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Intimate Ethnographies in Multispecies Lifeworlds

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Animal Geography Specialty Group, Feminist Geographies Specialty Group
Organizers: Yamini Narayanan, Kathryn Gillespie
Chairs: Kathryn Gillespie


Intimate Ethnographies in Multispecies Lifeworlds

AAG Annual Meeting 2020, 6-10 April, Denver, Colorado

Organized by Katie Gillespie and Yamini Narayanan

Relationships of intimacy are ubiquitous in our lives and work. Feminist geographers articulate the importance of an intentional focus on intimacy—what it means in our lives and work, how it manifests or is mobilized in our methodologies, and why intimacy should be taken seriously in feminist, and in other fields of, geography (Moss and Donovan, 2017). Autoethnography, for instance, offers one way to bring intimacy into ethnographic practice, centering personal, singular experiences. Autoethnography can be understood as a methodology that combines ethnography with autobiography, contextualizing personal experiences in a broader political and cultural context (Ellis, Adams, and Bochner, 2011). That the ‘personal is political’ has been key to the theorizing and critique of deeply embedded oppressions in feminist (Hanisch 1970) and critical race scholarship. A frequent subject of critique in conversations about methodological approaches, autoethnography, in fact, has the potential to significantly enrich our research practices and the insights gained from this work (Butz and Besio, 2004).

At the same time, animal geographers have called for an attention to the individual animal in recent years as a way of pushing back against the abstracting nature of a focus on larger populations (Bear, 2011; Srinivasan, 2014). The need for more political multispecies work that is closely attentive to the highly uneven power structures and embodied differences between human researcher and animals, between species, and researcher positionality is increasingly clear (Gillespie, 2019). This turn in animal geographies can lead to a focus on how animals as individuals are embedded in, and affected by, multispecies structures of power, and the ethical and political questions that arise as a result.

In this session, we are interested in particular in how these individuals are entangled with others (ourselves?) to develop a deeper understanding of the lived effects of these structures of power and alternative ways of being in a multispecies world. What can unexpectedly ‘intimate’ or deeply personal, empathetic and even familial relationships with individuals of animal species, including those who might be categorized by humans as ‘vermin’, ‘food’, or even ‘pariah’ or ‘unlucky’, tell us about the broader global and political economies in which they are enmeshed? How do these ‘subversive’ relationships between human and animal come about? How may the blurring of categories between human researcher and animal subject re-theorize and re-politicize knowledge, or systems of social and political oppression of these (and other) species?

Centering lives lived in close relation, in multispecies lifeworlds, allows for a politicization of these relationships and the contexts in which they unfold. The personal situated knowledge that emerge from such intimate and politicized multispecies ethnographies may even offer possibilities to politicize, problematize, and destabilize anthropocentrism that defines current (and historical) systems of thought, production and politics. We suggest that intimate ethnographies, then, offer opportunities for thinking across different forms of embodiment, emotional engagement, and lived experiences.

Our aim in this session is to bring these threads (a focus on the singular/individual, intimacy, and (auto)ethnographic practice) together to understand how both human and animal personal experiences—perhaps emerging from shared lives—can be instructive for intimate ethnographies in geography.

To this end, we pose the following questions for this session:

- How might we understand intimate ethnography as a methodology for critical animal geographies?

- What lives and experiences make up the content and practice of intimate ethnographies in broader contexts that politicize these lives and experiences?

- How does intimate ethnography work to illuminate multispecies relations of power, violence, and connection in particular?

- What might an intimate ethnography look like with those animals closest to us—for instance, how might we think about ethnographies of those with whom we share our lives, our homes?

- What can we learn from intimate ethnographies of interpersonal conflict, grief, and betrayal, as well as love, trust, and care in relations with other animals?

- What is geographic about intimate ethnography? How are personal encounters and relationnships with individual or communities of animals shaped or influenced by the places and spaces and broader geographic contexts where they unfold?

- How might intimate ethnographies help to envision more radically caring futures for humans, animals and the environment?

Works Cited
Bear, C. (2011). Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies. Area, 43(3), 297–304.

Butz, D., & Besio, K. (2004). The Value of Autoethnography for Field Research in Transcultural Settings. The Professional Geographer, 56(3), 350-360.

Ellis, C., Adams, T., & Bochner, A. (2011). Autoethnography: An Overview. Historical Social Research-Historische Sozialforschung, 36(4), 273-290.

Gillespie, K., A. (2019). For a politicized multispecies ethnography: Reflections on a feminist geographic pedagogical experiment. Politics and Animals, 5, 1-16.

Hanisch, C. (1970). The Personal is Political. In S. Firestone & A. Koedt (Eds.), Notes From the Second Year: Women's Liberation (pp. 76-77). New York: Radical Feminism.

Moss, P. and C. Donovan. (2017). Writing Intimacy into Feminist Geography. London: Routledge.

Srinivasan, K. (2014). Caring for the collective: Biopower and agential subjectification in wildlife conservation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(3), 501–517.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Yamini Narayanan*, Deakin University, A condolence card for a dead battery hen: chicken geographies of death and bereavement 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Kelsi Nagy*, University of Oxford, Toxic Intimacies: An Urban Indian Cow Ethnography 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Jacquelyn Johnston*, Florida International University, Night terrors and day dreaming: Living with and learning from nonhuman animal victims of human abuse. 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Laszlo Cseke*, Polytechnic University of Turin/University of Turin, Making water buffaloes produce in dairy farms 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Richard Gorman*, University of Exeter, “When it’s suddenly you that’s affected by something, it does change your view on quite a few things”: Unexpected Intimacies Between Patients and Animal Research 15 12:00 AM

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