SPECIAL ISSUE: EXPLORING CONVIVIAL CONSERVATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
Year : 2022 | Volume
: 20 | Issue : 2 | Page : 136--145
Transforming Convivial Conservation: Towards More-Than-Human Participation in Research
Severine van Bommel1, Susan Boonman-Berson2,
1 School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia
2 Bear at Work, Nijmegen; Management Sciences, Open University, Heerlen, The Netherlands
Severine van Bommel
School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, University of Queensland, Queensland
Convivial conservation requires a deep structural shift in research methods and methodology. Although convivial conservation calls for moving beyond the dichotomy of the human and the non-human, this dichotomy is often reproduced in the research methods and methodologies that are used. Most (conservation) researchers have been trained to investigate what non-humans might 'mean' to humans, thereby inevitably silencing the voices of non-humans. This research article identifies a number of threshold concepts and methodologies by turning to multi-species work in nature conservation and challenges the historical anthropocentric framings in this field. It critically challenges the convivial conservation concept by questioning who or what is counted as a research participant from this perspective. Additionally, the article outlines different multi-species research methods and methodology and puts forward the need for threshold and promiscuous methods developed with collaboration between social and natural scientists and non-humans to bring about transformative change in conservation as envisaged by the proponents of convivial conservation. It concludes by offering ways to promote greater conviviality in nature conservation research through a more expansive sense of research participants, recognition of their inter-subjectivities, and multi-sensory communication of their situated knowledges.
|How to cite this article:|
van Bommel S, Boonman-Berson S. Transforming Convivial Conservation: Towards More-Than-Human Participation in Research.Conservat Soc 2022;20:136-145
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van Bommel S, Boonman-Berson S. Transforming Convivial Conservation: Towards More-Than-Human Participation in Research. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Oct 5 ];20:136-145
Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/2/136/348154
“How do you know that the sheep are happy?” one of my colleagues asked. “Maybe you are just creating zombie sheep.” I, the first author, was discussing with some colleagues about a research programme on Livestock Guardian Dogs in Australia and their role in mediating the coexistence of livestock producers and wild dogs (including dingoes). We were discussing whether Livestock Guardian Dogs are more effective in preventing predation by dingoes and wild dogs than the lethal control methods (baiting, killing, or trapping) predominantly used in Australia. I mentioned that producers were claiming that their stock had become calmer, and easier to handle, and that the general well-being of their stock had improved after the introduction of the Livestock Guardian Dogs due to a dramatic reduction in predation. I recounted how the researchers were interested in investigating the 'landscapes of fear' (Laundre et al. 2010) that the Livestock Guardian Dogs were creating for wild dogs and, in doing so, creating 'landscapes of happiness' for the sheep.
“Convivial conservation” as defined by Büscher and Fletcher (2019: 283), offers a “post-capitalist approach to conservation and promotes radical equity, structural transformation, and environmental justice….to create a more equal and sustainable world.” Although Lorimer (2010) does not invoke such a concept, he describes the idea of convivial biogeographies in the context of elephant conservation by highlighting the recognition of non-human subjectivities1. The etymology of conviviality indicates that 'con' translates as 'together' and 'viviality' translates as 'to live'. Drawing on these etymologies of conviviality, we argue that conviviality, or living together, implies much more than the 'coexistence' of different 'stakeholders' in spatial proximity. The concept of convivial conservation, if it is to be truly transformative, needs to fundamentally engage with the question of intersubjectivity of humans and all non-domesticated non-human beings that have been targeted by mainstream conservation as 'nature' or 'wildlife'. In addition, to contribute to convivial conservation's claim to be more consistent with empirical reality (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 293), requires a deeper understanding of the various forms of mutual understanding between humans and non-humans. From our perspective, applying the principles of conviviality to conservation should include more-than-human participation in research.
