The edited collection arising from the 'In conversation with...' project is now available from Routledge. Ebook options are available, or ask your library to order the hardback.
"This book is a boundary-busting collection that asks an excitingly hard question—can members of a more-than-human world engage in truly participatory research? In it human experimenters sensitively recount their humble successes and insightful failures with trying to do just this. For anyone who wants to think seriously and adventurously about participation in more-than-human communities, this book is a must read."
- Katherine Gibson, Western Sydney University, Australia
"This book explores exciting new methodological horizons. After more than a decade of philosophising and theorising about human-nonhuman relations, researchers across the social sciences and humanities will find here tools to fully ‘enrol’ the non-human in their inquiries."
- Noel Castree, University of Wollongong, Australia
We are please to announce that an edited collection, arising from this project, will be published with Routledge in December of this year. Called Participatory Research in More-than-human Worlds it provides examples of more-than-human participatory research, and brings current research on non-humans into conversation with a range of influential texts in PR. Please consider ordering a copy through your library!
ACI2016: Third International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction
16th-17th November 2016, Milton Keynes, UK
In recent years an increasing body of work from within the interaction design community has been shaping the emerging field of Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI), with a focus on:
We welcome contributions originating from any discipline related to ACI, and describing work within diverse contexts. We specifically invite the submission of:
Contributions are encouraged in relation to any of the following topics:
Life's Journey on the Torridge is a film from the Boat Stories project, which is described as "a series of ten short documentary films about people whose lives revolve around fishing and working boats in northern Devon". This particular film focuses on Dave Gabe who was our skipper on the In conversation with water workshop. You can read more about the making of the film, or just watch it below.
Thanks to Antony Lyons for the heads up.
This series of sessions will explore how the co-production of knowledge within (and between) communities is being expanded beyond narrowly human notions of community to take into account the ‘voices’, needs and agencies of non-humans. We seek to explore how co-production has been done (historical examples), is being done, and can be done (imagined futures), with panoplies of non-humans which range through animals, plants, technologies and materials within space-time in both topological and topographical formations. We feel that expanding the processes of knowledge creation through co-production is a necessary step in efforts to address the toxic nature/culture divide and in developing materialist techno-ecologicalisation of politics and ethics (Haraway, Latour, Bennett, Barad etc.). We need deeper engagements with the ecological (taken in its broadest sense), materialised processes which conjure communities into being, sustain them, set them together, apart, in conflict, and bring them down; and in how they might be reformed into more just configurations. We seek contributions which: report upon work that has sought to co-produce knowledge with non-humans; speculate (plan) conceptually and methodologically on how co-productions with non-humans of differing stripe might be done; stage dialogues between specialists in co-production and those specialising in the more-than-human (broadly conceived).
We have a really exciting group of international and local scholars looking at the construction of boundaries and interfaces between human and non-human 'knowers'; creative co-production of place with non-humans; issues to do with communication and representation; embodied entanglements between human and non-human and challenging the positionality of the one who 'knows'.
Come along on Wednesday. We'll be in Electrical Engineering Building, Room 403a, Sessions 1 through 4.
You can find out more about each session below:
Session One: More-than-Human Bodily Entanglements: Boundaries, Interfaces, Knowers with presentations from @eva_faerycake, Gregory Hollin, Anna Krzywoszynska, Sophie Lewis, @SandySom
Session Two: (Not) Seeing, Hearing, Showing Non-Humans with presentations from @DrJennyA, @ProfLesleyHead, Michael Gallagher, Erin Despard, Timothy Hodgetts, @routesandroots,
Session Three: Co-producing place with non-humans with presentations from @ecoartnotes, @FelicityPicken, Antony Lyons, Jon Pigott, Jacob Shell
Session Four: Who Knows?: relocating participatory knowledges across human/non-human divides with presentations by @mhbastian, Skye Naslund, Felice Wyndham, @ollyzanetti
Hope to meet some of you there! If not, I'm sure there'll be some live tweeting going on.
