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And Say the Cat Responded? Getting Closer to the Feline Gaze

In: Society & Animals
Author:
Kara White Kara_White@alumni.brown.edu

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Abstract

Within the field of multispecies ethnography, a lingering question remains regarding how we can understand the nonhuman side of the human–nonhuman encounter. Many authors have ventured into this topic on a theoretical level, but none have proposed an effective methodological approach for how to achieve their goals. After examining the pitfalls experienced when acting as a volunteer at an animal shelter, I propose that in order to get closer to the feline gaze, we must first utilize an understanding of a cat’s sensory capabilities. Recognizing that a cat’s subjectivities are necessarily mediated by their bodies, understanding how they perceive the world involves a sensory experiential methodology. Highlighting the many contributions of phenomenological frameworks along with their limitations, I argue that getting closer to the feline gaze means appreciating species differences rather than arguing for the shared qualities held across species. Because of the species barrier, an interdisciplinary approach must meld phenomenological with ethological methods to grasp the interspecies relationships created by the cat–human encounter.

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