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Publications

Emotional Natives: the role of prey-animal ontologies in Equine-Assisted Personal Development, Society & Animals, https://doi.org/10.1163/15685306-bja10191

Abstract

 

In the psychological literature on the efficacy of equine-assisted therapies, it is common to read that horses are suitable for such work because of their evolutionary inheritance as “prey-animals”, making them highly attuned to the emotional states of others. Yet this assertion is rarely questioned. This article explores the work that prey-animal ontologies do in an ethnographic study of an Equine Assisted Personal Development (EAPD) centre in England, and how they helped facilitate client interpretations of individual horse behaviours. I argue that in EAPD, prey-animal ontologies constructs horses as highly-skilled “emotional natives” with significant, almost deistic powers. In some ways this was progressively relational. However, in other ways, it inscribed a problematic anthropocentrism, with the horse conceived as almost permanently in response to human agency. Moreover, it was sometimes empirically difficult to sustain. Prey-animality, then, in EAPD, both challenges and reinforces human power relations with horses in complex ways.

Observer 8: Outliers, attention, and situated knowledge in a Qualitative Behavioural Assessment of laboratory mouse welfare, Science, Technology and Human Values (Coming soon)

Abstract

 

This article explores how an innovative animal welfare methodology known as Qualitative Behaviour Assessment  negotiates the balance of subjectivism and objectivism in its distinctive epistemology, as it strives to produce a certain kind of laboratory mouse—a complex, social subject. Through an ethnographic study of the development of a QBA tool for laboratory mouse welfare, I show how QBA foregrounds the lived emotional experience of the animal by using qualitative language to assess their welfare, while also relying on statistical methods of validation. Drawing on Mol et al’s understanding of care as something that parses, handles, and balances diverse “goods,” I argue that QBA’s   care for its data must balance competing priorities and values, and I take particular interest in what makes a “good” assessor as they transform between subject and object. When two observers are found to be outliers, with their divergent judgements marring the successful statistical validation of the QBA mouse tool, the situated nature of knowledge is brought to the fore. I argue that a turn to the embodied practice of attention, as distinct from care, helps us understand why this was the case, and raises questions about both the epistemic culture of conventional animal welfare science and the extent to which the human observer risks reification within QBA’s formal methodological practice.

Abstract

Sociological interest in research with nonhuman animals is growing, but theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘multi-species ethnography’ or ‘embodied empathy’ has not, as yet, yielded many practical, qualitative methods. Taking as its case study the systematic cultivation of ‘the felt sense’ in an equine-assisted personal development site, referred to here as The Forge, this article discusses what role our bodies should play in ethnographic research with nonhuman animals if we wish to approach, in the words of Vinciane Despret, ‘what matters’ to them. In particular, it explores the potential of the ‘felt sense’, worked through somatic-emotional and attentional practices, for achieving greater researcher reflexivity in the field. Using stories, drawings and videos from the research site, I show that finding ‘clean communication’, a place from where the horse’s active voice can begin to be ‘heard’, requires an embodied, reflexive methodological labour that, following Beth Greenhough and Emma Roe, I describe as ‘experimental partnering’. This understands the horse’s behaviour as phenomenologically co-produced, rather than as an object of study, but nonetheless requires clients to cultivate a critical distance from their emotions and assumptions. I argue that the practical techniques employed have methodological relevance for human–animal relations in the field.

Abstract

 

Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA) emerged in the early 2000s as a way of evaluating the expressive quality of animal behaviour and emotions using qualitative descriptors, such as “playful” or “depressed.” Developed in response to the scepticism of behaviourist attitudes to animal emotions, QBA is now an internationally respected methodology, if still contentious in some circles for what is perceived as an “anthropomorphic” approach. This article results from a research period spent with a UK university laboratory team who were developing species-specific QBA descriptors for the welfare assessment of laboratory mice. The case of the search for a “calm mouse” illuminates the difficulties sometimes encountered in finding the “qualitative” in QBA. It suggests that welfare assessments of animals are epistemologically multiple. Through a historical account of QBA’s emergence, drawing on Cristina Grasseni’s concept of an “ecology of practice,” I argue that different modes of perceiving animal behaviour have emerged through socially and historically inscribed practices.

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Abstract

 

The production of formalised knowledge about the subjective capacities and behavioural repertoires of nonhuman animals has ethical and political consequences for how we treat those animals and for the lives that they subsequently experience; but also for popular culture, legal frameworks, national infrastructures and corporate governance. Furthermore, sociologists, dissatisfied with the anthropocentrism of conventional research methods, are increasingly citing the need for animal behaviour expertise and socio-zoological methods in order to adequately capture something of an animal's experience and agency in their field-sites. In recent years, human-animal studies scholars across the spectrum of the humanities have been calling for a methodological "critical anthropomorphism", which endorses qualitative interpretations of animal behaviour, but is tempered by either scientific, species-specific knowledge drawn from the natural sciences, or phenomenological practices of attention and empathy. Yet there has been scarce attention to the embodied, inter-subjective and epistemological ways in which such a practice might be accomplished, and what its socio-political consequences might be. This thesis is an ethnographic exploration of the onto-epistemological politics of "critically anthropomorphic" animal behaviour expertise, as it is practiced through two different professional, zoological methodologies. The first site is the teaching of horse behaviour and communication through a somatic and affective "felt sense" at The Forge, an organisation offering "Equine-Assisted Personal Development". The second site, Moor University, explores the development of a mixed qualitative and quantitative tool known as Qualitative Behaviour Assessment (QBA), for the welfare assessment of laboratory mice. I investigate how a "critical anthropomorphism" emerges through these methods, and what its possibilities, contradictions, challenges and implications are. Using vignettes from fieldwork, each chapter identifies how the "critical" emerges from the "anthropomorphic" and vice versa: where uncomplicated generosities of interpretation give way to assertions of authoritative expertise; where the entanglement of self and other is met with equine or murine rebuke; where risky ethical misgivings haunt professional united fronts and where serious disciplinary conventions give way to pleasure and empathy. In my final conclusion I pull together some of the ethical and epistemological lessons from these chapters for a multi-species, ethnographic practice in sociology.

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