Have you seen this dog? Rendering more-than-human publics legible in urban settings
(University of Calgary)
Melanie Rock (University of Calgary)
Olga Solomon (University of Southern California )
Paper short abstract:
Using the case study of Calgary, Alberta, this presentation explores how local governments can mobilise databases digital technologies to make dogs visible - and therefore legible and in the reach of public action - in urban settings.
Paper long abstract:
With this presentation, we seek to interrogate the way municipal governments use digitally-enabled databases to 'see' pets, and more specifically canine populations, by unfolding the case study of Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta. James C. Scott convincingly documented how modernist governmental projects engaged in the process of making populations 'legible', which entailed imposing standardised administrative categories on individuals, thus bringing them within the scope of state visibility - a phenomenon discussed, at the municipal level, by Mariana Valverde (2011). Local councils increasingly extend this movement to pets and their people by referencing, localising, and sometimes intervening with dogs. This process is enabled by the construction of databases that are fed by (1) the statutory registration of pets and their owners (i.e., 'licensing'); (2) the systematic filing of incidents involving pets, by municipal employees and by emergency healthcare services in severe cases.
The City of Calgary has an international reputation for pet-related policies, and 'the Calgary model' relies extensively on databases. Drawing upon in-depth interviews and participant observation, we document how municipal officials collect, sort and use data pertaining to dogs. Meanwhile, we find that non-official streams of data, in the form of information relayed on social media (e.g., 'lost dogs' postings), are increasingly affecting public action. We analyse how these alternative 'visions' challenge and interact with public views on dogs.
Seeing with data and devices