Ethnography in evolution: adapting to the animal “other” in organizations

Lindsay Hamilton (University of Keele, Newcastle‐under‐Lyme, UK)
Nik Taylor (Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Publication date: 20 April 2012



Traditionally, ethnography has been well placed to take account of the messy and complex processes that produce workplace cultures. Likewise, it has always taken interest in the objects, materials and symbolic artifacts that help furnish those organizational cultures. Yet researchers face a particular challenge when the organization in question includes animals. The purpose of this paper is to ask: How do we take account of such others? Are they objects, things, agents or should they be considered to be workers?


The authors consider several examples of animal‐human workplaces, including abattoirs, laboratories and farms, to argue that ethnography can, and should, take account of animals in creative new ways. First‐hand experience of such settings is drawn upon to argue that contemporary post‐human scholarship and the creative arts offer the potential for more subtle research methods.


The authors’ fieldwork shows that it is not always a straightforward desire to care for other species that motivates people to work with animals. Instead, a range of unexpected meanings can be drawn from the interaction with animals. It is also unsatisfactory to claim that those working with animals are always motivated by the promise of paid employment. In many cases, notably the rescue shelter, work is often done on a voluntary basis. So the rewards are not always financial but reach into more symbolic and ethical domains of value creation. Conversely, in slaughterhouses, the mechanization of the shopfloor makes it difficult for workers to relate to the “products” as animals at all. The repetitive nature of this work disconnects those on the production line from the idea that they are dealing with bodies. The complexity of these human‐animal relationships means that field methods for studying them must be adapted and evolved.


This paper provokes some new questions about human‐animal meaning making for organizational ethnographers. It does so to generate creative new ideas about field methods and the nature of the “others” that researchers participate with to observe.



Hamilton, L. and Taylor, N. (2012), "Ethnography in evolution: adapting to the animal “other” in organizations", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 43-51.

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