivers and care receivers) with a camera and often spent her time filming the care, she also kept a journal of field notes, which “assisted with the analysis and helped clarify my visceral feelings and thoughts.” (p. 574).
Silverman reflects on her experiences and what shaped them, both within the active study and outside of her. She notes how becoming a parent just before data collection began “heightened my sense of empathy for the caregiver participants, who were confronted constantly with physical and emotional demands in a context of illness, decline and loss” (p. 574).
She also talks about the intimacy of home filming, which compelled her to “reflect on the other aspects of my identity that were either in harmony or in juxtaposition to those of the participants,” thinking about her current white, healthy, young, middle class, and educated markers of her privilege, which were in contrast to many of the participants who were struggling financially and in health (p. 575).
Behind the camera, Silverman discusses “experiencing moments of ethical discomfort, particularly when witnessing events or interactions that were highly intimate such as bodily care or tense emotional exchanges,” where she would turn the camera away, which was a much more notable act that simply turning her eyes away. Even though she lost that particular footage, confronting her moral limits gave her “a visceral sense of the intimacy of caregiving;” she was feeling the lived experience of caregiving in addition to observing it (p. 576).
Silverman also touches on her embodied awareness during filming, “of heat, smells and sounds,” all which affected her movement with the camera. This embodied awareness, she says, “led to an enhanced visceral understanding of the environment that in turn contributed to deeper analysis, as well as to the moment to moment choices of where I set up the camera and how I filmed” (p. 578).
Finally, Silverman concludes with a discussing of the “overlapping laters of information” she co-constructed as the researcher with the participants and the environment during the project (p. 579). She argues that three levels were produced: “what was actually being said and done in the moment: what the camera captured of the scene (determined by where I placed the camera and how I shot the scene), my embodied and visceral reactions as a participant in the scene and what I later retained of these moments” (p. 579).
Taylor (2006) Mapping Gendered Play from Loading...
In Taylor’s (2006) Mapping Gendered Play, he investigates a gaming club for girls at a Toronto elementary school, utilizing a microethnographic video-based approach and also using MAP (Multimodal Analysis Program) to code the selected audio-visual clip. He’s looking at a clip in which four girls are gathered around a gaming console, playing a racing game, and the interruption of two boys entering the room and interacting with the girls playing and the gaming console.
By using MAP to code the clip, Taylor “can not only attend to a range of communicative modes, but also observe how these communicative modes are co-ordinated across a period of time — allowing for multiple interpretations of the same interaction” due to its multimodal nature (p. 6). Examples of the data:
Through the analysis of these three movements, Taylor concludes that “If the EGG club is a space dedicated to the temporary suspension of a discourse which positions boys as the ‘natural’ owners of games, gaming technologies and gaming spaces, and girls as only marginal participants in the practices and knowledges surrounding play, then the mappings offered here — charting across various modalities two boys’ transgression into this ostensibly girls-only space — depict a moment where this gender order is re-established” (p. 9).
Starting at 00:10 seconds until about 00:54 seconds.
Michael, holding leash loosely in both hands, looking at Lily (looking at him).
Lily lays down and looks up at Michael.
Michael lets go of leash with his left hand and reaches in his pocket.
Lily sits up, looking at Michael.
Michael grabs the leash and jerks it.
Lily starts to lay back down as soon as he says “no” and reaches for the leash, but before the collar tightens. She lowers her head and looks forward instead of at Michael, then looks up as he lets go of the leash and reaches into his pocket.
Lily sits up again, looking at Michael.
Michael grabs the leash and jerks it.
This time, Lily stays still (sitting, looking at Michael) and doesn’t lay down until the collar tightens around her neck.
Michael gestures with index finger in Lily’s face.
He reaches into this pocket, Lily stands. He jerks the leash and the collar tightens around her neck again. Lily lays down.
[Interesting. First, as soon as he reaches for the leash, she starts to correct, almost as if she knows what she did wrong. Second and third time, she waits until the collar is tightened around her neck before correcting. Pushback? Or misunderstanding?]
Michael holds up his index finger, then his full left hand, gesturing to Lily. She looks at him. Silence while waiting as she stays down for several seconds. Michael’s hand hangs at his side, near his pocket, but not in it.
“Okay, c’mon, good!”
Lily stands and walks toward Michael, then sits in front of him again. Ears back in a submissive way. He grabs the leash with his left hand again, loosely, turns his hand up (as if to show it is in his hand).
He leans forward toward Lily, gestures with his right index finger, still holding the leash, pointing down.
Lily plops down, tail wagging.
“Ah, good girl. Stay.”
[Michael’s body gesturing — whole body and hands — changed here, as well as what he did with the leash. This resulted in a different, more accurate, result from Lily.]
Michael stands up and takes a step back while reaching into his pocket with his left hand, no longer holding the leash, but maintaining the hold in his right hand.
Michael leans forward and down and slowly places the treat on the ground to the right of Lily. She watches the treat intently.
Michael leaves the treat on the ground, takes steps back, and drops the leash on the floor, making an audible thump as it hit the ground directly in front of Lily.
[Releasing the direct power over the leash, but the leash still maintains agency here over Lily. She doesn’t move when the leash hits the ground. She still knows that she needs to listen and not move.]
Michael walks to the left of Lily, pretending not to watch it her, but side-eyeing her as she looks forward.
As soon as she hears the command, she stands and licks up the treat immediately.
Michael leans his head back, makes a weird half-smile, and slowly walks back over to Lily. Lily is sniffing the shit out of the carpet looking for another hidden treat.
“Good girl, there ya go!”
As soon as he says “good,” Lily looks up, and starts to wag her tail. Michael bends over to pet Lily, telling her “good, good!” He then adjusts her collar, picks up the leash, and continues with training.
**Notes from meeting:
Relationships between the things are the focus of analysis rather than the little things. If ANT → Don’t just say something acts. What is the action its doing?
The shower → complicit in men’s demonstration of power.
Power relations through the way bodies organize themselves? Articulating race with gesture and postures that is not immediately apparent from what they’re saying.
- Michael’s hands are both a resource of control and feedback. He uses them to utilize the collar by jerking the leash, point to what he wants Lily to do, and also pet her when she finally gets things right. They also can confuse her — each time he reached into his pocket, it’s almost like she thought she was “done” and it was now time for the treat.
- Michael’s voice is also a resource of control and feedback. Lily must know the difference between “good” and “okay” — one is a positive reinforcement, while the other is a release. She also must recognize “no” and correlate it with the feeling of the collar being tightened around her neck.
- The leash/collar is an acting agent. Lily knows that when the collar and leash is on, she is to listen. There is a chance of punishment, but also reward (treats). Even when Michael visibly lets go of the leash and walks away, she is maintaining her stance. He does this so we can use commands without the leash on and she’ll still listen. Is the collar, then, an agent even when its not on Lily?