I am a PhD researcher in the Sociology of human-animal relations at the University of Manchester. In my research I use ethnography and interviews to explore the working practice of animal behaviour experts, and how they try and understand the experience of the nonhuman animals they study. Different schools of thought have different underlying assumptions about what kind of subjective capacities and experiences other animals might have, how those qualities are best investigated, how closely they overlap with those of humans, and why finding out is important and relevant. My research explores the politics of those questions, and their implications. I think this is sociologically important because what think we know about other animals has huge implications for how we as a society interact with them. Yet we rarely interrogate how we know what we know.
I have been following the work of two experts, both of whom have pioneered novel methodologies in their respective fields. What both share in common, however, is a belief in an ‘innate’ ability of humans to read and qualitatively interpret the behaviour of other species, something which is placed explicitly and politically at the centre of their knowledge practices. One is the teaching of horse behaviour and communication in a rural organisation I refer to as "Equine Instinct" that offers “Equine-Assisted Personal Development". Learning about horses here is about close observation in a herd environment, but also involves learning about yourself and how your somatic-emotional presentation may be impacting on the horse's behaviour. The second explores a science-based animal welfare methodology called Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA), a way of evaluating the expressive quality of animal behaviour and emotions using statistically validated lists of qualitative descriptors, such as ‘playful’ or ‘depressed’. It insists on a ‘whole-animal’ assessment where emotional expression is seen as integrated, layered, dynamic and relational.
I am currently investigating themes such as animal subjectivity, ‘anthropomorphism’, agency, relationality, the role of science and the politics of touch and embodiment. I have a particular interest in multi-species ethnography, and have run workshops in how the experience of nonhuman animals might be more closely attended to using somatic-emotional experience, sensory methods, and techniques taken from performance training.
My UoM profile page is here