There is a burgeoning interest in human–animal relations across the social sciences and humanities, accompanied by an acceptance that nonhuman animals are active participants in countless social relations, worthy of serious and considered empirical exploration. This article, the first of its kind as far as the authors are aware, reports on an ongoing qualitative exploration of an example of contemporary human–animal interaction on the fringes of a British city: volunteer shepherding (‘lookering’). Participants are part of a conservation grazing scheme, a growing phenomenon in recent years that relies on increasingly popular volunteer programmes. The primary volunteer role in such schemes is to spend time outdoors checking the welfare of livestock. The first section of the article summarises developments in more-than-human and multispecies research methodologies, and how the challenges of exploring the non- and more-than-human in particular are being addressed. In the second section, we frame our own approach to a human–animal relation against this emerging literature and detail the practicalities of the methods we used. The third section details some of our findings specifically in terms of what was derived from the peculiarities of our method. A final discussion offers a reflection on some of the methodological and ethical implications of our research, in terms of the question of who benefits and how from this specific instance of human–animal relations, and for the development of methods attuned to human–animal and multispecies relations more generally.
- human-animal studies
- animal-assisted intervention