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More-than-human Participatory Research



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A More-than-human participatory research
CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series cannot “unsettle” the “coloniality of power” without
a redescription of the human outside the terms of our
present descriptive statement of the human, Man.
Sylvia Wynter
Tehseen Noorani and Julian Brigstocke
Published by the University of Bristol and the AHRC Connected
Communities Programme in September 2018.
This document is copyright
Tehseen Noorani and Julian Brigstocke
It is published under the CC BY-NC License. This license lets others remix,
tweak and build upon the text in this work for non-commercial purposes.
Any new works must also acknowledge the authors. This license excludes
all photographs, figures and images which are rights reserved to the
original artist.
To cite this publication: Noorani, T. and Brigstocke, J. (2018)
‘More-Than-Human participatory research’ in Facer, K. and
Dunleavy, K. (eds.) Connected Communities Foundation Series. Bristol:
University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme.
ISBN: 978-0-9935528-5-4
Cover quote: Wynter, S. (2003) ‘Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/
Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation
An Argument’ CR: The New Centennial Review 3:3, 268.
This publication is published by the University of Bristol and the AHRC
Connected Communities Programme. The arguments and views
expressed are, however, those of the individual authors and not
necessarily those of the University of Bristol or the AHRC.
Design by:
Connected Communities Foundation Series 4
About the authors 9
1. Introduction 10
2. Historical roots of more-than-human research 12
2.1 Biopolitics and the emergence of 12
ecological understandings of the social
2.2 Pragmatism: knowledge, environment and democracy 13
2.3 Ecofeminism 14
2.4 Decolonizing and indigenous research 15
3. Conceptual orientations in academic 17
more-than-human research
3.1 Socio-technical relations 17
3.2 Experience beyond the human 19
3.3 More-than-human communication 20
4. Researching more-than-human worlds 22
4.1 The fruits of 'giving voice' 22
4.2 Expanding repertoires of listening 24
4.3 Building stages for new encounters 26
4.4 Ethics in more-than-human participation 28
4.5 Documenting ecologies of more-than-human selves 30
4.6 Engaging psychic multiplicities 31
5. Summary 34
References 35
Glossary 38
Also in this series 40
Foundation Series
Today we are increasingly seeing calls for universities to
collaborate with communities in designing and conducting
research. While such calls are to be welcomed they tend to
suer from a historical blind-spot that ignores the fact that research
collaboration partnerships, participation (call it what you will) is
a deep and powerful research tradition that dates back beyond the
recent emergence of calls for ‘co-produced’ knowledge.
This series of reviews developed as part of the AHRC’s Connected
Communities Programme, sets out to make visible some of these
traditions of collaborative research. In doing so, the series aims to:
—— help those who are new to the field to understand the huge wealth
of history and resources that they might draw upon when beginning
their own research collaborations;
—— help those who seek to fund and promote collaborative research
to understand the philosophical and political underpinnings of
dierent traditions; and
—— support those working in these traditions to identify points of
commonality and dierence in their methods and philosophies
as a basis for strengthening the practice of collaborative research
as a whole.
Research collaboration is a deep and
powerful research tradition that dates
back beyond the recent emergence of
calls for ‘co-produced’ knowledge.
5 More-than-human participatory research
The eight reviews in the series were developed to provide eight
very dierent ‘takes’ on the histories of collaborative research practices
in the arts, humanities and social sciences. They do not pretend to be
exhaustive, but to provide a personal perspective from the authors on
the traditions that they are working within. As we worked together as a
group to develop these, however, a number of commonalities emerged:
1. A critique of the mission-creep of scientific knowledge practices
into the social sciences and humanities, and of the claims to
produce universally valid forms of knowledge from specific limited
institutional, cultural and social positions.
2. A commitment to creating research practices that enable diverse
experiences of life and diverse knowledge traditions to be voiced
and heard.
3. A resistance to seeing research methods as simply a technocratic
matter; recognising instead that choices about how, where and with
whom knowledge is created presuppose particular theories of reality,
of power and of knowledge.
4. A commitment to grapple with questions of power, expertise and
quality and to resist the idea that ‘anything goes’ in collaborative
research and practice. There are better and worse ways of developing
participation in research practice, there are conditions and constraints
that make collaboration at times unethical.
At the same time, a set of names and events recur throughout the
reviews: John Dewey, Paolo Freire, Raymond Williams, Donna Haraway
appear as theorists and practitioners who provide powerful philosophical
resources for thinking with. Critical incidents and moments reappear
across the reviews: the rise of anti-colonial movements in the 1950s
and 1960s, of second wave feminism and critical race theory in the
1960s and 1970s; of disability rights movements in the 1970s and 1980s;
of post-human and ecological analyses in the 1990s and 2000s. Read
as a whole, these reviews demonstrate the intellectual coherence and
vibrancy of these many-threaded and interwoven histories of engaged
scholarship and scholarly social action.
The first of the reviews, by Kevin Myers and Ian Grosvenor, discusses
the long tradition of ‘history from below’ as a collaborative enterprise
between researchers, archivists, curators, teachers, enthusiasts, local
historians, archaeologists and researchers. They discuss the emergence of
the ‘professional historian’ alongside the rise of the nation state, and the
way in which this idea was challenged and deepened by the emergence
of activist histories in the mid-20th century. They investigate the precedents
set by the rise of groups such as the History Workshop movement and
trace their legacies through a set of case studies that explore feminist
histories of Birmingham, disabled people’s histories of the First World War
and the critique of white histories of conflict emerging from the work of
black historians and communities.
Two of the reviews explore currents within participatory and critical
research traditions. Niamh Moore explores these traditions through the
lens of feminist philosophies and methodologies, while Tom Wakeford
and Javier Sanchez Rodriguez explore the history of participatory action
research (PAR) and its ties to social movements outside the academy.
Niamh Moore’s review highlights the strategic contributions made
to participatory research through the traditions of feminist and indigenous
methodologies. Drawing on Donna Haraway’s metaphor of the cat’s
cradle, Moore explores the way that these dierent traditions have learned
from each other, fed into each other and been in (productive) tensions
over the years. Importantly, she makes visible the common threads of
these traditions, including a concern with questions of power, matters
of voice, agency and empowerment and reflexivity. She identifies
examples that include: popular epidemiology and women’s health;
the controversies and emerging insights arising from the publication
of the book ‘I Rigoberta Menchú’ (a collaboration between Rigoberta
Menchú, a Guatemalan activist and Peace Prize winner and anthropologist
Elisabeth Burgos-Debray); and the online Mukurtu platform for sharing
and curating community stories.
Wakeford and Sanchez Rodriguez’s review is written from the
position of individuals who situate themselves as both activists and
academics. From a perspective both inside and outside the academy,
they make visible the traditions of participatory action research that
have evolved in social movements and their interaction with academic
knowledge. They explain how PAR emerged as a practice that seeks to
intervene and act on the world through disrupting assumptions about
who has knowledge, and by building intercultural dialogue between those
whose interests have historically been marginalised and those experts
and institutions in dominant positions. They discuss the contributions
of Paolo Freire and Orlando Fals Borda, as well as the emergence within
universities of centres for Action Research and indigenist approaches to
research before exploring recent examples of PAR from the Highlander
Folk School in the US, to the Cumbrian Hill Farmers post Chernobyl, to
questions of Food Sovereignty in India (amongst others).
Central to many attempts to
build collaborative research practices
is a turn towards the arts and arts
methodologies as a means of engaging
with dierent forms of knowledge.
7 More-than-human participatory research
Central to many attempts to build collaborative research practices
is a turn towards the arts and arts methodologies as a means of engaging
with dierent forms of knowledge. Such a turn, however, can often
overlook the distinctive and sustained tradition within contemporary arts
of reflecting upon the question of how publics can come to participate
in arts practices. Our series therefore includes two reflections on this
question from dierent perspectives:
First, Anne Douglas’ review oers a ‘poetics of participation in
contemporary arts’, locating the turn to participation in contemporary
arts within a wider history of 20th and 21st century arts and politics.
She highlights the huge range of work by artists and arts co-operatives
who are seeking to make work through participatory forms, and the
deep scholarly tensions and debates that surround these practices.
She explores through this rich history the debates over whether
participation has become instrumentalised; whether the art/life divide
should be preserved or eroded; the links between participatory aesthetics
and cybernetic ethics; and the capacity for participation to challenge
alienation and neoliberalism. Recognising arts practice as itself a form of
research and inquiry into the world, she concludes with a set of powerful
reflections on the role of the freedom to improvise and the importance
of participation as a moment of care for and empathy with the other.
Second, Steve Pool, community artist and academic, reflects on
the related but dierent traditions of community arts as they might
relate to social science research. He considers what researchers in the
social sciences might need to know and understand about artistic
traditions if they desire to mobilise arts practice within the social sciences.
He discusses the increasing democratisation of tools for making, the
potential for them to open up artistic practice to publics as well as the
importance of recognising that such practices are part of wider traditions
and philosophies about the value and purpose of art. In particular, he
discusses the tension between the idea of artistic autonomy art for art’s
sake and artistic democracy the democratic creativity of all individuals.
He foregrounds the way in which the community arts movement was
also allied to a wider politics that moved towards cultural democracy and
explores the contemporary practice of artists working in and with social
science through examples such as Nicola Atkinson’s ‘Odd Numbers’ and
the Community Arts Zone’s ‘Being Cindy Sherman.
More recent traditions of collaborative research characterise our final
three reviews which take on, respectively, the way that design theory and
practice are playing an important role in reshaping society, products and
services; the emergence of new technologies to facilitate new forms of
collaboration; and the increasingly urgent injunction to develop research
approaches that enable collaboration with the ‘more-than-human’ others
with whom we share the planet.
Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou discuss the field of
co-design and its underpinning theories and methods. They argue that
Design as a process is always concerned with addressing a challenge or
opportunity to create a better future reality, and explore how co-design
has evolved as a process of ensuring that those with the life experiences,
expertise and knowledge are actively involved in these making new tools,
products and services. They observe how the participatory turn in this field
has been concerned with both changing the objects of design whether
this is services or objects and with the changing processes of designing
itself. They highlight four major traditions and their distinctive approaches,
before exploring the politics and practices of co-design through case
studies of work.
Chiara Bonnachi explores how the internet is enabling new forms
of collaborative knowledge production at a massive scale. She locates
this discussion in the traditions of citizen science and public humanities,
and examines how these have been reshaped through the development
of hacker communities, open innovation and crowd-sourcing. In this
process, she discusses the new exclusions and opportunities that are
emerging through the development of projects that mobilise mass
contribution. She examines the cases of MicroPasts and TrowelBlazers
that demonstrate how these methods are being used in the humanities.
In particular, she explores the ethical questions that emerge in these
online collaborative spaces and the need for a values-based approach
to their design.
Tehseen Noorani and Julian Brigstocke conclude the series with
an exploration of the practice and philosophy of ‘more-than-human
research’ which seeks to build collaborative research with non-human/
more-than-human others. They discuss its philosophical foundations
in pragmatism, ecofeminism and indigenous knowledge traditions and
identify some of the theoretical and practical challenges that are raised
when researchers from humanist traditions begin to explore how to
‘give voice’ to non-human others. In the review, they consider how
researchers might expand their ‘repertoires of listening’ and address
the ethical challenges of such research. To ground their analysis, they
discuss the work of the Listening to Voices Project as well as accounts
of researcher-animal partnerships and projects that draw on Mayan
cosmology as a means of working with sustainable forestry in Guatemala.
This collection of reviews is far from exhaustive. There are other
histories of collaborative research that are under-written here there
is much more to be said (as we discuss elsewhere) on the relationship
between race and the academic production of knowledge. Each of
these accounts is also personal, navigating a distinctive voiced route
through the particular history they are narrating.
