‘Clean communication’: Felt-sense methodologies and the reflexive researcher in equine-assisted personal development

Tomlinson, Maisie. 2024. ‘Clean communication’: Felt-sense methodologies and the reflexive researcher in equine-assisted personal development. Sociological Review, 72(1), pp. 155-174. ISSN 0038-0261 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Sociological interest in research with nonhuman animals is growing, but theoretical discussion of the importance of ‘multi-species ethnography’ or ‘embodied empathy’ has not, as yet, yielded many practical, qualitative methods. Taking as its case study the systematic cultivation of ‘the felt sense’ in an equine-assisted personal development site, referred to here as The Forge, this article discusses what role our bodies should play in ethnographic research with nonhuman animals if we wish to approach, in the words of Vinciane Despret. In particular, it explores the potential of the ‘felt sense’, worked through somatic-emotional and attentional practices, for achieving greater researcher reflexivity in the field. Using stories, drawings and videos from the research site, I show that finding ‘clean communication’, a place from where the horse’s active voice can begin to be ‘heard’, requires an embodied, reflexive methodological labour that, following Beth Greenhough and Emma Roe, I describe as ‘experimental partnering’. This understands the horse’s behaviour as phenomenologically co-produced, rather than as an object of study, but nonetheless requires clients to cultivate a critical distance from their emotions and assumptions. I argue that the practical techniques employed have methodological relevance for human–animal relations in the field.

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This research was funded by a PhD studentship at the School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester. Publication was funded by a South-East Network for Social Sciences (SeNSS) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship at Goldsmiths, University of London (grant number S/W007061/1).


embodiment, equine-assisted personal development, human–animal relations, multi-species ethnography, reflexivity

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11 May 2023Accepted
19 July 2023Published Online
January 2024Published

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23 Jun 2023 14:46

Last Modified:

08 Jan 2024 11:00

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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