Although the opening example of guardian dogs pushes the boundaries of animal sciences, it does not engage with intersubjectivity. Researchers were still representing what they interpreted as landscapes of happiness for the sheep or landscapes of fear for the wild dogs. The sheep and wild dogs did not directly communicate these sentiments to researchers. It is difficult to envisage methods that enable inter-subjective communication so that non-human beings 'speak' for themselves. We are familiar with methods that allow for voices and knowledges of marginalised actors to be included in the research process thereby addressing structural inequalities in knowledge production and use—which is an important ingredient of convivial world-making (Donati 2019; Staddon 2021). However, while we focus on giving voice to the marginalised human groups, it remains unclear how to respond to the increasing calls in literature to include more-than-human participants as co-investigators in research (see Lorimer 2011). Despite the growing recognition and theoretical arguments for including the inter-subjectivities of more-than-human participants in conservation research, it remains a methodological challenge in practice.
In this research article, we focus on how researchers are engaging with non-human others through multi-species work in nature conservation. We identify some ways in which they are dealing with the methodological challenges of including the inter-subjectivities of non-human others. We provide a brief review of the literature on more-than-human participation in research and examine some threshold concepts and methodologies used by researchers. We also present some boxed examples of personal research experiences of inter-subjective engagement with non-human others. We conclude with a reflection on how engaging the inter-subjectivities of more-than-humans in conservation research might contribute to a truly transformational conviviality in conservation practice.
Intersubjectivity in Conservation Research and Practice
Convivial conservation, as proposed by Büscher and Fletcher (2019), stresses the importance of celebrating the many inherent links between humans and non-humans, the need to build long-lasting, engaging, and open-ended relationships between them, as well as a change in thinking toward 'living with' non-humans. It is argued that current conservation concepts and practices do not sufficiently recognise and engage with structural inequalities that are caused by our capitalist economic system. Drawing on insights from political ecology, Büscher and Fletcher (2019) argue that a transformation of the system is needed to achieve structural change and conviviality. However, if we unpack the meaning of conviviality a bit more, then we see that in convivial conservation “the corresponding conservation values are predominantly instrumental, along with the human values of equity and environmental justice” (Berkes 2021: 14). In other words, convivial conservation talks about conviviality primarily in terms of human values and interests rather than human and non-human inter-subjectivities and thereby misses addressing non-humans more prominently as 'stakeholders' or participants in the co-production of conviviality. In addition to that, although convivial conservation recognises and engages with the interactions between human stakeholders and the 'more-than-human' environment, non-human counterparts are often not seen as being able to 'speak for themselves' (Van Dooren and Rose 2016; West et al. 2020). If included at all, the voice of non-human beings is represented by natural scientists who tend to 'speak for' them (e.g., plants and animals) and abiotic/physical elements (e.g., rivers or mountains). From the point of view of inter-subjectivity as the basis for conviviality, this 'speaking for' need to be practised with care, otherwise it becomes problematic. Particularly if conviviality implies a sense of mutual engagement and interaction that is based on dignity and respect then foregrounding human inter-subjectivities without including more-than-human subjectivities (Haraway, 2008), simply reproduces human exceptionalism and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recognise that human life and relations are intrinsically interdependent with more-than-human lives (Laidlaw and Beer 2018). If the concept of convivial conservation seeks to transform conventional mentalities and approaches in conservation, then it needs to fully engage with a wide range of non-human inter-subjectivities in both research and practice. It needs to develop and include a richer recognition of agency, embeddedness, and an expansive sense of situated knowledges of more-than-human beings.