Despite this, at a time when politics is polarising into a binary
choice between ‘expert knowledge’ and ‘populism, these reviews show,
collectively, that another way is possible. They demonstrate that sustained
collaborative research partnerships between publics, community
researchers, civil society, universities and artists are not only possible,
but that they can and do produce knowledge, experiences and insights
that are both intellectually robust and socially powerful.
Professor Keri Facer
Dr Katherine Dunleavy
Joint Editors: Connected Communities Foundation Series
9 More-than-human participatory research
Tehseen Noorani
Tehseen Noorani is medical humanist based in Anthropology at Durham
University. He is currently completing a book-length ethnography on the
resurgence of psychedelic science and implications for psychopathology.
Previously, Tehseen lectured in psychology at the University of East
London and science and technology studies at New York University. His
PhD was from the University of Bristol (2007 2011) in socio-legal studies,
and postdoctoral research was at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
(2013 2015), where he conducted qualitative research for a pioneering
psychedelics-assisted clinical trial. Tehseen has a long-standing
commitment to interdisciplinary and participatory research. He is a
co-founder of the Authority Research Network (www.authorityresearch.
net), and is co-editor of Listening with Non-Human Others (2016) and
Problems of Participation (2013), both with ARN Press. Tehseen was
co-investigator on the Connected Communities-funded project,
Participation's ‘Others’: A Cartography of Creative Listening Practices
(AHRC grant numbers AH/L013282/1 and AH/L013282/2).
Julian Brigstocke
Julian Brigstocke is a cultural geographer at Cardi University, working
on power, aesthetics, posthumanism, and spaces of authority. He is
author of The Life of the City (Ashgate) and co-editor of Listening with
Non-Human Others (ARN Press) and Space, Power and the Commons
(Routledge), as well as a special edition of GeoHumanities on Spaces of
Attunement. Current research projects include work on culture, creativity
and social change in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, and a Newton funded
creative residency exploring the geo-aesthetics of sand, focusing on
controversial land reclamation projects in Hong Kong. He was Principal
Investigator on an AHRC funded project Participation’s ‘Others’:
A Cartography of Creative Listening Practices. He is bringing together
these dierent strands of work together in a monograph, provisionally
titled The Aesthetics of Authority.
10 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
At a time of global warming, ecological destruction and mass species
extinction, when the texture of everyday life is becoming increasingly
mediated by technology, researchers are asking how humans might
enter into less violent, destructive and alienating relationships with
non-humans such as animals, plants, the earth, spirits, technologies
and objects. The humanist ideal of an autonomous, rational, bounded
human self is increasingly regarded as a fantasy. According to ‘more-
than-human’ and ‘post-humanist’ research paradigms, human life is
constituted through a riot of non-human forces, from the microbes
in our guts, to the animals, plants and fungi that we live symbiotically
with, to the objects that we care for and covet, to the gods and spirits
that we summon and which bind us to others. These research
paradigms have oered an alternative, ecological picture of social
worlds, one in which humans are always constituted through diverse
webs of non-human life. Gargantuan inequalities in economic wealth
between the richest and poorest people, and a surge in decolonizing
movements, trouble assumptions that there is something common
across all human experience. The form and content of everyday
experience is becoming subject to myriad digital and pharmacologic
psycho-technologies that are enabling movement between multiple
registers of awareness. Beyond the fiction of the autonomous,
integrated self, a host of new epistemological, methodological,
ethical and ontological frameworks emerge.
At their core is a determination to avoid engaging non-humans
as mere resources for human society. For many researchers, research
on non-humans can often fall into the same trap. Mainstream scientific
and social-scientific research has tended to view non-humans such
as animals as the passive objects of the research practice. Recently,
however, eorts have emerged that strive to research with rather than
on non-humans, and to attempt to embed research with non-humans
into the same kind of relations of care, collaboration and mutual respect
that characterises human research at its best and most ethical. In this
review, we will introduce some of the varied ways in which researchers
are attempting to work with non-humans through methodologies that
invite non-humans to participate actively in the research process, or that
find ways of identifying and amplifying the role of non-human agency
in the construction of research practices. These approaches have been
developed most strongly by researchers engaged in issues concerning the
environment, ecology, animals, colonialism and decolonisation, science
and technology. However, it is a research paradigm that is in principle
applicable to almost anything. This is because it insists that human social
worlds are always ‘more-than-human’ social worlds, in the sense that
they are composed of relations between humans, non-human life,
Epistemology concerns the nature of
knowledge, while methodology concerns
how we come to know, ethics concerns
how we engage relationally and ontology
concerns the nature of what exists.
11 More-than-human participatory research
and lively materials. Everyday social relations are always more-than-
human social relations, animated by the agency of non-human forces.
This review is set against the foil of a ‘Western conception of the
person as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and
cognitive universe, a dynamic centre of awareness, emotion, judgement,
and action organised into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both
against other such wholes and against its social and natural background.
As such, the review raises challenging and provocative questions for
research that presupposes such a unit of analysis. Do standard
participatory research methods such as interviews, focus groups and
consultations often ignore how non-humans participate in the making
of knowledge and power? Are there ways in which innovative research
practices might enable more-than-human actors to participate more
fully? How do experiments in non-human collaborative research
problematise the assumptions, frameworks and ethical guidelines of
participatory research paradigms, perhaps even changing the meaning of
'participation'? What debts do more-than-human research methodologies
owe to the wealth of knowledge found amongst indigenous, enslaved
and colonised peoples who have often been regarded as ‘non-human,
treated as 'objects' rather than 'subjects' of research, and had their
ontologies of more-than-human entanglements and agencies ridiculed
and exiled?
There is something inherently dicult about the negatively-defined
category of the ‘non-human’. Whilst it is easy to think of human/non-
human in terms of a clear distinction between ‘society’ and ‘nature,
this distinction has been widely criticised by many writers who argue
that nature is always social.
4 For example, there is no such thing as
nature that has not been aected by or co-constructed with human
social forces especially in an era (known as the ‘anthropocene’) in
which human action has permanently transformed the surface of the
Earth, including its atmosphere and its waters. Rather than talking of the
‘non-human’, therefore, throughout this review we will follow the lead of
the geographer Sarah Whatmore’s book Hybrid Geographies, and refer to
‘more-than-human’ research, where the notion of the ‘more-than-human’
is intended to convey a sense of the hybridity of social worlds. Social
relations are made up of much more than human relations, and the
concept of ‘more-than-human’ societies captures this diversity of forces,
bonds, attractions, and interactions between humans and non-humans.
So, in the rest of this review, we will refer to the ‘more-than-human’ to
minimise privileging the ‘human’ in contrast with its absent ‘other’. All of
the approaches we will describe here aim to unpick clear distinctions
between nature and culture and between human and non-human, by
emphasising the web of relations that mutually compose and bind them
and avoiding placing the human at a level that sits above that of the
—— Section 2 turns to the historical context of more-than-human
participatory research.
—— Section 3 outlines three broad conceptual orientations
informing current research trajectories.
—— Section 4 describes a variety of projects conducting
research in this field.
—— Section 5 oers a brief summary and discussion of this review.
Bennett 2010; Whatmore 2002.
Geertz 1983: 59.
See Castree 2005.
12 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
Although the field of non-human participatory research is
relatively recent, it draws on diverse traditions that are united in
their commitment to challenging Enlightenment ideas of the human,
as well as to critiquing humans’ mastery and exploitation of nature.
Although there are many dierent kinds of history we could tell in
order to convey something of the intellectual and ethical debts of
more-than-human research, here we will focus on the legacies of
biopolitical, pragmatist, ecofeminist and decolonial thought. We write
self-consciously from our positions as professional academics within
the Western university sector a sector that works within a context of
patriarchal, white and middle-class dominance. We have selected the
order below to trace the history of the Western academy's engagement
with various forms of more-than-human theorising, rather than a
history of when these various forms of theorising emerged.
2.1 Biopolitics and the emergence of
ecological understandings of the social
Michel Foucault has traced the emergence in Western thought from
the 18th century of a growing awareness of, and interest in governing,
the life processes of entire human populations (and connecting these
to the life processes of individual bodies). Foucault refers to this as the
‘biopolitical’ constitution of modernity.
5 In fields as varied as statistics,
biology, medicine, engineering and economics, there was a growing
awareness of the importance of environment and ‘milieu’ in determining
the possibilities of human society. Increasingly, power became focused
on improving society’s health, vitality and strength. Visions of a society as
an organism became widespread. This contributed to powerful forms of
racism that judged some races to be healthy, energetic and advancing
the species, while other races were considered degenerate, sickly and
a threat to the health of the species as a whole.
This environmental sensibility travelled across fields and disciplines.
In economics, there was a growing awareness that economic life could
be subtly manipulated by tweaking environmental variables such as
interest rates. Modifying the economic ‘climate’ through subtle
adjustments of multiple variables (interest rates, tax thresholds, import
duties, etc.) became an important way of controlling human populations
without having to limit individual freedoms. Across many spheres of
government, a growing awareness emerged of how environments
aect human behaviour and determine the healthy vitality (or weak
degeneration) of society. These ‘biopolitical’ rationalities of governing
generated new forms of racism, power and control particularly through
the control of sexuality but also lay behind resistance and welfare
Foucault 2007.
McKinlay 2009.
13 More-than-human participatory research
projects such as slum clearances, social welfare programmes and
environmental politics. They legitimised many forms of technocratic
authority, valorising the unquestioned expertise of scientists, doctors,
economists, engineers, urban planners and so on.
Foucault’s account of dierent ways of thinking about the relation
between environments and society, and the importance of rationalities
and experiences of life, growth and vitality in modernity, set an agenda
for an important, ongoing scholarly eort to re-imagine the concept of
life and the dierent forms of liveliness that animate human societies.
His central challenge, which continues to animate more-than-human
research, is for us to recognise that what counts as life or non-life, and
what value we give to dierent kinds of life, should be considered a
fundamental political question of modern times.
2.2 Pragmatism: knowledge,
environment and democracy
In the early 20th century, this interest in humans as embodied,
environmentally sensitive beings amongst European intellectuals led to
some radical ways of rethinking the nature of the human. The philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche argued for a fundamental overturning of the category
of the human, requiring a new morality based on life, vitality and creativity,
rather than a life-denying Christian morality of good, evil and endlessly
deferred pleasure.
8 Meanwhile, the philosophy of the American
pragmatist John Dewey developed an environmental, ‘naturalistic’ theory
of knowledge, experience and politics, starting from an account of the
development of knowledge as an adaptive human response to external
conditions that is aimed at an active restructuring of those conditions.
Experience itself arises from an interaction between organism and
environment: ‘experience’, he wrote, ‘is heightened vitality… it signifies
active and alert commerce with the world; at its height it signifies
complete interpenetration of self and the world of objects and events.
This concept of experience also enabled a theorisation of the arts as vital
in contributing to an awareness of the tensions between humans and
their environment, as well as the resolution of those tensions. For Dewey,
art has the capacity to bring to consciousness ‘an experience that is
unified and total’.
10 Moving beyond Dewey’s own thinking, we might add
that such an experience of interpenetrated self and world is necessarily a
more-than-human experience.
Dewey’s thought has had a profound influence on contemporary
understandings of participatory research and democracy. Dewey insisted
upon the importance of discussion, consultation, persuasion and debate
in the enactment of democratic life. He argued that democracy as a
public discussion is the best way of dealing with conflicts of interest,
because it is an experimental mode of enquiry through which we can
develop a new conception of what our interests are. Central to this view
of democratic life was an influential conception of 'publics'. Against the
conventional, abstract notions of democracy as being carried out in an
ideal public sphere, Dewey insisted that publics emerge through distinct
socio-material entanglements. He argued that in technologically complex
societies, in which innovation and change is the norm, the nature of what
exactly makes up, holds together and animates a public is precisely the
issue that is at stake. Noortje Marres takes this one step further to argue
that publics are more-than-human, socio-technical constructions.
