Becky Tipper
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Everyday ethnographies and the art of eavesdropping
Capturing ordinary human–animal encounters
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In British suburban life, people encounter all kinds of creatures. Relationships with household pets provide an obvious example, but many other non-human animals populate the suburban neighbourhood – from garden birds to geese in the park, from infestations of house-mice to visiting hedgehogs. My research explores these mundane engagements, in which humans reflect on what it means to know, kill or care for other animals, and where we might witness the everyday interface between the species. Here, I draw on my qualitative research into these ordinary, often overlooked, human–animal encounters to offer insights for an ‘ethnography of the mundane’. I suggest that attending to the mundane calls for a deeply reflexive ethnographic practice which incorporates the researcher’s own everyday life. I explore the value of a ‘sidelong’ kind of participant observation, and an alertness to asides, jokes and the unsaid. And I suggest that this kind of ethnography involves not only mastering the ‘art of listening’ (Back, 2007), but also developing an ‘art of eavesdropping’.

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