Public Science Project CUNY, New York, May 2nd 2014.
This international workshop will explore the roles played in participatory democracy by forms of agency that exceed the boundaries of the conventional individual subject, including the non-human and the non-living. We invite contributions exploring unconventional forms of agency in participatory practice, or which introduce experimental methods, concepts and projects for doing so.
Questions of empowerment and voice are central to all forms of participatory politics and research. But what happens when we attune ourselves to forms of agency that exceed the boundaries of the conventional liberal subject? Recent materialist approaches to agency and subjectivity have done much to reconfigure concepts of political community in ways that recognize the active political agency of animals, ecosystems, intra-psychic and trans-psychic entities, the dead, the yet-to-be-born, and objects, technologies and laws (Bennett, 2010; Honig, 2012; Latour & Weibel, 2005). An increasing number of aesthetic practices, similarly, are reconfiguring the arts as ‘co-collaborations’ between human and non-human agency (Barrett & Bolt, 2013; Morton, 2013). How, then, are we to listen to political actors that do not possess a conventional ‘voice’? And what might the role of ‘more-than-human’ agencies be in creating more egalitarian forms of democratic authority (Whatmore, 2002)?
The workshop will bring together diverse perspectives on 'worldings' in which distinct subjects, objects and publics are brought into novel alignments (Ranciere, 2004; Barad; 2007). The workshop – part of a collaboration between CUNY’s Public Science Project, Plymouth University, UK, and Johns Hopkins University, and facilitated by the Authority Research Network – will be structured through a combination of presentations and discussion sessions. Example topics include (but are not limited to):
We invite proposals for short presentations, pecha-kucha (see http://www.pechakucha.org/), installations, artworks, performances, or other formats. We also welcome participants who would like to contribute to the discussions but not make a formal presentation.
For further details, see http://www.authorityresearch.net/participations-non-human-and-non-living-others-new-york-workshop.html. Please indicate your interest in attending the workshop by filling in the online form at by March 26th 2014. The event is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, and there is no fee to participate. Lunch will be provided.
Applicants will be notified within a week of the deadline for expressions of interest. For further information, please contact Tehseen Noorani (Tehseen.Noorani@jhu.edu) or Julian Brigstocke (Julian.Brigstocke@plymouth.ac.uk).
Our fourth workshop took place on the 1-2 of October at/on/in the River Torridge. We worked with artist Antony Lyons and members from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Devon Wildlife Trust to explore whether the recent Connected Communities-funded Ethical Guidelines for Community-Based Participatory Research might be extended to working with non-humans, specifically water. This is the seventh in a series of reflections on the workshop from our participants and is written by Julian Brigstocke.
The idea of including 'the elements' in participatory research, and even participatory democracy, might seem whimsical. After all, the essence of politics, according to one influential tradition of thought, is action; and it is also this power to act that distinguishes the human from ‘mute’ nature. According to the philosopher Hannah Arendt, the space of politics (as opposed to the space of the social) is one that exists outside the cyclical rhythms of nature and makes possible the start of something wholly new – a break from the eternal return of identity.
The question posed to us by this workshop, then, demanded a rather different way of thinking about the politics of water. Does water have the capacity to act (to originate something new)? Can it speak? What kind of practices must we invent in order to listen to it? We know, of course, that water can be immensely powerful. The news media continually fold water into political discourses through dramatic images of the destructive power of its presence, circulation or absence: floods, droughts, storms, torrents, waves, surges, tsunamis, glaciers. Our own encounters with water on this workshop, whether walking, swimming, or sitting on a boat, invited us to reflect on other powers: the power to evade, to transport, to conduct heat, to reflect light, to nurture life, to hasten death, to enliven the senses.