Blencowe 2012.
Ansell Pearson 1997.
Dewey [1932] 2009: 19.
Ibid.: 15.
Marres 2012.
An experience of
interpenetrated self
and world is necessarily
a more-than-human
14 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
Unlike much humanist participatory research, more-than-human
research insists on the link between Dewey’s conception of publics,
and his ecological way of thinking that always situated knowledge and
experience in the context of the interaction between bodies and their
12 Dewey himself remained within a fairly conventional
assumption about the dierences between human and non-human
collectives. A public, Dewey argued, is grounded in the capacity of
humans to observe and reflect upon the unintended consequences of
collective actions. For Dewey, only humans are capable of transforming
an incoherent collective into a self-conscious, reflective public. So whilst
Dewey’s thought has had a powerful role in traditions of more-than-
human participatory research particularly in his ecological theory of
knowledge and experience, and his recognition of the role of more-than-
humans in the composition of publics his thought does not go far
enough in recognising the vital role of more-than-human actors in the
constitution of democratic publics.
2.3 Ecofeminism
One of the most powerful traditions of Western thought is the one
that associates men with culture and reason, and women with nature,
embodiment and emotion. This identification of women and nature has
been the cornerstone of Western patriarchy, justifying the idea that men’s
place is in the public sphere of reasoned debate, and women’s place is in
the private sphere of reproduction and domesticity.
14 It is unsurprising,
therefore, that traditions of feminist thought have oered the most
important and innovative insights about the relationship between humans
and non-humans, and it is feminist geographers, anthropologists, and
philosophers who in recent years have produced some of the most
compelling insights into more-than-human research.
During the 1980s, with foundational texts such as Merchant’s
The Death of Nature, a body of ‘ecofeminist’ thought explicitly brought
together feminist and ecological politics and emphasized the radical
interconnectivity of humans, animals, spirits and the earth.
16 As a political
movement, ecofeminism always stressed that its spiritual and cultural
dimensions were inseparable from its political actions. It became
associated with pagan religious traditions, aiming to develop ways of
thinking and experiencing that were based on embodied, intuitive
relations with the earth. Ecofeminism made a series of important
arguments about the interconnections of all systems of unjustified
domination. Domination of women, it was argued, was closely connected
to the domination of the poor, people of colour, children and nature.
The ecofeminist philosopher Karen Warren refers to these unjustifiably
dominated groups as ‘Others’, whether ‘human Others’ (women, ethnic
minorities, etc.) or ‘earth Others’ such as animals, forests and land.
Warren’s reference to “Others” is meant to highlight the status of
subordinate groups in a broad system of domination, subordination and
‘othering’. For example, Warren argues that so-called ‘natural disasters’,
such as droughts or floods, disproportionately aect women, the poor,
children and people of colour and thus reveal themselves as being not
‘natural’ at all, but bound up in multiple social, political and economic
systems of domination and exclusion.
For example, Blue 2015.
See Blue and Rock 2014.
Intersectional critiques of race and class
have since problematised this narrative
as excluding the experiences of women
outside of the white middle class.
For example, Lorde 2013.
For example, Colebrook 2014;
Dixon 2016; Haraway 2008;
Plumwood 1993; Probyn 2016;
Stengers 2015; Whatmore 2002.
Merchant 1990. For an excellent
early discussion of ecofeminism,
see Plumwood 1993.
Warren 2000.
15 More-than-human participatory research
This ecofeminist ethos of developing an ecological sensibility that
connects multiple forms of domination has been central to participatory
more-than-human research. However, ecofeminism (or at least, some
versions of it) have been subjected to important critiques that have helped
shape the current landscape of more-than-human research. For example,
many researchers worried about ecofeminists’ acceptance of the idea of
an intrinsic connection between women and nature.
18 Relatedly, one
might be cautious of ecofeminism’s faith in ideas of living ‘organically’ or
‘in harmony’ with nature, in light of Foucault’s critique of the ‘biopolitical’
constitution of modernity discussed earlier. Some researchers are also
wary of ecofeminism’s apparent suspicion of technology, which is viewed
as serving the degraded, ‘instrumental’ rationality of patriarchal, capitalist
domination. For example, as we will explore in the next section, the work
of writers such as Donna Haraway and Isabelle Stengers has oered
new ways of thinking about the relationship between feminism, nature,
science and technology, and spirituality. These new approaches draw
on and extend many of the most important insights of ecofeminism,
whilst fully embracing the ‘artificial’, hybrid and technological aspects of
more-than-human worlds. The most famous statement of this departure
from ecofeminism is Haraway’s remark in her Manifesto for Cyborgs,
‘I’d rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess’.
2.4 Decolonizing and indigenous research
It is important to fully recognise that whilst more-than-human research
methodologies currently appear new in the canon of Western academic
scholarship, there are long, rich histories and traditions of knowledge
about the more-than-human that come from outside the Enlightenment
tradition, just as decolonizing work has existed for 500 years within and
alongside colonization itself.
20 Indeed, academic more-than-human
research needs to be situated within a history of colonial practices that
systematically sought to discredit and dis-member non-Western ways of
knowing, and to dehumanize dominated peoples, framed as part of
nature so that they could be exploited with extraordinary brutality.
Colonialism is an ongoing system of violence that categorises dominated
populations as passive, mute, objects of knowledge. Like patriarchy, it has
historically been justified through use of simplistic dualisms between
civilised and primitive, culture and nature, reason and emotion and master
and slave. Recognising the violence of this, postcolonial and decolonial
scholars have highlighted, in addition to material and symbolic violence,
the 'epistemic violence' and 'ontological violence' of colonialism: epistemic
violence in imposing Western concepts, languages and rationalities while
assuming non-Western peoples cannot think; ontological violence in
severing the human from the world, and non-Western peoples from
22 Decolonizing and indigenous research has insisted on the
need to draw on ‘subaltern’, marginalized ways of thinking and reasoning,
whose origins are not the universities of imperial powers, but the likes
of black and indigenous thought and grassroots activist movements,
such as the campesino movement in South America,
23 the Zapatistas in
24 and the decolonizing student movement Rhodes Must Fall
in South Africa.
On the history of ecofeminism,
focusing on the issue of essentialism
in particular, see Gaard 2011.
Haraway 1987.
Sandoval 2000.
Trinh 1989.
Fanon 2008; Mignolo 2009;
Spivak 1988; Wynter 2003; see also
Moore on feminism in this series.
Holt-Gimenez 2006; Borras Jr 2010.
see also Holloway 1998.
see also
16 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
These histories of thought show that academic researchers can
learn a lot from indigenous knowledges. Historically, it is well established
that much anthropological research concerning indigenous peoples
participated in, and justified, colonial violence.
26 It has also been criticised
for being ‘extractive’: appropriating the knowledges and experiences of
indigenous peoples to further academic careers, rather than to be of
any benefit to the research participants themselves.
27 However, some
research has also engaged with indigenous knowledges in more
collaborative and respectful ways that often draw on shared activist
and participatory research projects. Such work recognises the imperative
to avoid either appropriating or ‘stealing’ these knowledges, on the
one hand, or denying the usefulness of indigenous knowledges for
contemporary global ecological problems, on the other. Similarly,
it is important not to assume that indigenous peoples have a pure,
authentic, unmediated or uncompromised relationship with the natural
world. An important series of anthropological works such as Marisol de la
Cadena’s Earth Beings, Elizabeth Povinelli’s The Cunning of Recognition
and Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics show how indigenous
practices interact in complex and often violent ways with Western
rationalities and systems of power.
28 Such research helps illuminate,
and seek ways of moving beyond, the structures of reason in Western
traditions of thought.
For example, Deborah Bird Rose, working with the Yarralin people in
the Northern Territories of Australia, has shown how Indigenous views of
human identity create the foundations for an ethos of ecological respect,
restraint and recognition, which has much to teach dominant cultures.
Rose shows how, in contrast to the future-oriented rationalities of the
West, which frame the past as having already finished, Yarralin society
orients itself towards origins. The past the ‘Dreaming’ is not finished,
but continues in all living bodies whose origins are in the Dreaming,
through ceremony, creation and music. Memory, place, dead bodies and
genealogies hold stories that are painful but also constitute relationships
of moral responsibility. This way of experiencing time makes possible a
way of relating to death that is less alienating and more sustainable than
Western rationalities that desire to ‘overcome’ death or hold it at bay for as
long as possible. Death is part of life, a return to the land that nurtures life.
This vision of death, Rose argues, enables a way of thinking about the land
as a ‘nourishing terrain’, and of death as a nurturing, material continuity
with ecological others.
Academic researchers in the field of more-than-human research
have much to learn from decolonizing traditions of research on the
one hand, and indigenous worldviews on the other. Contrary to
extracting methodologies, concepts, or theories, this entails joining
forces with decolonizing and indigenous ethics of care and responsibility,
sharing intellectual and political commitments and developing modes
of ‘border thinking’ that escape the dominant forms of rationality of
Western reason.
Tuhiwai Smith 2012.
Todd 2016; see also Participatory
Action Research review in this series.
de la Cadena 2015; Povinelli 2002;
Viveiros de Castro 2014.
Bird Rose 2000.
Mignolo 2012. For a recent example,
see Liebert 2018. On ways of thinking
about care in more-than-human worlds,
see Puig de la Bellacasa 2017.
Learning from
decolonizing traditions of
research on the one hand,
and indigenous worldviews
on the other entails joining
forces with decolonizing
and indigenous ethics of
care and responsibility.
17 More-than-human participatory research
Although research engaging with more-than-human worlds is very
diverse, we identify three broad conceptual approaches that have
emerged in the Western academy, which place emphases, respectively,
on: (1) socio-technical relations; (2) experience beyond the human;
(3) more-than-human communication. Because they are attempting
to overturn the whole tradition of Western thought that makes
European man the measure of all things, these approaches can
seem counterintuitive. Each has a rich and often complex conceptual
architecture. In what follows, we will briefly analyse key points from
each approach.
3.1 Socio-technical relations
In recent decades, otherwise divergent theoretical paradigms including
Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Actor Network Theory have
outlined radically relational views of the world. According to this
viewpoint, everything (whether human or non-human) is created through,
and made meaningful by, its relations with other things.
31 There are many
ways of interpreting this idea. However, it is potentially radical because it
enables us to reject at least two central assumptions of Enlightenment
thought. First, it rejects the idea that relations between humans are in any
way more ‘real’ or meaningful than relations between humans and non-
humans (and between non-humans and other non-humans). Second,
it rejects the idea that the human ‘self’ is autonomous, bounded and
self-contained. In fact, the self is merely a complex bundle of relations,
not intrinsically dierent to any other bundle of relations. The ‘human’
therefore no longer exists on a dierent plane of social reality to the
non-human. Rather, this relational view of the world articulates an entirely
‘flat’ view of what makes up the world sometimes referred to as a
‘flat ontology’.
Perhaps the most well-known relational theory comes from Actor
Network Theory (ANT), associated with writers including Bruno Latour,
Michel Callon and John Law.
33 Actor Network Theory views the social as
being constructed through creative associations between varied human
and more-than-human agents. More of a ‘sensibility’ or way of seeing the
world than a theory, ANT brings certain characteristics of the world into
view. First, it highlights the constitutive role of non-humans in social life.
Second, it avoids seeing agency as an essential capacity that some kinds
of entity (like humans) possess and others (like stones or clouds) don’t, but
identifies agency as being an outcome of the relations between all kinds
of dierent social and material entities. It is these ‘actor networks’, not
subjects or objects in isolation, that get things done.