Calls for more-than-human participation are not a wildly outrageous new fad. Many scholars have argued for more-than-human participation and deliberation in relation to environmental concerns over the past decades. Dryzek (1995, 2008), for example, has suggested broadening the Habermasian idea of communicative action to include 'deliberating with non-human' and has argued for 'openness to non-human signals' in social-environmental interactions (cited in Driessen 2014). Scholars like Lorimer (2011) argue for a more 'symmetrical' approach in fieldwork, reading, and writing which addresses the uneven power relations between humans and more-than-humans in conservation research. Locke and Buckingham (2016) address the need for new, more interwoven, ways of multidisciplinary collaborations to be able to grasp the complex human and non-human dynamics. Van Dooren and Rose (2016) point to the idea of storytelling, which includes attentive listening and responding to non-humans, as a way to engage with these human and non-human dynamics. Researchers such as Bastian et al. (2016) argue that the Anthropocene calls for reconsidering the anthropocentrism in current research methodologies. Others note that one of the most important drivers of the socio-environmental crisis we are facing today is the ongoing, western mode of separating human and non-humans (Barrett et al. 2017; Abram 2010). Rose (2015: 130) observes that if we want to rethink the way in which humans and non-humans live together then it is the responsibility of humans to acknowledge the 'needs, desires and interests' of our more-than-human counterparts in research. Hence the call to develop research methodologies as transformational tools that help (re)connect with more-than-humans (Kirksey and Helmreich 2010; Madden 2014; Buller 2015; Bastian et al. 2016).
More-than-Human Participation in Research
Non-human approaches to research represent a new 'turn' that starts from the assumption that “we cannot adequately understand humanity in isolation from non-human species implicated in human life” (Locke and Munster: 2015: 1). The underlying philosophical idea is that we can only understand what it means to be 'human' if we contrast it with something that is 'non-human'. Therefore, the category of 'people' is co-produced with the category of 'non-people'. This means that humans and non-humans are interdependent upon each other, and they have a rich history of co-evolving and co-becoming.
In traditional multi- or inter-disciplinary research teams, there is a division of tasks, in which natural scientists investigate and report on the more-than-human aspects of non-human life and world while social scientists primarily focus their attention on interpretations, values and meanings of non-human life for humans and their social contexts. More-than-human participation in research challenges this 'nature–culture' divide that maintains rigid disciplinary boundaries in science. It also challenges the ways that Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars have been studying natural scientists and the way that natural sciences enact more-than-human life encompassing animals, plants, and the environment. These type of STS approaches often miss how non-humans participate in the construction of reality themselves instead of simply being brought into being through enactment and performative practices of people (Swanson 2017).
Over the past few decades, several interdisciplinary researchers have sought to include humans and non-humans more symmetrically in nature conservation. Zooanthropologists and ethologists that study animal sentience and well-being have challenged the predominant assumption that sense-making and meaning are solely human domains of experience and that animals only respond based on primitive instincts (Aerts et al. 2016; Marchesini 2016). Karen Strier (1993), for example, asked why anthropologists did not consider themselves primatologists given that animals—like humans—have meaning-making capabilities and inhabit rich social lifeworlds (Despret and Buchanan 2016; De Waal 2016).
These theoretical debates and empirical studies contributed to the emergence of multi-species ethnography as a field that problematises the assumption of sole human intentionality and agency and tries to rethink human-animal relations in terms of mutuality. It seeks to understand how humans and non-humans together engage in sense-making to co-create the world in interaction (Lulka 2009). Candea's (2010, 2013) work with meerkats showed how humans and non-humans become attuned to each other through interactions during research. This process of attunement enabled Candea to understand and describe their behaviour even though the meerkats did not 'speak' in their own voices. O'Mahony et al.'s (2018) work with wolves also looks at the process of attunement, although their fieldwork did not involve direct encounters with wolves. Attunement was mediated by technology and other artefacts which enabled interaction and co-construction of lived experience and produced 'translocated empathy'.
Other researchers have gone a step further and investigated how the landscape, human and non-human relationships are co-constituted in interaction. Barua (2014), for example, argues for a 'dwelt political ecology' approach which recognises that landscapes are produced by people and animals dwelling and interacting with each other. Boonman-Berson et al.'s (2016) research with bears shows that cohabitation in wildlife management requires assigning a central role to human-wild animal-landscape interactions. Their work demonstrates the shift in power relationships between humans and non-human beings in nature conservation when their interactions are examined alongside more-than-human biophysical elements. Bastian et al. (2016) observe that more-than-human participatory research reveals how humans and the diversity of more-than-humans are “intertwined in shared worlds” and “both involved in the production of these worlds”. Although it is not possible to attribute shared goals and meanings in such conservation settings, the everyday practices and interactions do lead to co-constructed landscape outcomes (Mancini and Lehtonen 2018).
