Call for papers: “Animals in ethnography”, MNHN, Paris | Dead-line: April, 30

Official announcement:


  • Société d’ethnologie française,
  • Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle,
  • UMR Triangle
  • Fondation Adrienne et Pierre Sommer


The inclusion of animals as objects of research in the human and social sciences was for a long time nearly a contradiction in terms since Western “naturalistic ontology” (Descola, 2005) seemed to have erected watertight boundaries between nature and culture. If animals have been present in anthropology from the very beginnings of the discipline, they were considered mainly from an anthropocentric perspective, as partners, resources, tools or attributes to characterize human cultures (Manceron, 2016). However, the evolution of relations between humans and animals, marked by “ambivalence” (Burton-Jeangros, Gouabault, 2002), has gradually led to a renegotiation of the boundaries between the two categories (Despret, 2012; Dubied, Gerber, Fall, 2012; Camos et al., 2009). Similarly, the “animal turn” (Delon, 2015) that is emerging in parts of the academic world is leading to new ways of understanding animals and their relationships with humans (Laugrand, Cros, Bondaz, 2015). In their introduction to a recent issue of the journal Lectures anthropologiques devoted to animals, Vincent Leblan and Mélanie Roustan thus observe that “a shift in intellectual, scientific and moral context seems to have modified the centre of gravity of humankind’s place on earth and, along with this, the balance of their relations with animals” (Leblan, Roustan, 2017: 1).

In this context, sociology and anthropology are developing research aimed at analysing anthropozoological relations (Bekoff, 2007; Michalon, Doré, Mondémé, 2016) within “hybrid communities” (Lestel, 2001, 2008), focusing on describing both human and animal behaviour and their interactions (see in particular Piette, 2002; Mondémé, 2013; Vicart, 2014; Marchina, 2015; Leblan, 2017). In other words, these studies, some of which are based on multi-species ethnographic field work (Hurn, 2019; Smart, 2014; Kirksey, Helmreich, 2010), do not only consider animals as “objects shaped by human societies” but also analyse “their active part in social dynamics” (Michalon, 2018). Moreover, while the study of animal behaviour has traditionally been dominated by ethology, researchers in the human and social sciences are taking up the challenge and reflecting on ways of linking ethnographic survey methods with those of ethology for this purpose (Latour, Strum, 1986; Kohler, 2012; Joulian, 2000; Lescureux, 2006; Lestel, Brunois, Gaunet, 2006; Guillo, 2009; Servais, 2012, 2016; Louchart, 2017).

Methodological questions

These approaches, which give a new place to animals in ethnography, pose many epistemological and methodological challenges that this symposium aims to explore: how should we observe the “existing beings” (Descola, 2005), both human and non-human, from an ethnographic perspective? Is it possible to move away from anthropocentrism to analyze the “point of view” (Baratay, 2012) of animals in the study of their relationships with humans? Under what conditions is a “multi-species ethnography” feasible? And what methodological approaches can allow an ethnography of animals? What collaborations can we envisage between the social sciences and the life sciences for this purpose? What are the specificities of the relationship with respondents when these are not human (Kohler, 2012; Leblan, Roustan, 2017; Jankowski, 2011)?

One of the main objectives of this conference is to gather papers presenting ethnographic surveys, regardless of the disciplinary affiliation of the researchers, and focusing on the methodological issues related to animals in ethnography. These may be multi-species ethnographic surveys that study human-animal interactions with a symmetrical perspective (Latour, 1991) or that study animal communities. For example, proposals could come from surveys conducted on “work situations” (Porcher, 2011; Porcher & Schmitt, 2010), “exploitation”, “domesticity” or “commodification”. Contexts could include “farm animals”[1] and “pets” (Blanchard, 2014; Podberscek, Paul, Serpell, 2000; Alger, 1999), but also canine or equine sports (Chevalier, 2018 ; Wendling, 2017, 2018), guide dogs (Mouret, 2015) and animals used in animal mediation ((Franklin, Emmison, Haraway, Travers, 2007; Servais, 2007; Michalon, 2014), laboratory animals (Rémy, 2009), “living collections” in zoos (Estebanez, 2011; Servais, 2012; Bondaz, 2014), sentinel birds (Keck, 2010) or hunting practices (Safonova, Santha, 2013; Baticle, 2007), circus, bullfighting (Saumade, 1998; Saumade et Maudet, 2014; Combessie, 2017), etc. We can also look at “liminal” animals[2] (Blanc, 2009; Gramaglia, 2003; Mougenot, Roussel, 2006) or “wild” animals, and at the relationships with humans in these contexts. The papers could also examine the importance of these categories in research practices.

