Animal subjectivities and lifeworlds: working with and learning from animals through the practice of multispecies participant observation

Authors: Carley MacKay*, York University
Topics: Animal Geographies
Keywords: entangled empathy, intimacy, multispecies participant observation, animal geographies, cow subjectivities and lifeworlds
Session Type: Virtual Lightning Paper
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I examine multispecies participant observation as a methodology in animal geographies for investigating the subjectivities and lifeworlds of animals and discuss how Gruen’s (2015; 2016) notion of entangled empathy and Gillespie’s (2017) idea of intimacy help to facilitate, complicate and strengthen this methodological practice. I illustrate what this looks like by drawing on a case study of exploring the lives of cows at a small grass-fed beef farm. In discussing key methodological considerations, I advance multispecies participant observation as an essential methodology in animal geographies, furthering its agenda of understanding animals’ subjectivities and lifeworlds to enhance human-animal relations. I conclude by reflecting on the ethical dilemmas of encountering animals in research and discuss ways for moving forward. In doing this, I argue that a responsible practicing of multispecies participant observation can foster meaningful human-animal connections that can, in turn, politically and ethically transform the way we live together.

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