The human-animal relations in academic fieldwork: conducting videography with/as animals

Tutkimustuotokset: Kirjoitus kirjassa/raportissa/konferenssijulkaisussaKonferenssiartikkeliTieteellinen

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In 2014, an Indonesian macaque monkey took a selfie with a photographer’s camera which lead to a battle over who owned the copyright of that photo. Labatut, Munro and Desmond (2016) describe what followed next:
“Questions about animal agency recently rose to prominence, surprisingly perhaps, in the field of copyright law after The United States Copyright Office (2014) subsequently ruled that non-human animals cannot own copyright material and that this photograph should be in the public domain as ‘A photograph taken by a monkey’. The role of animals as producers not only of nature but of culture would appear to be ambiguous, given the apparent need for laws that formally exclude them from this social domain. This case also highlights the long history of animal and human co- evolution and particularly human dependence on, but dominance over, animals for food, as a means of transportation and more recently as treasured companion animals (Haraway, 2003; Shepard, 1997).“

By focusing on the ethically and politically charged relationship between animals and humans, and the discussion of animal agency, this paper deliberates on the methodological possibilities and challenges inherent in trying to grasp this relationship in academic research. Acknowledging the rich and versatile modes of embodied coexistence between humans and non-humans, this paper turns its attention to one of the industries where this coexistence becomes manifested in ways that holds particular ethico-political dimensions: tourism.
The paper is inspired by an ongoing project on Animals and responsible tourism where the authors currently work in. As part of this project, a videographic method is experimentally used as an effort to better understand the co-constructed relationship between humans (tourists) and the animals used in tourism, as well as the values behind the decisions made when people use animal based tourism services. As a mode of ethnographic research, videography enables the researchers to touch the embodied nature of encounters between humans and animals.
Doing a videography of animals yet contains ethico-political challenges that can’t escape the prevailing distinction between ‘human’ and ‘non-human’ and the rights these agents are granted with. Recognizing this, we turn the situation described earlier with the Indonesian macaque monkey’s selfie, the other way around: as human researchers aren’t capable in communicating with other animals with a shared language, they are also incapable to gain the same permission to document the daily lives of animals as they would be when documenting their fellow humans. If visual ethnographic research is to be conducted in an utmost careful manner in order to avoid the problematics inherent in revealing other person’s lives through
visual images where anonymity cannot be guaranteed, researchers face an ethical challenge when visually documenting the lives of animals whose permission they can’t ask for, and with whom they cannot build a mutual trust in a way that they are able to do with humans. As they are subject to consider the ethical challenges in conducting academic research from the viewpoint of who they consider themselves to be, they lack deliberations on the ways their own practices touch and interfere with the ones they conceive as ‘others’.
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