Threshold Concepts: Affect, Embodiment, and Multisensory Communication
Although many researchers acknowledge that non-humans are active in shaping conservation research processes (Lorimer 2008), the practicalities of 'how' to do research with non-humans are often not addressed. “It is relatively easy to say that we need to take non-humans more seriously, but it is quite difficult to know what knowledge practices we might use to ask about non-human practices” (Swanson 2017: 85). Based on a review of publications that consciously attempt to engage with the non-humans in conservation research, we identify three 'threshold concepts' that include the voices of non-human participants: 1) affect, 2) embodiment, and 3) multi-sensory communication.
The idea of 'threshold concepts' was introduced by Meyer and Land (2006) as concepts that “identify particularly troublesome, transformative, irreversible and integrative ideas central to a discipline or field of study” (Barrett et al. 2016: 132). Threshold concepts can transform deep, and often unconscious assumptions about and historical framings of, a given discipline and provide “new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking” (Meyer and Land 2003: 1).
The three threshold concepts we have identified are critical for developing methodologies that approach humans and more-than-human interaction and co-production of convivial landscapes. We recognise that these threshold concepts are deeply interrelated in practice. However, for analytical purposes, we present them as separate concepts to illustrate how they can enable more symmetrical participation of humans and non-humans in conservation research (Bastian et al. 2016). We discuss each of these below.
Although Actor-Network Theory has drawn attention to the agency of non-humans, some scholars have argued that the concept of agency does not sufficiently capture inter-subjectivity between humans and non-humans. They have instead put forward the notion of 'affect' which can encompass the inter-subjectivity of more-than-human participation in research (Bennett 2010; Latimer and Miele 2013). Affect is understood as a shared or relational 'force' “in terms of 'attachment' [or engagement] on the one hand and being 'moved' on the other” (Latimer and Miele 2013: 8). In general, affect refers to the way that a relationship influences or 'affects' both humans and more-than-human beings in terms of what they can do, and how they can act, move or think. This can involve experiences such as feeling, touching, or smelling but it can also involve experiences such as growing, flowering, and dying (Gregg and Seigworth 2010). Affects emerge from the interaction between entities and influence the capacities attributed to the participating entities. The concept of affect allows researchers to analyse how encounters between humans and non-humans (animals, plants, and the environment) often leave both of them changed in one way or another. Affects, in other words, encourage effects (Lorimer 2008; Despret 2016).
Nygren and Jokinen (2013: 87), for example, found the notion of affect helpful to capture the surveying of the elusive and strictly protected Siberian Flying Squirrel Pteromys volans in Finland. In their case of surveying the surveyors of nocturnal flying squirrels, they show that “the emergence of affect in encounters between field surveyors and flying squirrels is at the core of survey practices.” They observe that each surveyor develops their own way of co-operating with the flying squirrels to obtain the required field data for nature conservation. The various ways of surveyor-flying squirrel co-operation arise from the affect of these encounters. Affective knowing is core for generating the required data to protect the animal. Nygren and Jokinen (2013) discuss the tension between the need for accurate and unambiguous information in nature conservation and the high uncertainties involved in surveying the flying squirrels. They note that the focus on affect provides the means to deal with this tension.