Yet if water were somehow to be introduced into the sphere of democratic politics, it would not be enough merely to recognise and harness its power. Because democracy always requires structures of representation, participatory democracy requires not only a redistribution of power, but also a democratisation of authority. In other words, it needs a more egalitarian distribution of the capacity to guide, to offer advice, and to make claims that demand a response from the powerful. The challenge of participating with water, then, is an invitation to ask how water might be afforded democratic authority, rather than grasping political power. We have forgotten, perhaps, how to be guided by more-than-human life.
What kind of authority might water exercise? Classical models of politics tend to revolve around key figures of authority such as doctor, teacher and priest. Authority figures such as these offer verbal advice that cannot safely be ignored. The richly embodied nature of the activities of the workshop, however, suggested that taking advice from water will involve less representational manoeuvres. The authority of water is likely to lie, not so much in its ability to enter ‘in conversation with’ human others, or to stride forth into the demos, as in its capacity to co-operate in a democratization of the senses and a re-education of the body. Water can perhaps take on a role of healing, teaching, and spiritual guidance. Indeed, it has deployed this more-than-human authority in many different ways throughout history, not least in the major world religions such as Hindu that take guidance from water as a sacred space.
What, then, does water teach us, and how might this invigorate democratic politics? As with all democratic teaching, the lesson will offer different things to different students. Water, after all, takes an infinite variety of different forms, and it already participates in every aspect of our lives. The activities of the workshop, tracing the flows and traces of water in the biosphere, navigating the river, loping barefoot in the mud, leaping in the water, forced me to think about water’s indifference to human affairs, its vastly expanded temporal horizon. Water’s lesson, perhaps, doesn’t come from ‘listening’ to it, or from trying to ‘think as’ water through a kind of empathic communication, but from encountering it in its difference, its muteness, its remoteness from human concerns. Indeed, it is this blankness, this link to the distant past and far future, that is the mysterious source of water’s authority.
Our fourth workshop took place on the 1-2 of October at/on/in the River Torridge. We worked with artist Antony Lyons and members from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Devon Wildlife Trust to explore whether the recent Connected Communities-funded Ethical Guidelines for Community-Based Participatory Research might be extended to working with non-humans, specifically water. This is the sixth in a series of reflections on the workshop from our participants and is written by Antony Lyons.
It is productive - even necessary perhaps? - to have a pressing deadline, pushing me to gather my thoughts on this process of water interactions and conversations. A reflection, looking-back - to compliment the looking-ahead penned earlier this year...
Recently, I was invited to a viewing of a documentary film about artist Anselm Kiefer, Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow, which contains some musings on water and life, including a kind of yearning for our origins in the salt seas (Kiefer comments on the similarity between the composition of our blood and that of sea-water).
In a way, this echoes some narration text I wrote for a recently presented short film, alluding to a theory of connectedness between human brain evolution and shoreline dwelling/food supply (the Littoral Theory); the undeniable therapeutic influences of water and the sea; and of some interest to this theme, there is the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.
Below, I offer some images from a recent trip (back) to Lough Gur in Ireland - a watery place with which I've been connected since my early childhood. On this occasion I also sought out the nearby St. Munchin's 'holy well'; not a difficult quest, but one I've intended to undertake for many years, since stumbling across an old road-sign (to this well) in a reclamation yard in Bristol, my adopted home. The enduring reverence for this place - as evidenced by its upkeep and votive offerings - is a remnant strand of deep pre-Christian water enmeshment. This is still much in evidence closer to home - at Avebury/ River Kennet for example. Earlier this year, I also found such echoes in the mountains in Portugal - where I witnessed a living tradition of sacred respect for springs, pools and fonts.
But how does this relate to our 'more than human' investigations in, and around, the River Torridge in Devon? Or to participative research with water?
