Re-imagining Higher Education through multi-species worlds: A post-qualitative 'plugging in' of more-than-human concepts

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstract


The Yard as our Home permeates our everyday life; 'our' in this context meaning not just myself and the girls, but the horses and the dogs too. Danny, daily and without fail, welcomes us to The Yard with a whinny. In return, Katy asks him how his he is, how his day was. She uses her words, and he his. He answers her in the complex way that horses do, a subtle dance of expressions, twitches, movements and noises that Katy understands and responds to accordingly. As they negotiate their conversations, they are “training each other in acts of communication we [they] barely understand” (Haraway, 2008, p. 16). They are learning about each other, an ongoing partnership, a knotting together of “entangled companion species” (Haraway, 2008, p. 20).

Our more-than-human companions have taught us patience, kindness, sensitivity, empathy, courage, curiosity, compassion, humility. We learn to appreciate the “precariousness of life and… the vulnerabilities we share with other living beings with whom our lives are entangled” (Pacini-Ketchabaw et al, 2016, p. 161). Essential qualities in life, yet conspicuously absent from any learning outcomes we might meet in a Higher Education context. Fugitive terms that seem to elude us. But why? These conversations with the horses and dogs, the learning-with, surely could enrich our classrooms and learning spaces, and our interactions with students.

Multi-species worlds have a lot to teach us. Can we begin to imagine how they might support our Business Schools of tomorrow? How do we start to think in this way? As Pacini-Ketchabaw et al (2016, p. 152) speculate, what happens if we “immerse ourselves in multispecies worlds and pay attention to what they tell us?”

We must consider too, how best to undertake this more-than-human research. A post-qualitative approach may help here. Can we disrupt thinking and instead follow our emotions? What happens if we let our bodies lead the way? Bring animals and more-than-humans into view? Do we challenge the anthropocentrism that grounds research? In choosing to reject standard method/ologies, what are we choosing to embrace instead?

In a 2019 seminar, Elizabeth St. Pierre recalled how she responds to her doctoral students with their concerns over how to ‘do’ post-qualitative research. Asking what they should do next, she quotes Foucault and says “there are a thousand things to do, to invent” (Session 2 Bettie St. Pierre, 2020). This is both a liberating and unsettling notion, but a rejection of traditional method/ologies encourages a post-qualitative researcher to embrace creativity, uncertainty and a willingness to follow the contours of the research itself (Mazzei, 2017)

One might consider using theory to think-with or think-through the data (Jackson and Mazzei, 2013). They draw upon Deleuze and Guatarri when they highlight the phrase ‘plugging in’, using theory as machine with which to read data in a different way. They suggest plugging several different theories into the same data set, to “put data and theory to work in the threshold to create new analytical questions”. Rather than simplifying the data through coding and themes, this complexification of the data results in a richer, more encompassing reading.

St. Pierre (2014) emphasises the importance of reading and finding theorists that resonate with your research. She urges students not to revert to qualitative methodologies, but to ask themselves what the theorists themselves might do, how would they approach the research? She explains that students researching dropout rates and notions of power might ask themselves “how would Foucault study power relations in educational apparatus in which the concept dropout is possible? What would he do to investigate that problem?” (2014, p. 10).

Bennett (2010, p. xiii) highlights the scent of a thing, following a “call from something, however nonhuman it may be”. MacLure (2013) encourages us to find the data that glows, that “seems to invoke something abstract or intangible that exceeds propositional meaning” (2013, p. 661). Perhaps we might attend to the “strange ontological hauntings” of our lives (St. Pierre, 2019, p. 12) – events that trouble us, long after they’ve occurred.

And of course, there are dog walks in fields with horses, trees, wind and mud, that provoke our thoughts and encourage our body to feel its way through the thinking. The above ways of knowledge-ing - the term itself suggesting a process, a doing, an intra-action – are not intended to be an exhaustive list. In letting go of the known, of the safe and familiar, and instead asking “what happens if…” (Taylor, 2020, p. 34) we create possibilities for new knowledge to emerge.

Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter. Duke University Press. Available at:

Haraway, D.Jeanne. (2008) When species meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (Posthumanities ; 3).

Jackson, A.Y. and Mazzei, L.A. (2013) ‘Plugging One Text Into Another: Thinking With Theory in Qualitative Research’, Qualitative inquiry, 19(4), pp. 261–271. Available at:

MacLure, M. (2013) ‘Researching without representation? Language and materiality in post-qualitative methodology’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6), pp. 658–667. Available at:

Mazzei, L. (2017) ‘Following the Contour of Concepts Toward a Minor Inquiry’, Qualitative Inquiry, 23, p. 107780041772535. Available at:

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V., Taylor, A. and Blaise, M. (2016) ‘Decentring the human in multispecies ethnographies’, in, pp. 149–167. Available at:

Session 2 Bettie St. Pierre (2020). (Post Philosophies and the Doing of Inquiry). Available at: (Accessed: 7 June 2022).

St. Pierre (2014) ‘A Brief and Personal History of Post Qualitative Research: Toward “Post Inquiry”’, Journal of curriculum theorizing, 30(2), p. 2.

St. Pierre, E.A. (2019) ‘Post Qualitative Inquiry in an Ontology of Immanence’, Qualitative Inquiry, 25(1), pp. 3–16. Available at:

Taylor, C.A. (2020) ‘Knowledge Matters’, in Navigating the Postqualitative, New Materialist and Critical Posthumanist Terrain Across Disciplines: An Introductory Guide. Milton: Taylor and Francis (Postqualitative, New Materialist and Critical Posthumanist Research). Available at:
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Sept 2023
EventThe European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry: Participation, collaboration and co-creation: Qualitative inquiry across and beyond divides - University of Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 10 Jan 202412 Jan 2024


ConferenceThe European Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
Internet address


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