Accepted Papers:

'Animals are sensible and people are animals': wildlife rehabilitation workers, empathic engagement, and directed and reflexive perception  


Stuart Greenfield (Queens University Belfast)

Paper Short Abstract:

Influenced by the work of Milton and Ingold on perception, interaction and emotional engagement, and drawing on fieldwork with RSPCA wildlife rehabilitation officers, this paper explores how experiences with non-human animals can influence an individual's approach to interactions with other humans.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at an RSPCA wildlife rehabilitation centre, this paper explores how a group of people who associate with animals on a regular basis perceive non-human animals and in doing so, how this affects their interaction with, and perception of other humans and humanity. The key theoretical resources used for analysis are the perception and learning theories of Milton (2002) and Ingold (2000). Both emphasise how individuals can perceive and interact with their environments directly, unmediated by cultural conceptions of the environment. Milton argues that such interactions trigger emotions that are key to learning, remembering and communicating. Reflecting upon these experiences in turn influences future interactions, which contribute to a perspectival orientation. Working alongside rehabilitation staff, I report the prevalence of positive evaluations of humans, except in relation to specific contexts, as well as gratitude for concern showed by members of the public. These positive experiences have encouraged some members of staff to learn more about human behaviour and seek employment in this field. By contrast, other centre staff choose to work with non- human animals precisely because of their negative experiences of humans in relation to animals. On the basis of these mechanisms of perception and interaction, I then argue that broader conclusions can be drawn about the problems of human-animal relations in the contemporary western world.

panel P15
Humans and other animals