Candea (2010, 2013) uses the notion of affect in navigating 'the complex landscape of mutual modification' in their scientific field study of meerkats. To study meerkats, both meerkats and observers needed to modify their behaviour. These mutual modifications aimed to interact with these meerkats for collecting the necessary data. The observers tried to get the meerkats to become interested in the carefully positioned eggs on scales so that they could be weighed without being touched. Candea (2010: 251) notes that affect played a key role in the field study and was “premised on a careful balancing act between engagement and detachment.” Both observers and meerkats learned from each other's behaviour and the 'language' that was produced from their encounters (Candea 2013). For instance, when a meerkat had been unintentionally alarmed by an observer, the latter used a call—described as “a message conveying peaceful intentions” (Candea 2010: 246)—which had a calming effect on the animal. Even though detailed knowledge about the engagement and learning of the meerkats remains elusive, Candea's work highlights the critical role of affective field practices for both conservation researchers and the non-human beings they study.
The foregoing examples illustrate the different ways in which the concept of affect allows more inter-subjective engagement between humans and non-humans in conservation research. In the case of Nygren and Jokinen (2013), affect helps to understand the ongoing processes and experiences between human and animal, and how inclusive knowledge about nature conservation is produced and shaped by interpretations of traces/signs (see also Mason and Hope 2014). The example of Candea (2010, 2013) illustrates affect in terms of the capacity of bodies to act, move and think. This also resonates with our own experience in nature conservation (see [Box 1]).[INLINE:1]
Affect is an essential ingredient of embodied inter-subjectivities. Inviting the non-humans to be an active participant in research means that we need to consider how to understand the everyday lived experiences of humans and non-humans to consider how relations of responsibility between humans and non-humans might be practically accomplished (Brown and Dilley 2012: 38). Haraway (2008) explains that responsibility in multi-species encounters includes the ability to respond, which she calls 'response-ability'. Responding is an emotional and bodily experience that may or may not include logical, intellectual reasoning. Some scholars have found the notion of 'embodiment' helpful (e.g., Lorimer 2008; Locke 2012) to capture the idea of responding through lived experience. Embodiment is about “perceptual experience and the mode of presence and engagement in the world” (Csordas 2002: 241). It is the way in which 'the body' enables an inter-subjective lived experience of the world. Embodied experience is something that humans and non-humans deeply share and the concept of embodiment offers a way to describe lived experience in a more symmetrical way than language can.
As with affect, the mutuality of embodiment between humans and non-humans is critical in establishing the inter-subjective relationship. For example, in describing their research on wild wolves in Romania, O'Mahony et al. (2018: 124) note that in nature conservation research, the bodies of researchers and wildlife often do not interact in real time. Instead, “rather than researchers becoming with wolves, [...] relationships are more ones where researchers grasp for “partial affinities,” shards of molecular closeness, that might emerge through emplacement and a sensorium of congealing experiences.” They illustrate how embodiment in their research is about interacting with partial wolf elements (footprints, wolf droppings, howls) while the wolves themselves “remain at a distance” (ibid). While tracking wolves, the bodies of the researchers become the tool which allows them to attune to the wolves by means of sight, smell, sound, or feelings. Over time, researchers become more skilled at attuning themselves, amplifying their responsiveness to the signs of the wolves in a particular environment. These skills are acquired solely through embodied experiences and prolonged engagement. Likewise, the wolves become equally attuned to signs of humans in the landscape, similarly acquired by means of embodied experiences. O'Mahony et al. (2018) point out that the behaviour of any other wildlife, including wolves, can be influenced by “unseen human vapours and artificial scents residual <…> and lingering around trees” (ibid: 121). So multi-species sense-making is an embodied interactional process that goes both ways.
The role of embodied skills is also highlighted by Mason and Hope (2014) in their research on tracking the presence of bats around the Greywell Tunnel in Hampshire, UK. They observe that bodily skills and bodily learning are important to become sensitive to non-human performances. They explain that “once tracking begins, it is necessary to become absorbed and aligned with the movements of one individual, remaining focused on this bat until it re-enters the tunnel or an alternative roost” (ibid: 112). Although surveyors might observe a glimpse of the bat themselves, most of the tracking occurs by radio. They describe a specific—triangulation—technique, which allows surveyors to map the bat's choreography: “Two or more surveyors assume fixed positions and take simultaneous bearings in the direction of the strongest signal at regular intervals. These timed bearings are then plotted on a map and the bat's location is deduced from the intersection of the lines” (ibid: 113). This technique requires the surveyor to be “continually attentive to the bat's movements” (ibid: 113) while simultaneously remaining aware of their own body in relation to the bat in order to plot the bat's location. As pointed out by O'Mahony et al. (2018), the bat surveyors grasp for “partial affinities” through bat movements. They developed and refined their embodied skills by honing their senses and using radio technology to become sensitive to the presence and behaviour of different bats.