This idea is common to very dierent
theorists, from Ferdinand Saussure to Pierre
Bourdieu to Gilles Deleuze to Bruno Latour.
See the influential article, Marston,
Jones and Woodward 2005.
For a summary of ANT by one of its
leading proponents, see Latour 2005b.
18 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
One crucial point that researchers of more-than-human worlds
could take from ANT is that ‘agency’ the capacity to act and to be
responsible for those actions is not something that only belongs to
humans. Agency isn’t concentrated in a single human body, but is a
relational, distributed, more-than-human achievement.
34 This leaves
open, however, a series of questions, the most important of which relate
to power and responsibility. How can this ‘flat’ conception of social worlds
account for the unevenness of power relations? What scope is there for
making normative distinctions between ‘better’ and ‘worse’ networks?
What happens to our notions of responsibility and accountability when
agency is distributed so widely? These are questions that researchers
working within this tradition are still working through today.
In their influential book Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay
on Technical Democracy, Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe develop an
approach to participation that drawing on ANT's conceptualisation of
the social as a dynamic, fragile and heterogeneous assemblage of various
human and non-human agencies takes ‘controversy’ as its primary mode
of explanation.
35 Controversies, they write, create overflows that are
at once technical and social. Controversies help to reveal hidden events
and processes by bringing forward groups that are involved with the
overflows. Socio-technical controversies are important spaces of learning,
making it possible to overcome the gap separating laypersons and
specialists, and also between ordinary citizens and their representatives.
They conceptualise this potential of controversy through the notion
of a ‘hybrid forum’ which brings together multiple actors into a mutual
space of exploration, learning and construction, and which scrambles
distinctions between experts and laypersons, and the power asymmetries
that these distinctions entail. In a similar vein to the concept of
‘controversy’ generating a hybrid forum, we could evoke Callon’s ‘hot
situations’, Latour’s ‘matters of concern’ or Stengers’ ‘things that force
thought’, to name the moments of disturbance in which the unexamined,
material fabric of everyday life starts to deform and reform itself.
Such situations, matters or forces make expert knowledge claims the
subject of intense political interrogation.
Another way of thinking about the relational nature of the more-
than-human world comes from the feminist philosopher Donna Haraway.
In her Cyborg Manifesto, which develops a socialist-feminist account of
women under advanced capitalism, Haraway theorises a notion of the
‘cyborg’ as a figure that rejects any rigid boundaries separating humans
from animals and machines. We are all cyborgs, in the sense that we are
all made up of a multitude of human and non-human forces. The clothes
we wear, the technologies we use, the emotional relations that attach us
to others, the bacteria in our gut all these are not at all external to our
identity but form an essential part of it. All humans are hybrid, monstrous,
cyborg, more-than-human beings that share kinship with many non-
human beings. Crucially, the cyborg does not aspire to unify all its parts
into an organic whole. Rather, the cyborg ‘is not afraid of joint kinship with
animals and machines... of permanently partial identities and contradictory
38 The cyborg forms close bonds of love, care and respect
across the boundaries separating ‘self’ from ‘other’.
Sayes 2014.
Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe 2009.
Callon 1998; Latour 2005; Stengers 2005.
Whatmore 2013.
Haraway 1987.
Sandoval 2000.
19 More-than-human participatory research
How might these ideas help us think about participatory more-than-
human research? Haraway’s book When Species Meet, which addresses
the interactions and mutual dependency between humans and other
species, oers some useful pointers here.
40 In a moving account of
human-dog training in agility sport, Haraway shows how the intense
training required for the sport creates a ‘contact zone’ in which human
and dog are forced to confront important philosophical questions.
‘Who are you, and so who are we? Here we are, and so what are we to
become?’ Although some people might think of training as a process
where the human acts to make the dog fully obedient and do whatever
he/she commands, Haraway shows how training involves plural relations
of mutual trust, respect and authority between dog and human. The
human trainer has to learn to trust the dog and to recognise and respond
to the authority of the dog’s performance. There is much that more-than-
human researchers can learn from this insight. When researching with
non-human ‘others’, human researchers have an ethical responsibility
to avoid treating non-human research participants as passive objects.
Instead, human researchers can look for ways of recognising and
responding to the authority of the non-human participants, and of
entering into shared, playful spaces of interspecies co-becoming
and care.
3.2 Experience beyond the human
Another tradition of thought seeks to expand the place of experience
outwards, looking to understand experience from a more-than-human
perspective. When we fully recognise that social worlds are always
more-than-human, the seemingly self-evident concept of ‘experience’
a foundational starting point for most research methodologies becomes
much more complicated. This is because when we think of experience,
we almost automatically tie it to our own senses of self. When I consider
animal sentience whether a mouse has feelings and consciousness, for
example it is very hard not to turn this into a question of whether animals
feel and think like I do. But why shouldn’t the mouse have feelings and
awareness in ways that are not like mine? Part of the problem here is that
we feel as if we ‘own’ our experiences, and as if these experiences are
somehow private and inaccessible to others. Once we recognise that
humans come into existence through their relationships with human and
non-human others, we can come to an expanded way of thinking about
experience that does not tie it exclusively to the interior of a bounded
human subject. We may consider that experiences are not ‘owned’
exclusively by a stable, self-contained subject. We might even have to
think of experience without a subject altogether.
Haraway 2008.
20 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
These ideas of non-human or non-subjective experience can
seem very counter-intuitive. However, writing in this area of thought,
such as from the orientations of ‘non-representational theories’ or
‘post-phenomenology’, insists that producing a genuinely more-than-
human knowledge of the world requires us to face these propositions
41 Rather than attempting to describe experience directly (which
was the goal of the philosophical tradition known as phenomenology),
post-phenomenology concentrates on how experience is mediated by
more-than-human relations. One strand of this work, associated with
Don Ihde, has focused on technoscience.
42 Other strands, perhaps more
useful for thinking about participatory more-than-human research, have
emerged from areas such as cultural geography, drawing on contemporary
European philosophy. These focus on the ways in which subjects come
into existence through experience, rather than existing prior to experience.
Self and world emerge together through their co-constitutive being
together. This leads to an impulse to understand the autonomous
existence of non-human objects, outside of the ways in which they
appear to, or are utilised by, people. It requires attempting to get at the
‘otherness’ of non-human experience and consciousness, rather than
assimilating these to human frames of reference. This is sometimes
described as a methodology of ‘attunement’: a methodology where
the researcher looks for ways of sensitising their bodily responses to
non-human registers of experience and inhabiting the contact zones
of multi-species experiences.
43 The philosophers Deleuze and Guattari
referred to this through the notion of ‘becoming animal’.
Methodologically, this tradition of thought demands creative and
speculative practice, since its goal is a contradictory one understanding
non-human experience, and accounting for it through human practices
(for example, writing), without assimilating it to human modes of thought.
For this reason, it demands creative and speculative research practices
that thrive on apparent contradictions, rather than denouncing them as
meaningless or futile. Recent philosophical schools such as ‘speculative
realism’, ‘object-oriented ontology’ and ‘new materialism’ have taken
these speculative thoughts in exciting directions. As illustrated through
case studies in the next section, when explored through creative,
politically engaged research methodologies, the resulting journeys
of thought and experience can be revealing.
3.3 More-than-human communication
Another key conceptual approach is found in ‘multi-species studies’. Such
work aims to produce rich, detailed, ‘thick’ descriptions of the distinctive
experiential worlds, modes of being and social and cultural attachments of
other species. This often involves forms of ethnography with indigenous
people who already recognise the world to be made up of more-than-
human, multi-species communities. Anthropologists who have spent time
with people who have kinship with non-humans (animals, plants, rivers,
mountains, land, spirits, and more) have attempted to analyse the forms
of sociability that are embedded within a more-than-human world. This
work is heavily influenced by the anthropological perspectives of writers
such as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Philippe Descola, whose work
with Amerindian peoples from lowland South America takes seriously
indigenous and other non-Western cosmologies which attribute selfhood
not just to humans, but to diverse non-human others.
Anderson and Harrison 2016;
Ash and Simpson 2016.
Ihde 2009; Selinger 2006;
Rosenberger and Verbeek 2015.
Brigstocke and Noorani 2016.
Deleuze and Guattari 1987.
21 More-than-human participatory research
Viveiros de Castro, in an influential article on ‘Amerindian
perspectivism’, has documented Amerindian ways of seeing the
world which escape conventional nature/culture distinctions. In these
cosmologies, animals and spirits are understood to view themselves and
act in the world in the same way as humans do from the perspective of
a jaguar, the jaguar is a self with an experiential world and a cultural life
involving hunting, kinship, home and a heterogeneous distribution of
cares and concerns. Perspectivism may be rendered consistent with the
scientific search for objective knowledge insofar as the phenomenal
world of each self is delimited by objectively-ascertainable capacities of
perception, aectation and so forth.
45 Nevertheless, it invites a radical
shift in orientation to the more-than-human, oering a ‘perspectival
multinaturalism’ that inverts the standard (Eurocentric) formulation of
'multiculturalism': instead of one (material) nature and many cultures,
non-humans such as animals and spirits are understood as diering
costumes hiding culturally-similar interiors selves with phenomenal
worlds similar to ours.
One of the most important ways in which Western intellectual
traditions have described humans as unique and fundamentally dierent
from other forms of being is through the human capacity for language
and communication. Therefore, undoing the idea that humans are totally
set apart from non-humans requires theorising further how to cross the
boundaries between human and non-human communication. Amidst a
broader turn to the interdisciplinary study of biolinguistics and biosemiotics,
Eduardo Kohn's book How Forests Think has revitalized multi-species
47 As Kohn argues, within the cosmology of perspectival
multinaturalism, trans-species communication is possible through
boundary crossing becoming the 'self' of another species. In Amerindian
cultures, shamans provide the figure of the boundary crosser; psychedelic
plants and dreaming enable crossings. Kohn’s analytical entry point into
human-non-human communication draws on the semiotics of the
American pragmatist, Charles Peirce, which distinguishes between several
forms of representation. Symbols are one form of sign, gaining meaning
purely through human convention. However non-symbolic signs (for
example: ‘icons’ such as the coloration of lizard’s skin representing its
background; and ‘indices’ such as tracks indicating the presence of
animals) are also available to non-humans. If we follow Kohn and Peirce
in recognising that language exceeds symbolic communication, we can
document how non-human actors participate in abundant and lively
language systems. Kohn thus proposes an 'anthropology of life', which
embeds humans within webs of more-than-human lifeworlds replete
with symbolic, iconic and indexical languages.
Despret 2004.
Viveiros de Castro 1998;
Viveiros de Castro 2004.
Kohn 2013.
Undoing the idea that humans are totally
set apart from non-humans requires theorising
how to cross the boundaries between human
and non-human communication.
22 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
In this section we present a number of examples of more-than-human
participatory research. The case studies are delimited by our own
experiences and gaze, which in turn are heavily shaped by the
English-speaking academy. Nonetheless, they do showcase a variety
of ways in which researchers have taken up and worked with the
concepts and historical traditions described above.
4.1 The fruits of 'giving voice'
A key challenge to all attempts to enrol non-humans in participatory
research is the idea that participation requires having a voice, and as
non-humans are incapable of speaking they cannot therefore participate.
From this perspective any attempt to 'give voice' to non-humans could
be characterised as anthropocentric fictionalising at best, producing
an empathy that reveals something about ourselves, while at worst,
legitimizing modes of domination over others whom we characterize on
our own terms. We may always anthropomorphise when we give voice to
non-human others.
48 Additionally, giving voice remains fraught even in a
strictly human context, from legacies of disenfranchisement of slaves and
women, to continuing to speak on behalf of the subaltern, including
those protected by legislation as 'vulnerable peoples' such as those
lacking in mental capacity, where the giving of voice risks reinscribing the
voiceless in their position as voiceless.
