About Co-operative Research with More-than-human Beings

The term “more-than-human” disrupts the false separation of humans from Nature (Abram, 1996). Terms such as “non-human” and “other-than-human” reinforce the false narrative that humans stand alone, above, and separate from the remainder of planetary existence, and therefore, all other species are defined by not being human. “More-than-human” troubles human exceptionalism and acknowledges the expansive agencies and unique ways of knowing of all biological and material beings, including flora, fauna, fungi, rocks, rivers, wind, etc. (Mathews, 2019).

Co-operative Research

Co-operative research with more-than-humans is an emerging field based on participatory research in human studies that emphasize working with as opposed to on research subjects (Bastian, Jones, Moore, & Roe, 2017; Heron, 1996; Heron & Reason, 2001, 2008; Noorani & Brigstocke, 2018; Reason & Bradbury, 2001). By working co-operatively with the more-than-humans, we recognize their capacity to participate and their unique agencies, even if we cannot always understand, perceive, or interpret their meaning. This approach is based on a panpsychic worldview that suggests that rather than mind being an ephemeral, unmeasurable, undefined, and separate entity, it is an inherent quality of matter, infusing everything that exists within the Cosmos (Mathews, 2003). Because the world and its myriad beings are mindful, we can therefore engage with them to form communicative and reciprocal relationships.

Of course, this way of thinking is not new. Indigenous cultures worldwide that have always recognized the agencies of all beings, that relationships must be reciprocal, that reality emerges collaboratively from those relationships, that humans are not the center of the universe, and that there are many ways of knowing (Bawaka-Country et al., 2015; Bawaka-Country et al., 2016; TallBear, 2011, 2013)..

Cooperative Engagement
Co-operative engagement with more-than-humans rests on the assumption that the material world is “subject as much as object, mind as much as matter” (Mathews, 2007, p. 2) and that it partakes in a “poetic order” of participation when invoked. The determination of research questions, methods, presentation, and all other decisions in co-operative inquiry should be made collectively. When working with more-than-humans, however, such requirements are difficult to satisfy (Bastian, 2017), and issues surrounding consent, power, voice, representation, and anthropomorphism will inevitably taint the research process (Bastian et al., 2017). Some more-than-human research has addressed these methodological challenges by elevating what matters to more-than-humans as the paramount research consideration (Pitt, 2015, 2017). Furthermore, adopting an attitude of reflexivity and “radical empiricism” (Marshall & Reason, 2007, p. 373) acknowledges that reality is largely unknowable and that all research processes will inherently carry some anthropomorphic bias (Mancini, Lawson, & Juhlin, 2017).

I therefore enter this experiment with full awareness of its potential pitfalls. However, by working co-operatively with the more-than-humans with whom I share a landbase to rewild, I will challenge the “objective” anthropocentric knowledge systems that underpin current conservation science and maintain the status quo of the Anthropocene. Instead, I hope to prioritize universal flourishing as a primary objective (Reason & Bradbury, 2001)

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Bastian, M. (2017). Towards a More-than-Human Participatory Research. In M. Bastian, O. Jones, N. Moore, & E. Roe (Eds.), Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds (pp. 19-37): Routledge.

Bastian, M., Jones, O., Moore, N., & Roe, E. (2017). Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds: Routledge.

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Bawaka-Country, Wright, S., Suchet-Pearson, S., Lloyd, K., Burarrwanga, L., Ganambarr, R., . . . Sweeney, J. (2016). Cobecoming Bawaka. Progress in Human Geography, 40(4), 455-475.

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Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2001). The Practice of Co-operative Inquiry: Research ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ People. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research (pp. 144-154): Sage.

Heron, J., & Reason, P. (2008). Extending Epistemology within a Co-operative Inquiry The Sage Handbook of Action Research: Participative inquiry and practice (pp. 366-380): Sage.

Mancini, C., Lawson, S., & Juhlin, O. (2017). Animal-Computer Interaction: The emergence of a discipline. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 98, 129-134.

Marshall, J., & Reason, P. (2007). Quality in research as “taking an attitude of inquiry”. Management Research News, 30(5), 368-380.

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Mathews, F. (2007). An invitation to ontopoetics: the poetic structure of being. Australian Humanities Review, 43, 1-14.

Mathews, F. (2019). Living Cosmos Panpsychism. In W. Seager (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Panpsychism: Routledge.

Noorani, T., & Brigstocke, J. (2018). More-than-human participatory research: University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme.

Pitt, H. (2015). On showing and being shown plants – a guide to methods for more-than-human geography. Area, 47(1), 48-55. doi:10.1111/area.12145

Pitt, H. (2017). An apprenticeship in plant thinking. In M. Bastian, O. Jones, N. Moore, & E. Roe (Eds.), Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds (pp. 92-106): Routledge.

Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2001). Introduction: Inquiry and Participation in Search of a World Worthy of Human Aspiration. In J. Heron & P. Reason (Eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative inquiry and practice (pp. 1-14): Sage.

TallBear, K. (2011). Why interspecies thinking needs indigenous standpoints. Theorizing the Contemporary: Cultural Anthropology website.

TallBear, K. (2013). An Indigenous Approach to Critical Animal Studies, Interspecies Thinking, and the New Materialisms. Borders of Kinship: Species/Race/Indigeneity, Latin American & Caribbean Studies program, the Jackson School of International Studies, the Simpson Center for the Humanities, and the Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, & Sexuality (WISER), University of Washington.

land areas for them to repopulate and migrate, such as the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park (Jørgensen, 2015; Soulé & Noss, 1998; Tokarski & Gammon, 2016). Some go further to advocate for recreating the conditions of the pre-human Pleistocene Era in which herds of grazing megafauna and feline predators roamed the plains of North America and Europe (Carey, 2016; Donlan et al., 2006).



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