Both these examples illustrate how the concept of embodiment can capture what happens when bodies come together or remain at a distance but always influence each other in sense-making processes. Our own research experiences also show how embodiment can offer insight into how humans and non-humans respond to each other when they meet (see [Box 2]).[INLINE:2]
Embodiment is a key part of multi-sensory communication. We find the notion of 'multi-sensory reading and writing' helpful to capture the communication between humans and non-humans. Boonman-Berson et al. (2016) introduced this concept in their research on interactions between humans and black bears in Colorado. Drawing on Hinchliffe et al.'s (2005) work on water voles, they describe multi-sensory communication as the ways in which “signs (visual, olfactory, auditory, tactile), materialised in words, signals or things, are communicated between humans, between wild animals, and between humans and wild animals through the writing and reading of these signs in the landscape” (Boonman-Berson 2016:194). Although Hinchliffe et al. (2005) focused on how water voles 'write' footprints in the landscape which are then 'read' by humans, Boonman-Berson et al. (2016) approach this as a two-way interaction in which humans also leave signs in the landscape which can be read by animals. For example, black bears communicate their presence to people by tipping over trash cans and leaving scratch marks. In turn, people communicate to black bears that their presence is unwanted by using scent (ammonia) and tactile signals such an electrical mat that will 'zap' the bears as they try to enter a building. Black bears sense this olfactory and tactile communication and learn to modify their behaviour. Local surveyors in the practice of black bear management explicitly remarked that black bears differ from each other: each bear has his/her “own, individual 'method' (Boonman-Berson et al. 2016: 198).
Gaining insight into the multi-sensory communication repertoire between humans and black bears involves the use of all senses (which might differ between both) as well as the continuous process of ongoing interpretations between them. This requires, for example, the researcher to perceive the—individual—bear as a co-constitutive participant in communication as well as describe the 'lived experiences' of people and black bears living closely together and sharing the same landscape (see [Box 3]). Yeo and Neo (2010) describe how both humans and macaques in urban Singapore communicate and negotiate urban space. They note that both macaques and humans have developed a way of shared understanding through ongoing non-linguistics—multi-sensory—forms of communication. To live with the macaques, humans need to adjust their daily behaviour, as one resident describes: “when I come home around 6 pm (when macaques usually appear), I have to carry my groceries above my shoulders to prevent them from snatching it away” (Yeo and Neo 2010: 692). Also, macaques seemed to adjust their behaviour to their human co-residents; as another resident stated: “I once reprimanded a monkey for attempting to snatch my bag from me. It seems to understand my reaction, like raising my voice, pointing a finger at it, and it backed off” (ibid: 693).[INLINE:3]
Such examples show how humans and animals communicate, negotiate, and seem to deliberate with each other (Meijer 2013; Driessen 2014). They illustrate that animal cooperation and animal resistance can be seen as a response to “proposals for alternative modes of shared living” (Driessen 2014: 99). Recognising this type of common sensing involves seeing participation to occur at unexpected, mundane sites in our own research experience. Although it is difficult to confirm whether the animals were aware of their power to negotiate, it opens up the idea of participation, communication, and negotiation as something that happens between humans to something that happens between humans and non-humans as well.