49 Rather than seek resolution of
this seemingly-intractable problem, one response for more-than-human
researchers is to analyse what wider phenomena are revealed when we
attempt to give voice.
Gwendolyn Blue oered such a commentary in describing Bear 71,
an interactive documentary created by the National Film Board of Canada,
which explores the surveillance of animals in the Canadian Rockies, where
the eponymously named female grizzly bear moves through the enclosure
and speaks to us in a first person imagined narrative form, evoking our
identifications and our sympathies.
50 Blue did not look to Bear 71 to gain
an 'accurate representation' of the subjective experience of a grizzly bear,
but to develop post-phenomenological insights into how the experience of
Bear 71 and other animals in the enclosure are brought into our awareness
through a plethora of surveillance and representational technologies. The
value of her research lies not in excavating the 'voice of the bear', but in
highlighting the contradictory coexistence of two logics: the technological
multiplication of media and mediation, and an increasing felt sense of
immediacy, intimacy and connection. This enabled Blue to conclude that
digital information systems ‘augment the capacity for collective care and
concern in public life while simultaneously facilitating the surveillance of
and intervention into private lives’.
Bennett 2010.
Alco 1991 – 1992.
Blue 2016.
Ibid.: 42.
23 More-than-human participatory research
In a second example of experimenting with giving voice, the
artist-researcher Kat Austen sought to call forth empathy with, and
embodied knowledge of, a marine environment that is being altered
in anthropogenic ways.
52 Austen used sound recorders to map an
underwater environment in Bergen, Norway, also measuring the levels
of microplastics detected in nearby algae. She transduced her recordings
into analogue vibrations of sound, touch and smell, creating an embodied
interface in the form of the 'Coral Empathy Device', a multi-sensory
headset worn in order to re-present the processes through which the
coral is aected by its environments. Austen's aim was to create a
conversation between humans and coral, allowing us to perceive other
worlds and very dierent spatio-temporal scales (Figure 1).
As an experiment in interspecies empathy, Austen avoids the thorny
claim to know what the coral is actually experiencing.
53 Rather, by feeling
sensations generated by the changing measures of what the coral itself
was 'feeling' over time, Austen experimented with cultivating an empathy
that grounds the possibility for revitalizing care in the coral, the marine
environment and beyond. Moreover, Austen suggests such empathy can
bypass mental representations altogether inspiring responses to the
crisis of climate change without the need for deliberative consensus.
Finally, the ability of users to remove the device reminds them of humans'
capacity for motility a capacity unavailable to the coral. Thus, removing
the coral empathy device is itself an important moment in engendering
empathy, suggesting empathy is produced not by 'becoming' another
but in the interplay of similarity and dierence in our encounters with
non-human others.
Figure 1
Austen's Coral Empathy Device.
© Kat Austen
Austen 2017.
For example, see Nagel 1974.
24 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
4.2. Expanding repertoires of listening
Another response to the problems of 'giving voice' has been to shift the
emphasis from giving voice to learning to listen dierently. Learning to
listen dierently is not easy: it requires learning to recognize, and be
interrupted by, non-human agencies, forces and forms, and note the role
that they are already playing in the construction and disruption of publics.
It is unsurprising that questions of listening and voice have fostered
participatory practices that cut across the senses. In particular, sound art
and music as temporal forms of expression have proved particularly
eective at communicating non-human temporalities, including the times
of geological transformation, climate change and the anthropocene.
A number of artists and researchers, for example, have experimented
with using innovative recording practices in order to listen to the voices
of the earth.
The sonic is connective, rendering commensurable dierent
modalities of data, allowing us to place them side-by-side so that they
can reverberate and echo, linking up spatially and temporally distant
agencies and places. Sounds are immersive; engaging people deeply and
emotionally. They also articulate and dramatize the experience of place
and landscape, situating bodies within complex events such as the
processes of climate change. These qualities make sound an eective
medium for including non-human agencies in contemporary research
practices. Researchers have sought ways of enabling human communities
to participate in the sounds and voices of the environment. For example,
George Revill leads an ongoing research project on Listening to Climate
56 In part, the project is driven by the imperative to use
participatory methodologies to move beyond the impasse of whether
climate change exists or not. Instead, they foreground the question,
'What kind of world do we want to live in in twenty years time?'
Imagination exercises such as this allow us to take hold of the future
rather than be passive before it.
The project is set in Blakeney, a UK coastal community with a
highly dynamic coastline that is an important reserve for marine mammals
and migrating birds and is also susceptible to extreme weather events and
climate change. The researchers, including social scientists and sound
artists, enlisted stakeholders with particular expertise in the research site,
together with wider communities of local residents, as human participants
in the research. To these stakeholders, they introduced the term 'living
landscapes' to convey that the landscape is always changing (re)made
by the people who live on the land, forces of nature and the lives of
plants, non-human animals and birds. Participants were then asked two
questions: (1) to identify two other ‘voices’ they would want heard, where
one of these has to be a non-human voice; (2) to imagine that they had to
think about the future and make a decision on what acoustic recordings
to solicit in order to do so. From these conversations, groups decided
on a number of dierent kinds of sounds to harvest, such as the sonic
sampling of environmental processes, musical representations of
long-term change, scientific data sonification, folk songs and ‘vox pop’
interviews reflecting on climate change. A number of further
conversations were then facilitated to discuss the recordings, what
‘voices’ the participants would choose to delete if they could only save
a limited number, and so on (Figure 2).
The epoch of the Earth's history
that began with the industrial revolution
and the consequent emergence of the
human being as a geologic force.
See Chakrabarty 2009.
For example, see Ken Goldberg 2006:
‘Ballet Mori’.
Revill 2017.
25 More-than-human participatory research
Inspired by critical post-phenomenological approaches, Revill
approaches agency as that which shapes what can be thought and said.
The project design makes space for a rich public debate concerning the
place of non-humans in their lives, as well as attempting to listen to these
non-human voices in new ways. At the same time, the project also raises
challenges that are common to many projects involving non-humans.
As with Austen's Coral Empathy Device, can the non-human voices ‘speak
back’ to the research process, or do humans end up speaking on their
behalf? Does the research design presuppose that it is only how non-
humans matter to humans that is the important thing, or can genuine
dialogue be created across these divergent registers? Anticipating this
challenge, the researchers weave into exercises facilitated to imagine
what will happen in the future, factual observations about what has
happened in analogous situations elsewhere and at other times. Revill
describes this as a ‘sleight of hand’ that serves to trouble the assumptions
of the human participants as they emerge. Recognising the need to treat
imaginative work seriously as a praxis, this lends imagination exercises a
dialogic quality whereby what has happened can come to interrupt
constructions of what will happen.
Figure 2
Geese over the marshes
between Blakeney and Cley.
© Chris Bonfigliol
From personal communication.
See also Pearson 2006.
26 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
4.3 Building stages for new encounters
Another way to side-step naive attempts to give voice has been to
identify and work with the capacities of non-human others to participate
in meaningful ways by constructing ‘stages’ for non-human voices to
speak, and developing modes of receptivity that allow us to be able to
respond to them. An innovative collaboration has been documented
between researchers at Oxford University, led by Sarah Whatmore, and
residents of Pickering, a small town in the UK that suered regular
flooding, making flood risk management a subject of a great deal of
controversy. The project design involved assembling new ‘competency
groups’, where natural scientists and social scientists collaborated with
volunteer residents in the localities where flood risk management plans
were a powerful source of tension and disagreement. Each competency
group was comprised of project team members and residents. During
bi-monthly meetings, hands-on flood modelling usually the province of
appointed experts became the key practice through which ‘expert’ and
lay members’ knowledge claims could be tried out. Ever-present within
the discussions was the non-human agency of water itself: its paths,
dynamics, (over)flows and capacity to push back against poorly-
conceived models. Equally important, however, was the agency of
artefacts such as photos, video footage, computer models, policy
documents and maps.
Drawing on the work of Stengers, Whatmore and Landstrom
contrasted a conventional participatory ethos of empowering local
people with an ethos of empowering the situation, where the aim is to
‘force thought’ in those aected by it and to ‘slow down’ the reasoning
of the established experts, in order to enable a redistribution of expertise.
The competency groups used residents’ situated knowledges of the
flood catchment area, including memories of floods dating back to the
1940s, to modify existing Environment Agency flood models that had in
the past been the cornerstone of the ‘top-down’ expert view of flood
management in the area. These existing flood models insisted that a large
and costly flood wall was needed. The modification of the ocial flood
map was followed by flood modelling exercises in which everyone in
the competency groups could try out modelling dierent solutions to
the flooding, with the help of the flood modellers to programme the
software. New solutions were explored, and exhibited in the local
area, generating substantial debate and, eventually, the take-up of a
new solution, which did not involve flood walls but a series of more
inexpensive upstream ‘bunds’. Through intentionally building stages
and spaces for the intermingling of human and non-human agencies,
and slowing practices down, Whatmore and Landstrom document
how hybrid forums of knowledge and expertise can oer innovative
practical and political responses (Figure 3).
Whatmore 2013.
27 More-than-human participatory research
Figure 3
Upstream bund diverting flow into field.
Through intentionally building
stages and spaces for the intermingling
of human and non-human agencies,
and slowing practices down, hybrid
forums of knowledge and expertise
can oer innovative practical
and political responses.
27 More-than-human participatory research
28 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
4.4 Ethics in more-than-human participation
A large body of distinct yet related research, particularly in human
geography, anthropology and philosophy, has explored ways of
understanding the participation of non-human animals and plants in
research in Western contexts.
59 Moreover, a number of researchers are
engaging in creative experiments in inviting non-human animals into
participatory research processes. Michelle Bastian et al's recent collection
of essays marks a highly significant intervention in this field of research,
exploring a range of methodological practices for including entities as
varied as dogs, birds, plants and trees in research processes.
In one such example, Tim Hodgetts, a human researcher, and
Hester, a springer spaniel, described their role in a research project that
brought humans, Hester the dog and pine martens in rural Wales into a
specific set of conservation practices.
61 Small carnivorous animals, pine
martens are very rare in this area, and ongoing conservation projects
assess the size and location of any remaining populations, whilst also
preparing for a ‘re-stocking’. Searching for these elusive animals often
relies on scat surveys but these surveys are themselves dicult, since
pine marten scat is so similar to the scat of certain other animals. The
project aimed to combine canine smell with human sight to identify
pine marten scat. Both dog and human had to learn the skill of
collaboratively identifying the scat.
In contrast with thinking of the dog as a ‘tool’ to enable the research
to be carried out, Hodgetts and Hester emphasised the vital role in their
research of embodied empathy and attunement, as dierent feeling,
seeing and thinking bodies undo and redo each other, reciprocally but
not symmetrically. Given this rich attunement between human and dog,
one might consider analysing the research practice as involving dierent
kinds of collaboration between human and dog. This raises issues of
representation, ethics and power that are of course central to participatory
research. Did Hester consent to being a research participant? According
to Hodgetts and Hester, Hester's tacit consent could be judged from the
enthusiasm and joy with which she engaged in the activities. However,
even accepting that the research process was enjoyable for her, it is
harder see how the outcomes of the research (distribution maps of pine
martens) benefit her. Indeed, Hester is documented as having shown little
interest in contributing to the writing up of their research (Figure 4).
Contrast this with the zoömusicologist Hollis Taylor’s experiments
with co-producing music with birds, in particular, pied butcherbirds
in Australia.
62 The use of birdsong in music is well established, but
Taylor strives to develop a genuine co-production of sonic outcomes.
Taylor writes:
As a violinist/composer I do more than incorporate avian
vocalizations into my practice: I trust the musicality of pied
butcherbird song, and many of my (re)compositions are almost
direct transcriptions. My ability to transcribe pied butcherbird
vocalizations improved by playing them on the violin with me
entering into the physicality of the experience. This became for
me part of the analytical process and not merely what preceded
or followed it. I study pied butcherbird vocalists, but I also study
under them.
