Welcome to our series, ‘Why Animal Studies?’ The aim of the series is to have scholars across the ideological spectrum (i.e., human-animal studies, critical animal studies, anthrozoology) reflect on why they locate their scholarship in the field. We will be featuring pieces from PhD students, established and early career scholars as well as established scholars from other areas who are increasingly interested, and working, in the field. If you would like to contribute to the series please email firstname.lastname@example.org
In this post Lindsay reflects on the way human-animal studies can shed light on organization studies.
It may come as something of a surprise to see a post on this blog from a researcher in a Management School. Indeed, the fact that I am interested in studying animals raises questions for both the students and fellow colleagues that I work with. By and large they are interested by human work processes, human business and organization processes (albeit from a critical and non-mainstream angle) and it is rare for there to be consideration of other species, let alone animals in the research that they conduct. In reflecting upon these taken-for-granted humanist biases within management and business over several years, I have asked myself two questions: first, why it is that I study humans and animals in organizations (given that many of my colleagues do not share this fascination) and, second, how I can do this research practically, given that I am not a scientific expert on animals and am based within a research setting that largely ignores the other-than-human world in its methodological designs.
My answers are very simple. While, one the one hand there is a problematic bias towards the human in my immediate environs that makes my research ‘stick out’ as unusual, on the other hand, there is a quickening pace of methodological innovation in other disciplines that I can learn from and, given that inter-disciplinarity is highly prized in the contemporary academy, this makes for a workable solution, providing a rigorous and useful discourse for locating my work. Let me explain what I mean.
In terms of the first question: as an organization studies scholar I’m fascinated by finding out about the inner workings of all sorts of businesses. This requires a keen interest in people, their workplace cultures as well as their individual identities. I want to understand the ways people successfully come together (or fragment into factions that fail to agree) and have spent many years conducting in-depth ethnographic work in a number of business settings. For me this work has evolved towards a qualitative consideration of other species; after all, while it is we humans who manage, administrate, plan and strategize, many of us share our organizational spaces with all sorts of nonhuman creatures.
There are millions of people across the globe who work with animals – in farming, fishing, meat and food production, military and law enforcement, veterinary clinics, laboratories, zoos and rescue shelters. So this provokes a rather obvious question: where are animals in business research? The fact is that through a continuing preoccupation with tenets of economic rationalism, organization and management studies has largely ignored other species. This neglect is curious for (putting the worthy but complex questions of ethics to one side for a moment) animals are a major economic driver: in agriculture and aquaculture they provide humans with the resources to trade. At other times, they provide the underpinning ethos of an organization and help keep its members together, something which has been amply demonstrated in Nik Taylor’s pioneering ethnographic work on animal shelters. So animals matter both economically and culturally to business and, hence, the other-than-human world (at its most general) should matter to management students and scholars. This is a particularly pertinent research issue at the moment because we are living through a crisis of sustainability and corporations are increasingly expected to reflect on their environmental legacy and impact.
Humans do not exist in a separate sphere from the rest of the natural world, our experiences touch and overlap so it follows that even those in traditionally humanist subjects like business and management should be open to studying this co-dependence to understand its significance for many business functions, not least the pressing agendas of corporate social responsibility. Despite the urgency of new research agendas in this area, however, for the present it seems that animal life remains at the periphery of management learning, relegated to ‘novelty’ conference streams and the occasional special issue of otherwise explicitly humanist journals. By contributing to these newly opening spaces, however, I have aimed to make the study of humans and animals more mainstream and less ‘out there’. The sustainability and environmental legacy debates may well propel these emergent pockets of interest forward.
As to the second question, how I research human-animal relations in organizations within a business and management setting (given the constraints), I consider myself lucky to be working during a time when social science research methods are undergoing such exciting adaptations. My own chosen approach to business research, ethnography, already enables me to observe and participate in the many actions and interactions that include animals, indeed I have done so in many interesting workplaces; fields and farmyards, veterinary surgeries and meat production plants. I have theorised such spaces both as conventional business case-studies as well as exemplars of complex human-animal relations. Outside business and management, however, I am also learning from the new developments of other fields (like critical science studies, sociology, visual and creative methods, critical geography) which are increasingly drawing upon technological advances such as head-mounted filming and photography to make fieldwork more exciting. My interest has recently been sparked by walking studies, for example, because using recording technologies to capture bird-song, dog barks as well as human voice, it seems to open out possibilities to incorporate multiple other species in an account with multiple ‘authors’.
These advances, and many others, open up creative new opportunities for poly-vocal accounts to emerge and considering them is providing space to consider the possibilities of multi-species ethnography, the next step in critical and emancipatory ethnographic method. While this may seem alien to some factions within the business school, such work is well supported by the discourse of inter-disciplinarity which has been advocated by various funding bodies, particularly where there is a wider social impact or benefit. The ‘badge’ of inter-disciplinarity means that scholars like me need not regard themselves as ‘islands in the non-mainstream’. In fact, working beyond disciplinary borderlines is not only pragmatically useful but also stimulates and drives an intellectually demanding project: looking beyond the walls of the business school to a world of animals, humans and Others.
Lindsay Hamilton is Undergraduate Director of Keele Management School in the United Kingdom. You can find out more about her here.
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