Threshold Methodology: Promiscuous Methods and Methodology
Conventional conservation science research tends to follow the nature–culture divide and maintains implicit anthropocentric beliefs that keep this divide in place, thereby making collaborations between natural scientists and social scientists difficult in practice. More-than-human participation in research not only challenges existing categories and concepts, it also challenges the methods that are normally used in research. The classical social science tools—such as interviews and participant observation—that are used for studying the practices of people do not always work sufficiently for studying more-than-humans. As illustrated by our opening example of wild dogs and sheep, these methods still leave open the question of how much the researchers actually understand non-humans experiences/perceptions and to what extent they may be projecting their own views on them.
To create in-depth and trustworthy accounts and to create a more nuanced understanding of the relations between human and non-humans, researchers have argued for methods and methodology that transcend the boundaries and borders between natural sciences, social sciences, philosophy and art (Swanson 2017). We refer to these as so-called promiscuous methods. This is similar to what others have termed 'bio-geographies' (Lorimer 2010; Barua 2014), trans- or multi-species ethnologies (Hurn 2012), anthrozoography (Madden 2014), ethnoelephantology (Locke 2013) or combining ethnographic with ecological/ethological records (Hodgetts and Lorimer 2015).
Hodgetts and Lorimer (2015) suggest three methods to explore interactions between humans and non-humans: 1) tracking and data collection devices; 2) technologies for investigating animal communicative practices that fall outside the range of human visual and aural practices; and 3) methods of genomic analysis, including phytogeography. Swanson (2017), in her research on salmon landscapes and salmon lives, used tracking methods to understand what happened to the salmon when they migrated. In the salmon hatchery she was able to use traditional social science methods of observation to understand how salmon interacted with their environment. But when the juvenile salmon were released and migrated to the ocean, she was not able to follow them anymore. Therefore, she learned to read salmon scales from natural scientists. Salmon scales have lines like tree rings which can provide information about the age of the fish and how much time it spent in different habitats. Reflecting on this, she states:
“Nearly every anthropologist I know ends up doing archival research despite the fact that very few of us have extensive formal training in historical methods. We depend on our ability to learn the methods of another discipline, in this case history, and to integrate them with our own” (Swanson 2017: 89).
The reading of salmon scales allowed Swanson (2017) to reconstruct the lived experiences of the salmon.
Mason and Hope's (2014) research on bats illustrates how engaging with affect in multi-species research may require the use of technical devices that augment human senses. It is difficult for humans to imagine “being a bat,” since the 'sensory apparatuses' of humans and bats differ too much. Bats make use of echolocation to navigate and forage. They emit a call—between 11 and 212 kHz—in their environment and listen to the echoes of this call reflected by various objects in their surroundings. The upper limits of human hearing, however, is generally around 20 kHz. Technology that enables hearing high frequency bat calls provides surveyors the ability to identify and interpret calling patterns. It bridges the sensory experiences between human and bats and allows interspecies communication and affective relations.
Finally, the research by O'Mahony et al. (2018) on wolves in Romania illustrates the way in which genomic analysis can help to mediate affect between researchers and wolves. By analysing samples of fur and excrement, the researchers were able to determine sex and family relationships. Similar to the analysis of the fish scales by Swanson (2017), the analysis of genetic material allowed researchers to identify individual wolves and piece their stories together.
These examples illustrate the idea of promiscuous methods and methodology in which social scientists incorporate natural science methods in their social science research practices. Van Dooren et al. (2016: 11) note that “collaborative associations are starting to move beyond earlier approaches in science studies that put biologists themselves under the microscope, to create projects with scientists that might frame experiments addressing shared questions and concerns or re-craft existing empirical methods. Biologists and ecologists have become 'critical friends' for multi-species scholars.”
Towards Conviviality in Nature Conservation Research
As more-than-human participation in research challenges the divide between humans and non-humans, it is not surprising to see new interdisciplinary approaches to research emerging that are engaging natural sciences and social sciences in a constructive dialogue. This is especially relevant for pursuing the idea of convivial conservation, which seeks to 'live with nature' and promote a variety of conversations (Büscher and Fletcher 2019; Staddon 2021). While we started our investigation of how researchers engage with more-than-humans by relying on multi-species work, we think that the ongoing work associated with convivial conservation may also offer new ideas for collaborating with multi-species scholars.