Interesting examples include:
Barua 2014; Callicott 2013;
Haraway 2008; Kirksey and
Helmreich 2010.
Bastian, Jones, Moore and Roe 2016.
Hodgetts and Hester 2016.
Taylor 2016.
Ibid.: 48.
29 More-than-human participatory research
In terms of participation, Taylor gives examples of birds declining to
participate. She was attacked by a 'bird-musician' twice during nesting
season and, concluding that the bird was quitting the project, no longer
recorded there. Similarly, on one occasion eight pied butcherbirds evicted
her from their territory via harsh calls and beak claps. Taylor suggests that
the birds both were fully involved in the co-production of key project
outputs, namely the music, and also had a genuine choice to decline to
participate. Taylor does not oer a view, however, of whether the birds
were empowered in any way by this participation.
It is clear that recognising and enhancing the role of more-than-
human participation in academic research will ultimately need a much
fuller reworking of ethical language, norms and standards. Beyond ethical
objections to outright exploitation of animals in experimentation, projects
involving animal participation raise dicult philosophical questions about
the nature of power and empowerment. Participatory research is a
research practice that is dedicated to empowering stakeholders in the
research. What empowerment might mean in relation to non-human
animals, however, remains unclear and contested. The above examples
could be construed as problematic attempts to bridge the dierence
between humans and non-humans, by re-articulating non-humans as
being like humans, and granting them rights to informed consent and so
on. Most discussions of ethics, empowerment and participation in
research are almost entirely anthropocentric, and rather than trying to fit
non-human participation within the ethical categories of human research
(informed consent, empowerment, the dierence between ‘genuine and
‘pseudo’ participation, control, decision-making and so on), which can
seem like trying to slot a square peg into a round hole, new frameworks
are clearly needed. This will be a complex aair, requiring a wholesale
reworking of many of the embedded institutional assumptions about the
nature of social research. Until then, researchers engaging in more-than-
human research will have few universal norms to refer to. Given
intersectional critiques of universality, this might be recast as an
opportunity to strive instead for ethical sensibilities that are sensitive to
their specific research practices and conceptions of empowerment.
Figure 4
Michelle Bastian's research
team from a dog's perspective.
© Marietta Galazka
Recognising and
enhancing the role of
participation in academic
research will ultimately need
a much fuller reworking
of ethical language,
norms and standards.
30 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
4.5 Documenting ecologies
of more-than-human selves
The examples of Hester and the pied butcherbirds beg the question:
to what extent, if at all, is it legitimate to ascribe like-minded selves to
non-human others as if beneath all that dierence we would find selves
'just like us'? In an example of more-than-human ethnography that takes
forward a synthesis of more-than-human research with a recognition that
non-humans do not share the same capacities for ethical deliberation as
humans, Naomi Millner conducts a project on community forestry in the
Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. In order to try to research the
'pre-history' of sustainable forestry or 'sustainability before Sustainability'
Millner approaches the implementation of sustainability practices
as imperfect attempts to translate the pre-existing signification of non-
human selves into the symbolic language of resource management
protocols and practices.
64 Millner thus avoids the trap of believing that
the reserve was a terra nullius awaiting human intervention, a term used
in the justification of settler colonialism. Following Eduardo Kohn, Millner
articulates the challenge of documenting the historical layering of human
and non-human interaction as ‘interlacings of networks all trying to know
each other’.
Millner draws upon oral history to develop a more-than-human
oral history methodology. Where oral history is traditionally an account
of an individual person’s life, more-than-human oral history starts from
the recognition that ‘a life’ is never just an individual human life but is
also a crossing point for many other entangled lifeforms. In order to do
this, Millner has conducted workshops and recorded the oral histories
at particular sites, so that her (human) participants could show her
important aspects of their life that extend beyond the individual. For
example, one participant showed her how he makes craft objects out
of mahogany. Another showed her how the community used to extract
a form of natural chewing gum called chicle from trees in the forest,
until petrochemical gum destroyed the industry (Figure 5). In a third,
a guide showed Millner around the ruins of Mayan architecture,
explaining the importance of Maya architecture to the community.
In each case, the individual’s life provided the framing, but
interruptions from the site itself (the sounds of the forest; a sudden
downpour; the silence of a two-thousand-year-old stone structure) were
used as prompts to broaden from the personal story to the imbricated
living networks that the interviewee participated in and was shaped by.
Through these research practices, the project aims to adapt an existing
methodological tool in order to allow it to register more fully the multiple
networks of non-human life that are entangled within the lives of
participants. In this way, Millner suggests that a fuller description of the
more-than-human ecologies of community forestry can be developed.
Personal communication.
31 More-than-human participatory research
Figure 5
Jorge Soza demonstrates the extraction of chicle,
a sustainable technique practiced in the Petén
(Guatemala) between the 1920s and 1960s
© Naomi Millner
4.6 Engaging psychic multiplicities
Turning to consciousness itself, what William James in 1890 described
as a 'teeming multiplicity of objects and relations' has proven a rich site
for research into intra-psychic forms of participation. Recognizing with
the phenomenologists the impossibility of fully escaping our own
experience, those interested in navigating altered and/or multiple states
of consciousness employ techniques such as dreamwork, the use of
psychoactive substances, meditative techniques, breathwork, fasting and
drumming. The philosopher Aldous Huxley drew on Henri Bergson's
subtractive notion of consciousness in positing that a 'cerebral reducing
valve' exists in the brain in order to channel the vast totality of sensory
experiences into manageable experience, and that this valve can be
opened up through various techniques including the use of psychedelic
66 This led to the widely-held claim in the counterculture of
the 1960s and subsequent ‘New Age’ that we can more fully participate
with more-than-human entities, and even the infinite itself, through
practices of cleansing our Blakean ‘doors of perception’.
Huxley 1954.
See Smith 2009. The titles of Huston Smith
and Aldous Huxley's books draw from Blake's
poem: ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed
every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees
all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern’
(Blake 1790).
32 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
Combining an inquiry into the varieties of conscious experience
with attention to the political challenges posed by the subaltern, in 2014
Gail McConnell, Jo Collinson Scott and Deborah Maxwell conducted
Listening to Voices: Creative disruptions with the Hearing Voices
Network, a community-based participatory research project with the
Hearing Voices Network (HVN). The latter is an international peer-led
network of local self-help groups attended by people who hear
voices that only they hear.
68 The researchers describe how medical
professionals and healthcare support providers have tended to encourage
voice-hearers to silence their voices, in particular through psychiatric
drugs, rather than listen to them. Joining with the HVN, the researchers
themselves with expertise in poetic, musical and narrative voice
attempted to foreground not individuals with voices but 'voice' itself,
in all its manifestations for instance, as common human experience, as
pathology, as friend, as agitator, as advisor and as aside. Recognizing that
listening is a more active process than merely hearing, the project asked
how creative listening practices could enable individuals and communities
to become more attuned to voices previously marginalized, repressed
or ignored, to disrupt academic and medical hierarchies of knowledge
and power. Instead of ‘giving voice’ to the voice-hearers, the researchers
sought to re-imagine academic writing practices themselves, by bringing
the multiple voices of academia itself (such as the subjective, doubting,
meandering, hyper-critical and comic voices one finds relegated to
footnotes) into conversation with the voice-hearers who were recognised
as experts in voice-hearing.
The project was participatory and unfolded iteratively, centred around
a retreat for researchers, artists and voice-hearers where they explored
the relationships between HVN members' expertise in listening to, and
engaging, multiple voices, and musical, poetic and storytelling-based
artistic practices. Participants co-created a Listening to Voices guide,
outlining best practice when listening to voices and voice-hearers.
69 The
initial text of the guide was overwritten in numerous voices living, dead,
imagined, self-critical, angry, reflective, analytic until the play of voices
became more important than any original message. The methodology
was one of collectively ‘writing on the object’, rather than ‘writing about
the object’. By making visible and audible the creative disruptions (in,
for example, ‘overwriting’, annotations and footnotes), the final texts
attempted to foreground what was challenging and meaningful about
the collaborative process and the politics of authorization. The palimpsest
of responses in the guide illuminated process, the struggle for meaning
and the numerous iterations the guide had undergone (Figure 6).
Listening to Voices showcases the futility of hoping to fully or
comprehensively represent experiences in participatory research practices
where subjects continuously react to how they are represented. This
highlights the importance of appreciating the performative register in
contexts where representative projects call forth infinitely regressing
loops. Listening to Voices responds to the exasperation in seeking
authorial finality through its techniques of constant narrative disruption.
For the Hearing Voices Network, see
‘Listen (if you dare): An unlikely companion
to voice-hearing’, available at http://www.
33 More-than-human participatory research
Figure 6
Listening to Voices guide
© Sara Nevay
33 More-than-human participatory research
34 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
More-than-human research does not seek to reveal the minds of
non-humans, as if non-humans could suddenly speak. Nor does
it mean necessarily imputing a special kind of subjectivity to
non-humans. While perspectival multinaturalism (see section on
'more-than-human communication' above) does claim this, science
studies and post-phenomenological approaches do the opposite,
being more concerned with the objective capacities of a wide range
of inter and intra-psychic agents to perceive, act and react, while
multi-species ethnographies turn to material semiotics to adumbrate
the richness of language systems. All the case studies referenced here
oer ways of conducting more-than-human participatory research
enabled by speculative leaps of various kinds, whether the invention
of concepts, the stating of working hypotheses or inferences about
other worldviews. We suggest that attending to the more-than-human
encourages participatory methods to rub up against their limits in
generative ways. This is what makes more-than-human participatory
practice an exciting research intersection.
Yet the nomenclature of more-than-human, and a yearning
to research the ‘other’, will always risk devaluing the emancipatory,
rights-based politics of the liberal bounded human self. Moreover,
we have sought to collaborate with community partners who were
rightly concerned that the language of ‘more-than-human’ and ‘non-
human’ carry the normative connotations of ‘sub-human’ and ‘inhuman.
This can feed into the politics of coloniality and the subaltern in
unintended and toxic ways. All eorts at going beyond the bounded,
univocal subject problematized at the beginning of this review must
therefore be done with care if they are not to reproduce the conditions
for undermining progressive rights claims or slipping into an exclusionary
normative register.
In describing speculative approaches, Isabelle Stengers draws
upon the metaphor of dancers, hands joined and leaning back, spinning
in a circle. No one dancer can achieve this on their own and yet together
they form a sustainable configuration.
70 What dierentiates the case
studies oered in this review from those of others in this series is that
they share in this speculative ethos, each posing methodologies
whose components are interdependent and rely on one another for the
methodology to gain its force, whether discursive or performative. In
addition, the aesthetic components are foregrounded unsurprising as
speculative leaps are leaps of the imagination. Insofar as it will continue
to unfold, more-than-human participatory research will rest upon the
collection of methodological tools and experimental approaches attuned
to experience beyond, beneath and beside the bounded human subject.
Stengers 2011: 239. For similar configurations,
see the 'plateau' in Deleuze and Guattari 1987
and the 'constellation' in Benjamin 2009.
All eorts at going beyond
the bounded, univocal subject
must be done with care if
they are not to reproduce the
conditions for undermining
progressive rights claims or
slipping into an exclusionary
normative register.
35 More-than-human participatory research
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and Amerindian Perspectivism' The Journal of the
Royal Anthropological Institute. 4:3, 469–488.
Warren, K. (2000) Ecofeminist Philosophy: A western
perspective on what it is and why it matters. New York:
Rowman and Littlefield.
