Toward an anthropology of Informal Digital Learning of English (IDLE)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter makes an argument for the role of ethnographic play in the study of informal digital learning of English (IDLE) as a complement to the work of applied linguistic research. In most cases, the initial impulse to study IDLE is itself a result of researchers' playful observation of youth learning English from engagement with a wide variety of digital media. IDLE is therefore a fundamentally cultural, anthropological phenomenon requiring a range of methods to be understood in its fullest context. A review of the history of ethnography presents its key practices as complementary to the more quantitative approaches of applied linguistics research. These include participant observation; analysis of artefacts; narrative, thick description; case study; grand theorization; and confession. An ethnographic approach also provides a check on reductionism, implications for language pedagogy, and assistance in building general knowledge about IDLE as a global, contextualised phenomenon. The chapter concludes with a "confessional" account of studying IDLE ethnographically in Morocco, illustrating again the need for the playfulness of ethnographic research as a complement to the temperance of careful measurement and design.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLanguage Learning and Leisure
Subtitle of host publicationInformal Language Learning in the Digital Age
EditorsDenyze Toffoli, Geoffrey Sockett, Meryl Kusyk
PublisherDe Gruyter
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783110752441
ISBN (Print)9783110752342
StatePublished - Jul 3 2023

Publication series

NameStudies on Language Acquisition
ISSN (Print)1861-4248


  • Confessional writing
  • Ethnography
  • Informal digital learning of english (idle)
  • Morocco
  • Thick description

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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