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Trashed, dead, and discarded: Researching and writing intimate ethnographies with uncharismatic non-humans

Authors: John-Henry Pitas*, University of Maryland - Baltimore County
Topics: Animal Geographies, Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: animal geography; waste; death; qualitative methods; cultural geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Academic research about and with non-humans has traditionally struggled to capture the complexity of multispecies relationships. However recent advances in geography and other fields have embraced a suite of creative methodologies which address this, including intimate ethnography. This paper describes my evolving positionality as a researcher and writer practicing these methods while researching pigeons, dead animals, and discarded objects, along with the people who interact with them. I describe three research projects which involve intimate ethnographic research. The first investigates the intimate relationships that form between preferred pigeons and pigeon fanciers, and how integral the death and killing of non-preferred pigeons are to maintaining this relationship. The second focuses on two encounters with dead non-humans that occurred in Baltimore, both of which were the subject of auto-ethnographic reflection by myself and a colleague, as a means of grappling with these deaths and the loss of individual life they represented. The third looks at discarded items as intimately related non-human others in order to reflect on the designation of “waste” as a category, and wasting as a process. Here auto-ethnography is used to understand the affect of waste, wasted spaces, the spaces of waste disposal, and the responses of others to living with waste. Comparing my experiences across these three projects I conclude that intimate ethnographies can be an important tool for revealing how uncharismatic non-humans, and the people who work and live close with them are situated within broader geographies and hierarchies of power.

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