From the standpoint of both temporal and spatial distance, one of my most abiding memories from the workshop outings is the elusiveness of the river at its headwaters, at its 'source'; and the struggle over the boggy Culm grassland, with its sponge-like quality. To a large extent, this was in the plan, and therefore not expected to be straightforward (and water never is…). Yet the immediacy of the encounter - on the ground - was richer and more resonant than I predicted. In a limited way, we (through our squelching footsteps, like the grazing cattle) were interacting with, and adjusting, the locality’s water processes and patterns. I am left with a sense of water being all-pervasive in the pores, the microscopic rivulets of the land, and present too as deeper, warmer hydrothermal flows - again echoing water in living organisms, in humans and the veins of non-humans. (In passing, I am reminded of those moon rocks I studied as a geology student, which don't possess the myriad of tiny hydro-thermal veins that are common in earth rocks). This time of year, in North West Europe, water gets everywhere; rising damp; seeping through stone and brick walls; condensation; lingering as mist outside. The ubiquity of this material is like no other. Water is sponge-like in other ways too, with its ability to dissolve/absorb a multitude of materials (salts, metals, organic compounds), but still appear unchanged.
During our awkward, ungainly progress over the Culm bogland, we encountered two seekers from the Water Company, on a quest for an underground leak from a water main. A serendipitous meeting and most appropriate. Two water ‘dreamings’ or songlines intersecting - in time and in space. There is a need, I feel, to range laterally in our investigations of water relationships; to look once more at the variety and nuances of indigenous/older perspectives and paradigms of connectivity to the world. A re-sensitisation? And since our October field excursion, I have uncovered a book by Jacquetta Hawkes; her tour de force, A Land (1951). Here is a quote from the introduction:
In this book I have used the findings of the two sciences of geology and archaeology for purposes altogether unscientific. I have tried to use them evocatively, and the image I have sought to evoke is of an entity, the land of Britain, in which past and present, nature, man and art appear all in one piece. I see modern man enjoying a unity with trilobites of a nature more deeply significant than anything at present understood in the processes of biological evolution. I see a land as much affected by the creations of its poets and painters as by changes of climate and vegetation.
What is wonderful about her writing is an embracing of a multi-faceted, multi-layered mycelial integration. A fluidity of space and - especially - time. Mutability. Complexity. Change. Extrapolating this to our current watery concerns, for me it suggests that water will not be constrained, defined, framed. Our interests, relationships and perspectives - whether sacred, philosophical or scientific - are just some small facets of the whole picture. The manifold manifestations of water are largely inaccessible, unapproachable. On the one hand, we have - as Ivan Illich pointed out - H2O (the waters of utility and industry - “a cleaning fluid” - and privately owned at that) and on the other hand there are “the waters of forgetfulness” (the mythic, symbolic, magical, unconscious). In the realms of water, we have the familiar - oftentimes romantic - 'water bodies' (rivers, lakes etc.) - relatively easy to sacralise; but water manifests as plutonic hydrothermal flows, abyssal vents, stratospheric clouds, industrial/sewage effluents - less easy for us to identify, or converse, with? (but all as real as the river…)
In the closing discussion of the 'Water Workshop', one of the emerging research ideas (or suggested thought experiments) was the prospect of speaking as…a river, a water molecule, a cloud. The meaning of this differs significantly from speaking with (in conversation) or speaking for (spokesperson). All three are imaginative, poetic leaps, (and all necessary expansions into the vitality of matter?) but speaking as involves an inhabiting of watery-ness. Perhaps this is shamanic? geopoetic? Perhaps it is not about porosity to the otherness of water(s), but a oneness with water(s)? A breaking down, or dissolution, of an insider/outsider dichotomy? (River Flows In You?)
There is mystery and unknowability with water, as with any other non-human or human entity. One approach which currently interests me involves the practical insights that can emerge from changing time-frames (speeded-up or slo-mo film or sound). Our perceptions are locked in our time-relationship to the world; we are trapped by our senses and cognition. Other living/dynamic systems reveal extraordinary, marvelous, uncanny attributes when perceived in shifted time-frames. From macro to micro, other truths, cycles, rhythms, pulses emerge; vastly more powerful and enduring than our narrow and ultimately futile efforts of control.
