Accepted Paper:

Symbiotic Ethnographers: Fieldwork with a Dog as a Research Assistant  


Karen Lane (University of St Andrews)

Paper short abstract:

I have developed a fieldwork method working with my dog as a way to engage with people. Together, we elicit information that would be unavailable to an anthropologist working alone. The dog offers a liminal, creative ambiguity that opens up a space for engagement.

Paper long abstract:

My research seeks out muted narratives that struggle to be heard in the contested city of Belfast. My dog, Torridon, accompanies me, and together we form an ethnographic team. Torridon vastly increases the random-stranger-to-anthropologist encounter ratio; people engage with her when we walk the city streets and surrounding hills of Belfast. She illustrates Horowitz's claim that 'dogs are anthropologists among us' (2009:163) , as she closely observes human behaviour and participates in human activity. Meanwhile, I have learnt to pay close attention to her relationship with humans to further my anthropological inquiries. Torridon communicates in a way that is not available to me (sniffing, tail-wagging, enthusiastic greeting etc.), but from which I benefit when people respond positively to this canine intervention. I argue that the relationship between dog and stranger is simultaneously simple and complex: through merely greeting the dog, physiological and social information is exchanged that disregards human social and cultural categories. My fieldwork data demonstrates our ethnographic symbiosis: working together, Torridon and I sometimes elicit stories that otherwise would not be told, and we participate in encounters that would not happen, if I were working alone. I propose that in a city where the act of ascribing an ethno-religious identity to the other is a deeply ingrained (and often subconscious) act, the dog's liminal position provides a creative ambiguity that opens up a space for engagement.

Panel P23
Collaboration and partnership in human-animal communities: reconsidering ways of learning and communication