We have argued that a convivial approach to research which acknowledges non-humans as inter-subjective participants in research is an important element of the praxis of conviviality. The commitments of convivial conservation—to a wider recognition of agency, embeddedness, and an expansive sense of situated knowledge—should include more-than-humans in research. But in order to engage the subjectivities of non-humans, researchers need to learn new ways of 'hearing' and including the needs of more-than-humans. The promiscuous threshold methodology we have articulated through three interrelated concepts of 'affect', 'embodiment', and 'multi-sensory communication', transcends the binary between social sciences and natural sciences. Affect runs through embodied inter-subjectivities, and embodiment is a key part of multi-sensory communication.
More-than-human participation in research is not only a call for a multi-species co-production of knowledge process. As participation has the power to create communities, more-than-human participation in research can also create “situated connectivities that bind us into multi-species communities” (Rose 2009: 87). Learning to listen to more-than-humans will make for more interesting forms of conviviality in the Anthropocene. As Driessen (2014) thoughtfully remarks, more-than-human participation in research can even be driven by anthropocentric motives: learning to coexist with more-than-humans—in nature, in farming practices and perhaps in our homes—is the key to surviving as humans on this planet.
Research has an important role to play here because of its performative nature. The stories that researchers write do not offer simple descriptions but 'perform' certain realities (Pickering 1995; Mol 1999; Law 2008). Choices are made with regard to the questions we ask, the methods we use, and the stories we tell, including the ones that non-humans tell us. These choices are ultimately political because different knowledge practices bring different worlds into being (van Dooren et al. 2016). As Fawcett (2000: 136–137) notes, “the choices we make and the actions we take on any environmental problem depend on the quality and reflexivity of our knowledge making.”
Convivial world-making requires full collaboration between (research) partners. If convivial conservation is to be made a living practice that acknowledges and highlights non-human subjectivities, then it will also need to deal with potential tensions centred on the concerns of marginalised people in communities who may have formed a diverse range of relationships with non-humans. In such situations, a convivial conservation approach will need to carefully engage with who or what is given precedence in the relationships and how they are allowed to 'flourish' (Haraway 2008).
There are, of course, important questions that will be raised regarding this collaborative approach to conservation research. After all, it is humans who are designing the research, choosing to interact with the non-humans using various sorts of technology they have created, and reporting on the results to other people in their own authorial voices. This is a form of communication that excludes participation of non-humans in a meaningful way as non-humans do not speak or write words. There is also the question of 'epistemological circularity' (Hamilton and Taylor 2017): those that argue for challenging anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism in research still end up reproducing human authority and interspecies inequality in their research practices and accounts. This leads to the question if the aspired symmetry in research is ever possible. Although we do not have answers to these methodological questions, the acknowledgement of the need for more-than-human participation in research has opened up the debate over the conventional epistemology, methods, and ethics and made them changeable. We believe the best way of answering these questions is by developing promiscuous methods for engaging the subjectivities of more-than-humans in conservation research and generating new understandings of living and flourishing in proximity. This is the way that more-than-human participation in research can contribute to truly transformational conviviality in conservation practice.
Author contribution statement
Both authors contributed equally to the design of the study, analysing of the data, drafting of the manuscript. Both authors contributed critical, intellectual content to the drafts and gave final approval of the version to be published.
We thank the anonymous reviewers for the incredibly helpful feedback as well as the Conservation and Society editors for steering an unusually constructive and efficient review process.
Declaration of competing/conflicting interests
Research Ethics Approval
Following Haraway (2008), Hurn (2012), and Van Dooren and Rose (2016) we employ the terms non-humans and more-than-humans interchangeably to refer to other (than human) subjectivities, such as plants, animals, rivers and mountains. With these terms we do not intend to emphasise the human and non-human binary we criticise. The terms are used both to align with commonly used terms in this field and to build our argument towards more-than-human participation in convivial conservation.
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