Members of the MPR project are contributing to convening sessions at next year's Royal Geographical Society conference in London 26-29 August on the topic of more-than-human participatory research. Details of how to submit a proposal can be found at the bottom of this post.
Co-production of knowledge with non-humans: plants, animals, materialities - spaces and places
Convenors: Michelle Bastian (Edinburgh), Michael Buser (UWE), Owain Jones (Gloucester), Emma Roe (Southampton)
Sponsored by the History and Philosophy of Geography Research Group and the Participatory Geographies Research Group
This session will explore how the co-production of knowledge within (and between) communities is being expanded beyond narrowly human notions of community to take into account the ‘voices’, needs and agencies of non-humans. We seek to explore how co-production has been done (historical examples), is being done, and can be done (imagined futures), with panoplies of non-humans which range through animals, plants, technologies and materials within space-time in both topological and topographical formations. We feel that expanding the processes of knowledge creation through co-production is a necessary step in efforts to address the toxic nature/culture divide and in developing materialist techno-ecologicalisation of politics and ethics (Haraway, Latour, Bennett, Barad etc.). We need deeper engagements with the ecological (taken in its broadest sense), materialised processes which conjure communities into being, sustain them, set them together, apart, in conflict, and bring them down; and in how they might be reformed into more just configurations. We seek contributions which: report upon work that has sought to co-produce knowledge with non-humans; speculate (plan) conceptually and methodologically on how co-productions with non-humans of differing stripe might be done; stage dialogues between specialists in co-production and those specialising in the more-than-human (broadly conceived).
The co-production of research with(in) communities is a welcome effort to democratize, de-centre and reenergize knowledge production (Durose et al). Inspired by a variety of feminist epistemologies, as well as emancipatory movements from South America and Africa (e.g. Freire), the central components of the co-production agenda have been the desire to support the inclusion of marginalised voices in the research process, to make research accountable to those it affects, and, in the process, to transform the practices of research and knowledge production. However co-production often remains in the human/social realm consisting of partnerships, collaborations, conflict management, development plans, etc. between individual and collective social agencies. We are concerned that co-produced research which stays within the (narrowly prescribed) social (human) realm becomes ‘part of the problem’ rather than ‘part of the solution’ in terms of long term flourishing of diverse life.
One of the foremost proponents of participatory research - Peter Reason – has argued that the ethical and political imperatives implicit within the co-production paradigm need to be extended to non-humans. Claiming that we need to re-conceive ourselves as embedded within biotic systems, Reason characterises the notion of the more-than-human as an emergent edge within participatory research. Durose et al have also drawn attention to how long-standing epistemological debates about the nature of knowledge and expertise lie at the heart of debate about the impact of co-producing research.
Engagement with a whole range of work that identifies human exceptionalism as a fundamental impediment to knowledge, has been recognized as key to effectively addressing socio-ecological challenges. The (neglected) interdependencies between the social and the ecological are writ large in the current era of ‘ecocide’, and realigning them from toxic to therapeutic forms is essential. However, transformative dialogues between co-production practitioners and those working on the more-than-human, which promise so much for both approaches, have yet to take place.
Thus we are specifically interested to explore how co-produced research can be inclusive of a wider set of actors than just the human. And in how to meet the challenges and opportunities offered by exploring methods and philosophies of co-production and how it might be transformed by the recognition of experiences, desires and knowledges of more-than-human agencies. And, in turn, how more-than-human approaches might learn from the attentiveness to community, voice, participation and methodology which have been developed within the field of co-production. The session draws inspiration from a variety of recent projects and writings which have sought to bring non-humans of one kind or another (plants, animals, technologies, and wider materialised processes) into knowledge co-production. These have variously engaged with ideas of empathy, agency, witnessing, experimental partnering, data sonification, narrative theory, conversation and voice to explore possibilities of co-working with non-humans.
