This site is run by Seth Giddings. My teaching and research address digital media, technology, everyday life and design, with particular emphases on play, AI, videogames and other playful technologies and on the theory and philosophy of technoculture. I am at the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.
What is Microethology?
I invented (kind of) the term microethology to describe my theoretical and empirical research in the everyday, small-scale collusion of people, technologies, and their environments. The methods used grow out of ethnography – the qualitative study of human cultures – and particularly participant observation where the researcher engages with the culture or people in question. It is a descriptive and often creative approach with little or no claim to scientific objectivity. I am particularly influenced by a loose tradition of what has been called ‘ethnographic surrealism’.
However, the term ‘ethnography’ does not fully capture my methods or objects of study. Ethnography (the writing of people or folk) and its parent discipline anthropology (the study of the human race and cultures) are both, as their etymology suggests, profoundly humanist or human-centred in their assumptions and scope. My interest is in technoculture, and is grounded in conceptual and philosophical arguments that human society and culture is, and has always been, technological. To describe human actions, ideas and agency in everyday events is to describe also technologies, natural phenomena and environments.
Ethology is the study of behaviour, and does not presume in advance who or what is behaving or acting in any particular event. The term is generally used in relation to the study of animal behaviour, but should not be limited to it. I draw on two not entirely unrelated alternative uses of the term:
Gilles Deleuze – after Spinoza – ‘the study of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterize each thing.’
Gregory Bateson’s anthropology of ethos.
I’ll post more on these ideas anon under the ‘ethology’ tag.
The ‘micro-‘ prefix denotes attention to momentary, small-scale, and intimate events. Please have a look at a few of the videos on this site to get an idea of what is meant by this. ‘Microethology’ is not exactly a neologism – subsequent Googling revealed that it has been applied to research into the minutiae of bonobo communication, and children’s speech. My use of it shares a focus on the momentary and small-scale (and in certain kinds of communicative events), but it attempts to recognise and describe the wider systems and circuits that constitute the tiny event. So here on this blog I develop a study of everyday technoculture, that is the ways in which people and technologies work and play together (more or less) to build, sustain and re-build everyday life. It is particularly concerned with playful technologies and events, from videogame culture to playful experience design to emergent moments of playful behaviour wherever they occur.