Missing Out on Simplicity

Margaret Baker
3 min readAug 2, 2021


Video-based Ethnography Blog #7

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.

Ethnography, on the surface, seems to be this sweeping, grand field where a researcher travels to the end of the earth studying “foreign” (I mean this in jest) contexts and bringing back novel ideas to Western minds.

Microethnography takes that and says: no.

Streeck and Mehus (2005) define microethnography as “the microscopic analysis of naturally occurring human activities and interactions” (816). And this is what I mean by simplicity — where traditional ethnography looks dramatic, microethnography takes up simple, “normal”, day-to-day interactions, and considers their value and novel concerns. Methodologically speaking, microethnography has developed over the last century or so, from interviewing and participant observation to analysis of specifically recorded and coded interactions between participants, examining, at the microlevel, basic human activity.

Giddings and Kennedy (2008) provide an excellent example of the value of this type of study in their work on Lego Star Wars, where they analyze their own gameplay for issues of non-human agency. By considering the videogame as a “text,” the authors offer a complex perspective on issues of agency where agents and their pleasures, “…operate not as discrete phenomena but as imbricated and overdetermined micro events within, and constituting, the macro event of the gameplay itself” (21). This focus offers the viewer a perspective on the aesthetic event of gameplay itself, where the authors conclude that “…ripples of pleasure run through gameplay events, triggered by and interfering with the imbricated agencies” (25).

Silverman (2016) also offers a unique example of microethnography in praxis through the study of home-based filming of family caregivers of older adult populations. This self-reflexive study aims to use lived experiences to enhance research findings of other areas — i.e. subjectivity is a valid and useful research tool which can be practically taken up through the exercise of microethnography (572). Silverman’s self-reflexivity on the interaction between researcher and camera brings an interesting perspective to the study of microethnograhy, stating, “When I later re-watched such scenes I was able to place myself back in these moments and re-experience them through embodied memory” (578). As a researcher, I am a co-creator of a space; however, I am also able to relive those experiences and reflect differently because of the type of recording work I produce (field notes vs. video vs. audio only.) How does this affect my understanding of the work I’m creating itself? What role does embodied memory play in ethnographic research?

Taylor (2008) also provides a reflection on the ability to make meaning through reflexive review of a researcher’s subjectivity through the use of MAP, a computer program designed for mapping microethongraphic movements and their interpretations. As Taylor (2008) elucidates, “The coding program can be seen therefore as a tool for mapping a researcher’s own biases, presumptions, and interests. (6). MAP offers microethnographers a practical tool by which to measure and reflect on their own embodied experiences and biases of an event.

As a methodology, it seems to me that microethnography makes much of the mundane — the interactions that occur everyday around us. However, there is much to learned in this space if we start paying attention, and consider how “small” interactions are indicators of larger patterns of communication amongst groups of people.


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.

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.

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.

Taylor (2006). Mapping gendered play. Loading…