Blaming Willi

I just had an article published in the journal, ‘Between the Species.’ This is an open access journal so anybody with a net connection can download the entire thing, unlike lot of other journals which require subscriptions or one-off payments. It’s ironic that anthropologists, who so often advocate for the marginalised, often publish in journals without free access. It’s something we’re addressing but the expenses involved in publishing journals are making it difficult to free up the content.

As for the article, it’s essentially a chapter of my thesis (in academia it’s acceptable to publish thesis chapters as stand-alone articles). I cringe a bit when I read it because the ideas are in the early stages of development – I’ve since teased them out a bit more for my book – but it’s still a fun read because there are a lot of excerpts from my fieldnotes and it’s all about Willi. The bit I left out to fit within the journal’s word count is an intro where I compare human and animal ethics guidelines in universities. Doing a multispecies ethnography, I had to get two sets of ethics permissions; one for the people in Harar and one for the hyenas. When I did the applications I was struck by the differences between the two. In the case of human research subjects you have to get consent from the people you want to study to include them in your research. With regard to animals you can include any animals you like (as long as there isn’t a non-animal alternative for say testing cancer treatments), the guidelines are basically for making sure that ‘adverse pain/distress be minimised’ for the animals involved. I’m not sure what other kinds of pain and distress there are. It’s all very paternalistic and I tried to avoid that mindset in my relations with Willi but it’s not that easy. Taking responsibility for animals is something we fall into almost as a reflex action. It’s well-intentioned but at its root is a failure to recognise the agency of animals and our own place amongst them. Have a read and see what you think.

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