experiments in more-than-human design ethnography

Sneak preview: speculative design for animal-human relations

When I get back from Australia we’ll be launching four speculative designs from the Counting Sheep project. Here’s a sneak preview:

Grow Your Own Lamb: Would you like your NZ merino meat pasture-raised or lab-raised?

BoneKnitter: What if orthopaedic casts were made of all natural, traceable native materials?

Sadie & Rye: Could you love artificial NZ huntaway and heading dogs?

PermaLamb: What if every Kiwi had their own transgenic pet lamb?

Stay tuned for more!

Posted: June 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Material & Visual Culture, People & Animals, Progress Reports | No Comments »

The Internet of Animals. Game on!

I’ve spent almost every day for three or four years thinking about, talking about, writing about, and working towards something I’ve come to call an internet of animals.

This week, two things happened that expanded what the internet of animals could become.

1) Some scientists used the internet to link the brains of rats and get them to do stuff together

Guardian: Brain-to-brain interface lets rats share information via internet

“Even though the animals were on different continents, with the resulting noisy transmission and signal delays, they could still communicate. This tells us that we could create a workable network of animal brains distributed in many different locations.”

Nature: Intercontinental mind-meld unites two rats

“Nicolelis’ … team is already working to link the brains of four mice. The researchers are also set to start similar experiments with monkeys, in which paired individuals control virtual avatars and combine their brain activity to play a game together.”

Daily Mail: Telepathy is real! Scientists develop mind-reading implant that links the brains of rats in the US and Brazil

“British expert Professor Christopher James, from the University of Warwick, who has conducted similar research, said: ‘We are far from a scenario of well-networked rats around the world uniting to take us over, the stimulation is crude and specific. As for the ethics, I struggle to think of any applications that would not have ethical issues’.”

2) Some other famous scientists and a famous musician proposed an “interspecies internet”

TED 2013 Interspecies Internet

TED Blog: The interspecies internet: Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf at TED2013

Gabriel:”What would happen if we could somehow find new interfaces – visual, audio — to allow us to communicate with the remarkable beings we share the planet with.”

Gershenfeld: “I was struck by the history of the internet, because it started as the internet of middle-aged white men … I realized that we humans had missed something — the rest of the planet … We’re starting to think about how you integrate the rest of the biomass of the planet into the internet.”

Cerf: “What’s important about what these people are doing: They’re beginning to learn how to communicate with species that are not us, but share a sensory environment. [They’re figuring out] what it means to communicate with something that’s not a person. I can’t wait to see these experiments unfold.”

Mashable: Peter Gabriel, Vint Cerf Launch ‘Internet for Animals’

Cerf: “We should not restrict the Internet to one species. Other species should be allowed to participate.”

Facebook: The Interspecies Internet

“We hope to link up the captive species who already have demonstrated a cognitive and linguistic understanding of interspecies communication from facility to facility (especially the families that have been separated), and additionally to their species in their native lands. Schoolchildren in the native regions where these animals are in danger, would be able to communicate with the animals via tablet and learn that these animals are intelligent and friendly.

Yup. Things are about to get weird.

Posted: March 2nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: People & Animals, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

“Under the sun, everyday is a good day. Another good day, Fukumaru.”

Misao and Fukumaru by Miyoko Ihara

“‘We’ll never be apart!,’ says Misao to Fukumaru. Both of them live in a tiny world, with dignity, with mutual love. Still today, under the blue sky, Misao and Fukumaru work in the fields and in these natural surroundings, where they shine like the stars.”

Misao & Fukumaru

Misao & Fukumaru

Misao & Fukumaru

Beautiful.

Posted: December 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life, People & Animals | No Comments »

My body’s plant and animal companion species

“Multispecies ethnographers are studying the host of organisms whose lives and deaths are linked to human social worlds. A project allied with Eduardo Kohn’s ‘anthropology of life‘—’an anthropology that is not just confined to the human but is concerned with the effects of our entanglements with other kinds of living selves’—multispecies ethnography centers on how a multitude of organisms’ livelihoods shape and are shaped by political, economic, and cultural forces.” (Eben Kirksey and Stefan Helmreich, 2010)

My research has always focussed on human-nonhuman relations, but as the Counting Sheep project progresses I find myself less interested in technology per se, and more interested in how technologies mediate our relationships with other living creatures.

Since my research tends to focus on large-scale, public issues in this area, I thought it might be interesting to look at what’s going on at more small-scale or personal levels, and maybe even explore what a multispecies autoethnography might involve.

Let’s take my body as an example. Six weeks ago I broke my left ankle in three places, and got titanium implants that will hold my tibia and fibula together for the rest of my life. Last week I got a bacterial infection in the surgical wounds, and yesterday my GP identified a fungal infection on my foot (both superficial and temporary conditions). Whether you find this fascinating, disgusting, both or neither, my point is that these events make it impossible for me to believe in human exceptionalism or ignore that my body is simultaneously animal, vegetable and mineral.