Ethical Issues

Debates about the place of animals in society are currently marked by strong ideological tensions (Michalon, 2017, 2018). In this context, the study of animals and the study of anthropozoological relations also question the ethical positionings of ethnographers and their influence on ethnographic practice. Alongside research without normative pretensions, a current of animal studies has developed which, like other strands of cultural studies (gender studies, disability studies, etc.), is marked by an important critical dimension in favour of an ethical approach to animals and their interests (Nibert, 2003; Burgat, 2006; Waldau, 2013). The common objective of the research developed within this interdisciplinary field of scholarship is to move away from the anthropocentric approach that has long characterized the study of relations with animals, towards a zoocentric approach that recognizes animals as moral subjects (Franklin, 1999), agents of their own existence and their relations with humans (Donaldson, Kymlicka, 2011). Some of the researchers in this movement claim a connection with the anti-speciesist thinking and animal liberation theory of the Australian philosopher Peter Singer (1975) and affirm a political commitment to the abolition of animal exploitation. This raises the question of the balance between social sciences and the animal cause (Kopnina, 2017), between a scientific approach and political commitments to animal rights (Regan, 1983), which this conference intends to discuss on the basis of papers by researchers offering a reflexive analysis of their own positionality (Candea, 2010). 

Indeed, the French academic world is marked by ideological tensions around these issues (Michalon, 2017, 2018) which echo the growing politicization of the animal condition within society. In such circumstances, how are ethnographers encouraged to position themselves? How does the adoption of an ethical commitment or refusal thereof, by researchers influence their relationship to the field and to respondents, both human and non-human? How is it possible to carry out the ethnography of anthropozoological relations in these situations of strong moral tensions?

Investigating animal ethics

Proposals for papers may also draw on research on areas where the animal condition is discussed. We can think of animal liberation movements (vegan / antispeciesist / animalist) (Dubreuil, 2009; Turina, 2010; Traïni, 2012; Veron, 2016; Carrié, 2018), anti-hunting, wolf or bear conservation (Mauz, 2005), etc…, but also to hunting groups (Dalla Bernardina, 2017), fishing organisations (Gramaglia, 2008; Roux, 2007), ethics committees relating to animal experimentation (Larrère, 2002), farmers’ mobilizations against the return of wolves (Doré, 2011, 2015; Campion-Vincent, 2002; Martin, 2012), etc. Since animals are most often absent from these fields this is unlikely to be multi-species ethnography. However, these are important places for the production of discourse and debates on animals and their place(s) in society (Manceron, Roué, 2009). They are also sites where animal ethics (in the broadest sense) takes shape, in collective actions, discursive and interactive dynamics. The aim would therefore be to investigate animal ethics “in the making”, by observing how animals are represented (politically and scientifically) by humans and how their interests are constructed and carried publicly (Carrié, 2015). Finally, as these movements are widely spread on social networks, papers presenting surveys including digital ethnographies are more than welcome.

Submission guidelines

Communications may be given in French or English. Proposals, approximately 5000 characters long, must be written in one of these two languages and sent by 30 April 2019 at the latest to and

Answers will be given in June 2019.

The conference will result in a publication: submission of a manuscript to a journal (thematic issue) or a publishing house (collective book).