This multi-media blog explores how the lives of foxes and humans are connected in London, in terms of our physical environment, sociality, imagination and representation. I have adopted multiple modes of research methodology and data presentation, in order to find new ways of revealing aspects of fox-human social connections that would be less effectively rendered through text. The blog includes short films, sensory ethnography, mapping, photography, drawings and infographics.
Anthropological and academic positioning
A rich body of work has developed within anthropology, which looks at human-nonhuman or human-animal sociality (Haraway 2003; Ingold 1994; Tsing 2003; Jalais 2010 etc.). The exclusive study of human to human sociality risks missing illustrations of our wider social networks and the factors that impact our way of thinking about our environment and our place within it:
“A growing body of work shows how people’s interactions with animals are not only embedded in their relation to the environment as a practical experience but also as narratives, giving them scope to elaborate on their ideas of the social” (Jalais 2010: 7-8).
Current Public Debates about foxes, wildness and restoration.
As well as sitting within an academic framework, I hope this ongoing research can contribute insights to current public debates and concerns around encroachment on ‘wild’ habitats, control of wild animal populations (e.g. the badger cull) and, in Northumberland and Scotland, consultations about the possible reintroduction of the lynx and the wolf. “Cultural constructions” of certain species of animal affect the way we perceive their and our place in the landscape. Exploring how animals behave and interact with us can help to reduce friction and fear, and promote healthier attitudes to wildlife and wild spaces.
Methodology & Data Presentation:
In order to more effectively reflect sociality across the species divide, I have employed sensory ethnography (smell and sound) which “encourages attention to the many dimensions of the world, both animate and inanimate, that may only with difficulty, if it all, be rendered with propositional prose” (Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab). This has given me the opportunity to attempt to ‘think more like a fox’ and to try to unsettle some of my own humanness, which in turn provided insight into the ways human-animal conflict situations can arise, and why people may dislike or even fear animals like the fox.
Using a range of methodologies has enabled me to further explore multiple media approaches – including traditional face-to-face interviews, an online interactive survey, film and audio recording, photography, mapping and sensory ethnography. I wanted to use a variety of approaches so as to see how the presentation of findings can be made more impactful and effective. For example, I’d read an article about human-monkey conflict in Singapore which presented key word associations from respondents, but as a list it was difficult to understand the frequency of the use of these terms. Wordclouds can visualise the occurrence of key terms more impactfully (Yeo & Neo 2010: 691). A blog was the ideal way to curate this mix of media.
Location of research:
Although the primary focus is on human-fox relations in London, some respondents are from other parts of the UK, and my study of cultural representations of foxes has an international element (e.g. how the fox is depicted in Japanese folktales).
[Photograph credits: Sam Hobson, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2016]