In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman famously wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes”–something that is metaphorically and literally true. Microbiologist David Relman compares humans to coral, and finds it “humbling” that each of us is “an assemblage of life-forms living together.” The Human Microbiome Project informs us that “within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells ten to one,” and we know that “100 trillion good bacteria…live in or on the human body.”

Bringing this back to the personal scale, in addition to my ‘normal’ microbiome I currently have at least two invasive species or pest organisms breaching the surface of my body.

ANIMAL
Kingdom Bacteria (left: staphylococcus; right: streptococcus)

Staphylococcus   Streptococcus

PLANT
Kingdom Fungi (left and right: tinea)

Tinea  Tinea pedis

And in order to kill the bacteria, I’m being treated with perhaps the most famous fungus of all: penicillin.

PLANT
Kingdom Fungi (P. chrysogenum)

Penicillium notatum  P. chrysogenum

The use of antibiotics impacts other organisms as well. For example, each day that I take them my ‘healthy’ microbiome is reconfigured in unpredictable ways.

And we’re not done yet! My (injured) body is also directly and indirectly bound to two other animals: pigs and rats.

After surgery I developed a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis in my calf. The initial treatment for DVT is the anti-coagulant drug heparin, and for the past six weeks I’ve been giving myself daily injections of enoxaparin sodium, derived from the intestinal mucosa of pigs. In this case, one animal (the pig) dies, in part, to produce a drug that allows the human animal (me) to live.

ANIMAL

Kingdom Animalia (left: pig intestines; right: intestinal mucosa)

Pig intestines  Intestinal mucosa

Yesterday, the heparin was replaced by warfarin, an anti-coagulant most famously used as rat poison, which I’ll take in tablet form for another three months:

Warfarin rat bait  Marevan

In this case, the same drug used to kill a pest animal (the rat) is being used to keep a human animal (me) alive.

Now all I’ve really done here is trace the species that have recently become my companions. In order to make this a ‘proper’ multispecies ethnographic account, I would need to take a much closer look at the political, economic, and cultural forces that create and maintain this human-nonhuman assemblage I call my body. And that, I’m afraid, will have to be a task for another day. It turns out that my new companions wear me out rather quickly and I’m tired now.

Posted: December 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: People & Animals, Research Methodologies, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

FARM animals

Farm: The second meeting of British Animal Studies Network in Glasgow, took place on Friday 16 November and Saturday 17 November 2012 at the University of Strathclyde. They’ve generously posted audio of all the talks:

Welcome

Erica Fudge (University of Strathclyde) [to listen to the welcome click here]

Plenary 1

Henry Buller (Exeter University), ‘The One and the Many: Interkingdoms, (un)Natural Participations and the Farm’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Panel 1: Agriculture and Animal Health.

Chair: Erica Fudge (University of Strathclyde)

Richard Thomas (Leicester University), ‘“How you ought to keep your beasts….”: livestock healthcare and welfare in archaeological perspective’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Abigail Woods (Imperial College London), ‘Dairy farming, veterinary science and the bovine mastitis problem in Britain, 1930-2010’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Angela Cassidy (Imperial College London), ‘Representations and risks of humans and other animals in the One Health movement(s)’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Plenary 2

Rhoda Wilkie (Aberdeen University), ‘Working with Food Animals: Ambiguous Encounters and Neglected Labour at the Byre-Face’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Panel 2: Reconsidering the Farm Animal.

Chair: Clare Palmer (Texas A&M University)

Emma Roe (University of Southampton) ‘The farm animal as a visceral “object”’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Roxanna Lynch (Swansea University), ‘Caring for Farm Animals?’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Panel 3: Critical Perspectives on Human-Animal-Technology Relations.

Chair: Chris Bear (Cardiff University)

Lewis Holloway (Hull University), Chris Bear (Cardiff University) and Katy Wilkinson (University of Warwick), ‘Robotic milking technologies and the renegotiation of situated ethical relationships on UK dairy farms’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Richard Twine (Lancaster University), ‘Animals on Drugs – Understanding the role of pharmaceutical companies in the animal-industrial complex’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Panel 4 Re-conceptualising Farming.

Chair: Robert McKay (Sheffield University)

John Miller (Sheffield University), ‘In Vitro Meat and Environmental Aesthetics’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Kim Baker ‘Picturing Pigs, Depicting Pigmen: how pig industry advertising strategies reveal the unseen idioms of farm animal production’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Plenary 3

Mara Miele (Cardiff University) ‘A Version of Emotions: The Brave Sheep’ [to listen to the paper click here]

Past BASN meetings include Wild, which also looks great.

Posted: December 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs, People & Animals, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »