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What does the horse know: an anthropological study on the human-animal bond in hippotherapy

Grant number: 13/18940-0
Support Opportunities:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Master's degree
Effective date (Start): December 01, 2013
Effective date (End): April 30, 2014
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Anthropology
Principal Investigator:Felipe Ferreira Vander Velden
Grantee:Luna Castro Pavão
Supervisor: Eduardo O. Kohn
Host Institution: Centro de Educação e Ciências Humanas (CECH). Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCAR). São Carlos , SP, Brazil
Research place: McGill University, Montreal, Canada  
Associated to the scholarship:12/16260-9 - What horse knows: an anthropologic study on the human-animal bond in hippotherapy, BP.MS


Under anthropological perspective, the proposed research, named "What does the horse know: an anthropological study on the human-animal bond in hippotherapy", seeks to understand how the interaction between humans and animals is outlined within certain contemporary therapeutic practice. The main objective of the study is to define the place that non-human animals occupy on a scenario urban composed by new modalities of therapies, investigating how the presence of animals is evaluated and assessed by human actors. It is worth examining the roles and statuses that the horses holds in the therapeutic groups in screen, observing how the insertion of animals is taken in this context: are these animals considered only as assistant beings, with an utilitarian bias (as instruments, tools, resources) or, more than that, are they being taken as therapeutic agents and, effectively, substitutes or complementary therapists to human in these practices? The exam of this procedures may indicate the emphasis of the treatment given to horses in therapy contexts, and also could, eventually, point to some political reconfiguration of the category of animals and the own terms of the human-animal bond. In this therapy, the statutes of horses seems to vary around auxiliaries, workers and co-therapists, suggesting that the agency assigned to these animals could be under discussion. In this sense, concepts of animality, humanity, body and communication has great importance in the examined scenario, in addition to the ideas of agency, intention, control, discipline, beside the concepts of "becoming" and "ecosemiose" , and thus consolidates the main theoretical-ethnographic issues to be developed in this project. In addition to the verbal language, in equinotherapy humans and horses communicate also by a non-verbal language, through the use of gestures and bodily contact, in order to suggest to horses the bodily movements that might be made. The communication, in this context, establishes a connection between humans and animals but seem, above all, to be a way of getting the horses' obedience desired by human actors, thus establishing human control mechanisms over the conduct of horses. In this way, power relationships seems to be established between these beings (Haraway, 2008), endowing them with degrees of dependence and autonomy, bodily rules and negotiations between therapists, practitioners, auxiliary-guide and horses. On the other hand, far from being taken as a neutral resource, interlocutors seems to consider that horses imposes themselves intentionally to humans, expressed, for example, when it is said that horses have expectations, reacts and challenges humans beings, besides being affected by and generate communication signals. Nevertheless, the therapeutic use of animals must be understood in light of a more deepen social conceptions, that are at the basis of the human treatment given to non-human beings. From an anthropological point of view, thinking about the lives of animals and our relationships with them involves reflecting on the existence of the other and possible forms of relating to these beings. However, this otherness is from a different order than the human others largely studied by anthropology until now, since animals are non-discursive and, as such, it poses the anthropological challenge of being understood, effectively, as interlocutors in the analysis. Most recent anthropological studies offers new models of thought that reconsider social positions granted to these alterities, in so far as they include these beings in theory as endowed with some kinds of agency within human societies, and, thus, will be significant part of this analysis (Despret, 2004; Hayward, 2010; Haraway, 2008; Helmreich & Kirksey, 2010; Ingold, 2000; Kohn, 2002 and 2007). (AU)

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