Whatmore, S. (2013) ‘Earthly Powers and Aective
Environments: An Ontological. Politics of Flood Risk’
Theory, Culture and Society 30:7–8, 33–50. DOI:
Whatmore, S. (2002) Hybrid Geographies:
Natures Cultures Spaces. London: Sage.
Wynter, S. (2003) 'Unsettling the Coloniality of
Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human,
After Man, Its Overrepresentation An Argument’.
CR: The New Centennial Review 3:3, 257–337.
38 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
Actor Network Theory
Views the social as being constructed through creative associations
between varied human and more-than-human agents. Associated with
Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law, Actor Network Theory (ANT)
highlights the constitutive role of non-humans in social life, describing
agency as an outcome of ‘actor networks’, not subjects or objects
in isolation.
Traditionally defined as an ability to act and think. It is generally seen as
something that comes from consciously held intentions, and as resulting
in observable eects in the human world. This definition makes agency
something that only humans exercise. More-than-human research
problematizes this by suggesting, for instance, that human ‘agency’ is
actually a composition of the agencies of many dierent entities, and/or
that non-humans (including animals, materials, and objects) can also exert
forms of agency.
The name of a purported new geological age, replacing the Holocene,
that is marked by the point in history where humanity became a geological
agent, acting as a key determinant of the environment of the planet,
through the burning of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, nuclear radiation,
and other geophysical processes. The term is significant for its challenge to
modern understandings of nature as a stable domain that is separate from
the realms of history, culture and society.
A way of governing that takes life, especially biological life, as a key value
and target of intervention – attempting to make societies healthier, more
vigorous, more full of vitality. Biopolitical rationalities have supported visions
of an organic, vital, healthy human society. However, biopolitics can also
result in a politics of death, when certain groups are believed to be so
damaging to collective vitality that they must be destroyed. One focus of
contemporary biopolitics is not only on how to promote life, health and
vitality, but on what counts as life, and how that life is to be valued.
Approaches that seek to confront and overcome colonial matrixes of
power. Existing as long as colonialism itself, decolonial approaches draw
on ‘subaltern’, marginalized knowledges and practices originating from
outside of, or in opposition to, European hegemony and the ‘Western
canon’. They are committed to exposing, opposing and supplanting the
racialization, instrumentalization and dehumanization wrought by ongoing
legacies of colonialism.
39 More-than-human participatory research
Brings together feminist and ecological politics to emphasize the radical
interconnectivity of humans, animals, spirits, and the earth. As a movement,
ecofeminism stresses the inseparability of spirituality, culture and politics.
It is associated with pagan religious traditions, aiming to develop ways of
thinking and experiencing that were based on embodied, intuitive relations
with the earth.
Describes how human societies are always composed of varied relations
between humans and non-human forces and agencies such as objects,
animals, microbes, and technologies. It challenges the idea that humans
are separable from their worlds, or society is separable from nature.
More-than-human can refer to realms or entities beyond the human,
or to larger ensembles that include the human.
Multi-species ethnography
Aims to produce rich, detailed, ‘thick’ descriptions of the distinctive
experiential worlds, modes of being, and social and cultural attachments of
other species. Drawing upon and adapting methods developed for research
with humans alone, multi-species ethnography calls for ways of listening
to, and building stages for voicing, the interlaced agencies of humans and
non-humans alike.
Perspectival multinaturalism
Advances cosmologies in which non-humans also have selves or souls
when understood from their own perspective. Drawn from the work of
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, all selves are understood to partake of similar
phenomenal worlds or ‘cultures’, despite having very dierent bodily
manifestations or ‘natures’. The resulting ‘multinaturalism’ contrasts with the
Western notion of ‘multiculturalism’ by proposing that it is our mindedness
rather than our physicality that we share with non-human others.
A form of thought that is indebted to, but in some ways departs from
phenomenology. Phenomenology focuses upon the human subject as
an embodied vessel of experiences and sensations. Post-phenomenology
retains this interest in embodiment and experience, but views experience
as distributed across, and mediated through, both human and non-human
bodies, technologies, objects, and worlds.
A philosophical movement that argues that what counts as true knowledge
is determined by its usefulness. It is a philosophy that takes practices as its
starting point. Ideas are labelled true when they enable humans to get
things done, and to cope with the world. More-than-human researchers
point out that practices involve many dierent kinds of actor, and not just
human achievements.
40 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
Collaborative research:
History from below
Kevin Myers and Ian Grosvenor
A cat's cradle of feminist and other
approaches to participatory research
Niamh Moore
Participatory action research:
Towards a more fruitful knowledge
Tom Wakeford and Javier Sanchez Rodriguez
Redistributing power?:
A poetics of participation in contemporary arts
Anne Douglas
Everything and nothing is up for grabs:
Using artistic methods within participatory research
Steve Pool
Co-design as collaborative research
Theodore Zamenopoulos and Katerina Alexiou
Co-producing knowledge online
Chiara Bonnachi
All of the reviews in this series are available to download from
41 More-than-human participatory research
About the Connected Communities programme:
The Connected Communities programme (2010-2020) is a research
programme led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which
brings together over 300 hundred projects across arts, humanities
and social sciences. It aims to help understand the changing nature
of communities in their historical and cultural contexts, and the role of
communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life. The
programme addresses a range of themes including: health and wellbeing;
creative and digital communities; civil society and social innovation;
environment and sustainability; heritage; diversity and dissent; and
participatory arts. Further information and resources are available at:
42 CONNECTED COMMUNITIES | Foundation Series
... This could lead to the development of a "more-than-human turn", recognizing the contribution of nonhuman agents in shaping information practices and spaces. More-than-human refers to realms or entities beyond the human, or to larger ensembles that include the human, such as objects, animals, microbes, and technologies (Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018). An exploration of how nonhuman voices can be included in IB research and a discussion of its application in a research project investigating information experience in caring for cats and dogs is the focus of this paper. ...
... animals) in relation to humans, and views experience as distributed across, and mediated through, both human and nonhuman bodies, objects, and worlds (Lindgren & Ö hman, 2019;Ulmer, 2017). In other words, rather than attempting to describe experience directly (the goal of the phenomenology), post-phenomenology concentrates on how experience is mediated by more-than-human relations (Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018). In this view, people attempt to engage in subjective relationships with animals and respect their differences from humans. ...
... The authors argue that the emergence of information experience in LIS aligns well with posthuman ideas and the more-than-human turn (Solhjoo et al., 2022a). This is because it is mainly borrowed from the phenomenological concept of lived experience and Dewey's concept of aesthetic experience (Yu & Liu, 2022), which are also two major historical roots of posthuman research (Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018). According to the key authors writing on information experience, Bruce, Davis, Hughes, Partridge, and Stoodley (2014) and Gorichanaz (2020), this approach conceptualizes the way in which people experience or derive meaning from their interactions with information in daily life and work. ...
Animals, specially companion species, are an integral part of our daily homes and cities but have not been the focus of everyday information behavior research to date. The practice of incorporating animals into research is not straightforward because they do not share our language or norms. The question this research aims to answer is: how can the perspective of other animal subjects be incorporated in information behavior research? This preliminary study of four multispecies families, included humans, dogs, and cats in the research design, and a more-than-human perspective was used as a research paradigm, offering different ways of thinking about ethnography and phenomenology methods. Five methodological strategies (speaking for the animal, listening differently, walking and sensing, photography, and technological mediation) proved effective in making the role of animals in the information experience of multispecies family visible. The article concludes with a discussion of the methodological implications that emerge when a researcher claims to view humans as conjoined with other life forms and seeks to include animals in information behavior research.
... It involves rethinking data, and rethinking research. Kohn (2013) in his book How Forests Think proposes an "anthropology of life", one that embeds the complex potential of humans and more-than-human lifeworlds complete with "symbolic, iconic and indexical languages" (cited in Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018). Noorani and Brigstocke (2018) argue in their book More-than-human Participatory Research that: "Undoing 228 9 Re-searching with Children in Posthuman Worlds the idea that humans are totally set apart from non-humans requires theorizing how to cross the boundaries between human and non-human communication" (p. ...
... Kohn (2013) in his book How Forests Think proposes an "anthropology of life", one that embeds the complex potential of humans and more-than-human lifeworlds complete with "symbolic, iconic and indexical languages" (cited in Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018). Noorani and Brigstocke (2018) argue in their book More-than-human Participatory Research that: "Undoing 228 9 Re-searching with Children in Posthuman Worlds the idea that humans are totally set apart from non-humans requires theorizing how to cross the boundaries between human and non-human communication" (p. 21). ...
... In re-searching the posthuman child it is crucial to also consider the role that other traditional, decolonising and indigenous research has offered to counter the "white Western adult human" normative subject position. As Noorani and Brigstocke (2018) argue: Academic researchers in the field of more-than-human research have much to learn from decolonizing traditions of research on the one hand, and indigenous worldviews on the other. Contrary to extracting methodologies, concepts, or theories, this entails joining forces with decolonizing and indigenous ethics of care and responsibility (p. ...
In this chapter, we examine the new sociological ways of thinking about children and childhoods introduced in critique of the dominant developmental theories in the later part of the twentieth century. The chapter seeks to clarify some of the rethinking of childhoods beyond developmental frameworks and towards the posthuman, new materialist perspectives that are further unpacked throughout the book. Foregrounding the book’s aim, which is not to negate biological or developmental views of childhoods altogether, the chapter seeks to acknowledge the important contributions of prior theoretical perspectives on contemporary views of childhoods in the twenty-first century. Although these paradigms in isolation no longer dominate ways of theorising childhoods, tracings of past views remain visible and have helped to shape the focus of this book. They are an unmissable link in framing new theorisations of childhoods.
... Our research was performed much more with people than with plants (cf. Noorani and Brigstocke 2018), because the plants in many respects were seen both through the lenses of our interlocutors and of ourselves, lenses which were, to some extent, influenced by biological and ecological perspectives. We acknowledge that the everyday social relations of our interlocutors are more-than-human social relations, and pay particular attention to the plant agents involved in these relations. ...
... We acknowledge that the everyday social relations of our interlocutors are more-than-human social relations, and pay particular attention to the plant agents involved in these relations. Noorani and Brigstocke (2018) see such an attitude as the base for research with more--than-human actors not on them. Donna Haraway (2008) postulates that researchers should take the ethical responsibility to avoid treating other-than-human research participants as passive objects. ...
Full-text available
This paper combines ethnographic and ethnobotanical fieldwork with the edibility approach (EA), chemical ecology and Ingold’s ontology of dwelling. The EA aims to “push harder onto and through the boundaries between edible plants and the human-animals that eat them to consider the outcomes produced as a result of these interacting materials” (Attala 2017, 130). This approach places ingestion in the light of multispecies entanglement. As proposed by Attala, this is still a philosophically “open” concept, of limited operational use in ethnographic (ethnobotanical) study. Our article argues for an expansion of the EA, based on this combined perspective and giving more attention to cross-species interactions placed in an environmental context. Our cases are about how people live with plants, exemplified by foraging practices of agriculturists in Ukraine, Daghestan and Argentina. The everyday social relations of our interlocutors are more-than-human interactions, and in these relations we pay a close attention to non-cultivated edible plants. We present two modes of writing ethnographies, in which we focus respectively on a single plant taxon or a group of plants, and where both people and plants are protagonists. We argue that incorporating the dwelling perspective and chemical ecology into the EA is one of the potentially fruitful approaches to the analysis of plant – people relations. The use of language and of the tools of ecology in an attempt to present different aspects of co-dwelling of people and plants, although it may seem anchored in Cartesian dualism, in fact allows for a deeper understanding of the relations among protagonists and their co-dwellers in the environment, and hence goes against dualisms. The relations and the ways through which organisms co-create their environment are the very essence of ecology. The close collaboration of anthropologists, ethnobotanists, ecologists and chemical ecologists is postulated in the article.
