Adventures in Multi-Species Ethnography
A three-day workshop, July 2022
Across the humanities, the "species turn" has led to a flourishing of interest into the myriad of ways in which diverse forms of life create worlds and shape social and political life. Scholars are emphasising ways of thinking and living that recognise our interdependence with countless nonhuman agencies (Haraway, 2008; Tsing, 2015; Van Dooren et al, 2016). They are finding ways to bring the liveliness, and even the subjective experiences of nonhuman animals into research and writing (Hamilton and Taylor, 2017; Cudworth, 2018).
However, the increasing prevalence of terms such as “multi-species ethnography” or “human-animal ethnography” has not been matched by a growth in practical methodologies, and theoretical discussions dominate. How can we be more sensitive, imaginative, critical and ethical researchers of the more-than-human?
Funded by my ESRC fellowship, Adventures in Multi-Species Ethnography was a three-day pilot workshop, whose aim was to further develop methodologies in this exciting new area of research. It was an invitation for scholars of any level of experience to explore the possibilities and challenges of this work in a slow, uncertain, and embodied way. Twelve students from diverse backgrounds - ecology, geography, sociology and literature - came together at Goldsmiths, University of London for a series of lectures, workshop activities, guided walks and solo explorations of Lewisham's green spaces. It was a reminder that even the most urban environments are mediated, transformed, enabled and complicated by nonhuman actors and shaped by environmental forces.
Each day comprised of both indoor work in the seminar room and outdoor work in South London's green spaces. The theoretical morning sessions - although some were far from classroom based - covered collaborating with scientists, sensory ethnography, and disrupting normative assumptions through visual methods drawn from Francoise Wemelsfelder's Qualitative Behaviour Assessment. The afternoons took in a guided walk of Greenwich Park with Brenna Boyle from Wild Capital, a memorable silent solo meander in New Cross Cuttings, and a visit to Mudchute City Farm.
The workshop was vastly enriched by participants from such a wide range of disciplines, all of whom brought unique perspectives. Throughout, we documented our process with post-it notes, presentations and drawings, and exchanged thoughts and ideas about the possibilities and challenges of multi-species research. I found it an immensely fulfilling few days, and I hope that, together, we all grew more confident about what the possibilties and limitations of this fascinating emerging area of research.
"It was inspiring and uplifting to gather together with academics seeking to learn more about the growing field of multispecies ethnography, to learn from each other and help each other with conceptual and practical problems. The thematic layout of the workshop - following collaboration with experts, sensory methods, and visual methodologies - was excellent and gave everyone something concrete to work with and think about. As the days went on, we were able to bring together these practices with our combined wider conceptual and moral understandings of why multispecies ethnography is so important". (Anonymous feedback)
"The actual content was enlightening, fascinating, and really well put together. It's often been the case that I've felt I've had to split my thinking self and my feeling, sensing self in academia, but this workshop has taught me to trust my gut (and my index finger and my peripheral vision and my hearing...). In doing so I've found not only a much richer sense of approaching and doing academic work, but a new confidence in myself as someone within academia with these particular interests". (Anonymous feedback)