Contributions (using tradition or non-tradition formats) might:
Please send questions and email proposals (title, 200 word abstract) by the 31st of January 2014 to one or more of:
Our fourth workshop took place on the 1-2 of October at/on/in the River Torridge. We worked with artist Antony Lyons and members from the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Devon Wildlife Trust to explore whether the recent Connected Communities-funded Ethical Guidelines for Community-Based Participatory Research might be extended to working with non-humans, specifically water. This is the fifth in a series of reflections on the workshop from our participants and is written by Reiko Goto Collins.
At the end of the workshop Michelle asked us how a new language might emerge from this workshop. I have been thinking about this question in relation to “empathy” that is my research interest and practice. Empathy is an act of perceiving in which we reach out to the other to grasp his/her state or condition. It consists of one’s emotional and physical experiences.
The workshop was an experience-based enquiry. I did not know much about the workshop area, its landscape or catchments. I knew only a few of the people from previous conferences..
The workshop really began over dinner, with information shared by experts. Then the next day we would have an expert tour of the Culm a unique ecosystem, at the top of the catchment basin. We then had a boat ride in the estuary guided by a fisherman. We felt the landscape changes from the mouth of the river (with its old industrial structures, and new summer homes) to the wooded upper river that came alive with wildlife. Meanwhile Antony was checking the conductivity in the saline water, everyone was taking pictures and talking together. The last day of the workshop we were asked to go into the Torridge River. In early October it was a cloudy day. I did not bring my swimming suit. Niamh was impressive, she jumped in the Torridge River first, then others followed little by little. François said something touched her foot in the water. Was it fish? This encouraged me to follow them. The middle of the river was deeper but people could stand on the smooth riverbed. The water was cold. I put my face down to float. I felt little fear until suddenly I felt a sharp pain on my shoulder. (I am being treated for a bad shoulder.) But when my body started floating, I became relaxed. I could see under water. It was greenish brown. The colour of the water reminded me of similar experiences in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Tim and I worked on a research project called 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (3R2N) between 2000 and 2005. It was one of the summers we were on the project boat. Tim and I had dived in the Allegheny River. The water was warm but refreshing, it felt endlessly deep and big, it felt wide and very long. I could not see much, just greenish brown colour. We had spent years learning everything we could about the ecological recovery of nature and culture. I still hear the voice of that place, its experts and communities. And in my mind I still see myself going through the landscape, with millions of Mayfly in the air, and schools of fish cfollowing and playing with our boat.
Empathetic experience moves towards something foreign rather than something familiar. In this workshop the greenish brown coloured water was something familiar and the coldness of the Torridge River was the foreign experience for me. I was surprised when I did not become panic in the water when I could not rely on my arm because of the shoulder pain. I sat on the anchor of the bridge to watch other people. It was another foreign experience to be in the water together. I thought about the last two days talking, eating and doing things together with a respectful manner, but we did not know each other much. We kept smiling at each other. After we dressed again, we became a little more playful. We dropped twigs from the bridge to see which one could go through the bridge first. Owain’s fern won.
Touching the water in the Torridge River was important. In this case asking the water by touching it. It was a trigger for an “empathised experience” that would come from real life or form within ourselves, our inner perception.
Any one can touch the water of the river. It is quite possible a person does not have any memorable experience of a river. Then, the experience becomes foundational; but this is not likely. Everything we do is a learning opportunity that may expand experience it may not prove to be meaningful until some time in the future. How about people who have had a water epiphany already? Touching water is a beginning of the discourse to listen to others including people, things and the environment in deeper level. After the workshop some people submitted their reflection writing. Different individuals experience and expertise result in diverse stories. Each of us is connected to different parts of the world. Each of us shuffles the words and re-constructs the story for the new audience. In this repeated process a little schism occurs. Empathy tries to fill the gap between familiar and foreign, known and unknown within new experience, and perhaps with other people’s voice. If we meditate well in this process we may understand others a little further. New language can emerge when we understand the other and find the reason why it as important us, as other people are.
Reiko Goto Collins, 30 November 2013