... Interventions, such as nesting boxes installed in trees [75], are already attempting to compensate for the loss of natural habitat and are a constructive approach towards cohabitation with urban possums [79]. However, these interventions are not as readily adopted by local communities due to the perception of possums being a pest [50]. ...
For the past decades humans have been placed at the centre of designing information and communication technologies (ICT), leading to the rise in prominence of human-centred design. The field of smart cities has equally adopted notions of citizen participation as a way to ensure that technological solutions improve people’s livelihoods. However, these kinds of processes treat the urban environment as separate from nature, promoting human comfort and convenience over planetary health and wellbeing. Motivated by these growing concerns that highlight the urgency to reconsider how we define and practice participation in smart cities and in human-centred ICT solutions more broadly, this article assesses how the personas method can be adapted to include more-than-human perspectives in the design process. Based on a case study, which involved designing smart urban furniture for human and non-human use, we introduce a framework for developing and employing non-human personas. As a key element of the framework, we describe a middle-out approach for forming a coalition that can speak on behalf of the non-human species that are impacted by design decisions. We demonstrate how the framework can be used through its retrospective application on two research-led smart city projects. The article concludes with a discussion of key principles for creating and using non-human personas in design projects.
... Stories "make familiar the unfamiliar" [36]. For example, new approaches for design research with the more-than-human explore fictional dialogues with objects and artificial intelligence to understand their perspectives and initiate a co-design process [76][77][78]. These narratives bring to the surface possible opinions and intentions of daily objects about their use and misuse-a critical eye on the design that opens new possibilities for designers. ...
Full-text available
In sustainable design and innovation, appreciation of the Planet as an equal stakeholder with humans and businesses continues to rise. Yet a consistent challenge arises in that people have difficulties relating to the nonhuman and interpret the world in terms of human values and experiences. We need more practical tools to stimulate a connection, especially in its affective dimension, to the Planet and to include nonhuman stakeholders in sustainability developments. To anchor Planetary understanding and considerations, we investigate the role of participatory storytelling to stimulate a reappraisal of the needs of nonhuman stakeholders through empathy building. To posit this, we defined empathy for the Planet as a holistic relationship with human and nonhuman stakeholders. We facilitated workshops where design students, design professionals, and business stakeholders could co-create environmental stories using human and nonhuman character personas. We analyzed the personas, stories, and participants’ feedback on the process experience and impact and observed that story creators experienced empathy for the Planet through projecting and blending their own emotions and intents onto the characters. We discuss, therefore, how ecological story co-creation can be a tool for self-reflection, collective sense-making, and the inclusion of the voice of Planetary stakeholders relevant for sustainable design and to drive sustainability engagement in general. This research confirms the role of stories and imagination in creating a bridge to the natural world through new, human and nonhuman, perspectives.
... The social aspects of artistic research are explored to better understand the relationship between collaborative practices and research. In the scope of this chapter, the 'social' includes a wider group of agents and contributors who are employing 'more-than-human' (Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018) and 'anthrodecentric' (Gaietto, 2019) approaches to the social worlds of artistic practice and research, thus pushing the normatives within the reifed structures of institutional/ academic research. ...
... Interventions, such as nesting boxes installed in trees [75], are already attempting to compensate for the loss of natural habitat and are a constructive approach towards cohabitation with urban possums [79]. However, these interventions are not as readily adopted by local communities due to the perception of possums being a pest [50]. ...
Full-text available
For the past decades humans have been placed at the centre of designing information and communication technologies (ICT), leading to the rise in prominence of human-centred design. The field of smart cities has equally adopted notions of citizen participation as a way to ensure that technological solutions improve people’s livelihoods. However, these kinds of processes treat the urban environment as separate from nature, promoting human comfort and convenience over planetary health and wellbeing. Motivated by these growing concerns that highlight the urgency to reconsider how we define and practice participation in smart cities and in human-centred ICT solutions more broadly, this article assesses how the personas method can be adapted to include more-than-human perspectives in the design process. Based on a case study, which involved designing smart urban furniture for human and non-human use, we introduce a framework for developing and employing non-human personas. As a key element of the framework, we describe a middle-out approach for forming a coalition that can speak on behalf of the non-human species that are impacted by design decisions. We demonstrate how the framework can be used through its retrospective application on two research-led smart city projects. The article concludes with a discussion of key principles for creating and using non-human personas in design projects.
... • Enable opportunities to reimagine, reflect, and involve plural narratives, inclusive of all forms of nature 80 with attention to different forms of involvement (implementation, innovation, resistance and activism). Gap 1.1: Decision-making for decarbonisation requires ethical, narrative and aesthetic inputs to complement cost benefit analysis Mechanisms • Involve stakeholders in defining the problem, not just selecting from submitted proposals, and ensure that space remains for curiosity-driven researcher-led or arts-led work that may offer novel and unexpected insights; ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
The report brings together perspectives from natural and social science, humanities, and the arts to understand and evaluate how modern landscapes can absorb the impact of potential zero-carbon policies. It advocates for a holistic approach identifying a number of gaps in current landscape decision-making approaches and recommends a) adopting transdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches considering, alongside scientific, aesthetic, ethical and social factors; b) promoting robust (learning from the past) ecosystem management practices that enhance biodiversity and build the resilience of ecosystems, and finally c) increasing local and devolved decision-making capabilities harnessing creativity and prioritising inclusion and social justice.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
L’ambito dello studio presentato è relativo a nuove pratiche e metodi del fare design per contribuire in maniera più impattante nella mission dell’inclusione. Ovvero un design inclusivo non più solo verso la variabilità degli utenti, bensì verso tutti gli animali (oltre all’essere umano), le piante e gli elementi naturali che risentono del progetto. Si tratta di un approccio More-Than-Human Centered, volto a rispondere alle esigenze del periodo storico attuale. Il contributo analizza tre casi studio di progettazione More-Than-Human, individuando strumenti e pratiche adottate, evidenziando difficoltà e soluzioni per riuscire ad includere i non-human agency all’interno del processo progettuale. Si evidenzia come i tre fattori principali che possono aiutare i progettisti in tale compito siano: utilizzo di strumenti tecnologici, testimonianze dell’esperienza diretta di persone che vivono in un preciso contesto, partecipazione al progetto di non-human player anche in qualità di strumento (sebbene quest’ultimo punto ponga diverse questioni etiche). Se tali fattori possono contribuire alla raccolta di informazioni su abitudini, esigenze e problematiche inerenti i vari agency che caratterizzano un ecosistema, si rende poi necessario un importante lavoro di traduzione in un linguaggio universalmente comprensibile, attraverso la rappresentazione dei dati sotto varie forme.
Full-text available
The emergence of Ideonella sakaiensis, a microorganism with the capacity to metabolize the widely used plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET), raises important questions about how human and nonhuman agency are related in responding to pressing environmental issues. The article explores how the agency and expertise of I. sakaiensis is a constitutive but often overlooked collaborator in scientific research into plastic biodegradation, and it attempts to develop a methodology for enrolling microorganisms as active research participants from the outset. Knowledge coproduced with microbial others, and specifically those microbes with the capacity to detoxify anthropogenic pollutants, may inform and enact inclusive and prescient responses to ongoing environmental degradation. Accordingly, drawing from theoretical orientations in more-than-human participatory research and animals’ geographies, the article asks how microorganisms might express their own directives, preferences, and constraints on the research process, and how, in turn, we might listen and be directed by them. Although the ontological and ethical commitments of the environmental humanities are well suited for welcoming microbes as partners in deliberative processes, the challenges of communicating with them across vast scalar and bodily differences suggests a need to engage with techniques traditionally considered the disciplinary property of the natural sciences. Some of these concepts are contextualized with respect to a research project currently being undertaken at the River Lea in East London and the attempt to enroll I. sakaiensis as a collaborator in responding to plastic pollution in the river.
Full-text available
For almost my entire life, I have been perplexed at my/our inaction towards climate change. Inundated with scientific data, reportage, an overwhelming scientific consensus of not only the phenomenon, but also our part in it, I wonder about why we are not only reluctant to act, but incapable of it. There is an extensive literature exploring such questions, from behavioural sciences, to feminist theory, to economics and global systems science.1 However, while this literature helps to explain various facets of the problem, there are still few examples of work synthesising multiple approaches or using these to inform production of an intervention or action.2 I am particularly interested in the role of emotion in our relationship to climate change. A recent study by Smith and Leiserowitz found that acceptance of public policy for climate change depended on whether respondents felt ‘worry’ or ‘disgust’ when confronted with the problem.3 The response to these emotions is explored by Sally Weintrobe who discusses the various psychological responses that explain why we repress or disavow climate change data and the scientific consensus: ‘While we can be incapacitated by anxiety when thinking about climate change, we are, in a realistic sense, not nearly anxious enough… Anxiety is, I suggest, the biggest psychic barrier to facing the reality of anthropocentric global warming’.4 Weintrobe suggests that we should find ways to support each other in overcoming this anxiety. For me, the question has more facets. It relates to our world-view, our perception of how we know and what we know, and the consequence for our own feelings of agency. In my artistic practice, I synthesise learning and knowledge-making practices from multiple disciplines, including chemistry, critical philosophy and aesthetics, to interrogate various aspects of creating new knowledge, and giving authority and agency to it. This paper focusses on an attempt to move beyond anxiety and disgust as primary emotional responses to climate change by working with empathic responses.5 I elaborate here upon a framework of knowing – and acceptance of unknowing – and outline my attempt to address emotional response to climate change by engendering empathy with a fragile, alien species affected by anthropogenic effects on the environment in the form of an artwork: the Coral Empathy Device (2016). This work explores the possibility of creating a legitimate form of conveying embodied knowledge between the human species and non-humans. It allows the creation of an analogue of social interactions and empathy with other species as a first step towards engendering empathy with regions and ecosystems.
The iconoclastic Brazilian anthropologist and theoretician Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, well known in his discipline for helping initiate its "ontological turn," offers a vision of anthropology as "the practice of the permanent decolonization of thought." After showing that Amazonian and other Amerindian groups inhabit a radically different conceptual universe than ours-in which nature and culture, human and nonhuman, subject and object are conceived in terms that reverse our own-he presents the case for anthropology as the study of such "other" metaphysical schemes, and as the corresponding critique of the concepts imposed on them by the human sciences. Along the way, he spells out the consequences of this anthropology for thinking in general via a major reassessment of the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, arguments for the continued relevance of Deleuze and Guattari, dialogues with the work of Philippe Descola, Bruno Latour, and Marilyn Strathern, and inventive treatments of problems of ontology, translation, and transformation. Bold, unexpected, and profound, Cannibal Metaphysics is one of the chief works marking anthropology's current return to the theoretical center stage.
To care can feel good, or it can feel bad. It can do good, it can oppress. But what is care? A moral obligation? A burden? A joy? Is it only human? In Matters of Care, María Puig de la Bellacasa presents a powerful challenge to conventional notions of care, exploring its significance as an ethical and political obligation for thinking in the more than human worlds of technoscience and naturecultures. Matters of Care contests the view that care is something only humans do, and argues for extending to non-humans the consideration of agencies and communities that make the living web of care by considering how care circulates in the natural world. The first of the book's two parts, "Knowledge Politics," defines the motivations for expanding the ethico-political meanings of care, focusing on discussions in science and technology that engage with sociotechnical assemblages and objects as lively, politically charged "things." The second part, "Speculative Ethics in Antiecological Times," considers everyday ecologies of sustaining and perpetuating life for their potential to transform our entrenched relations to natural worlds as "resources." From the ethics and politics of care to experiential research on care to feminist science and technology studies, Matters of Care is a singular contribution to an emerging interdisciplinary debate that expands agency beyond the human to ask how our understandings of care must shift if we broaden the world.