C&S SIGN Seminar Series (Riikka Hohti)

Children and animals: painful becomings and unruly rhizomes

DATE & TIME: 28th February, 12.30-13.30


Riikka Hohti (Helsinki University/MMU)

Mapping multispecies co-existence requires entering the unsecure terrains of more-than-human epistemologies. It includes troubling the persistent anthropocentric ways of perceiving other than human beings and focusing on multispecies becomings.

In this presentation I explore human-animal encounters taking place in a school in a Finnish urban suburb, in which a huge greenhouse has been built as the home of hundreds of animals belonging to more than twenty species. In this unique unofficial educational zoo, volunteering children and young people qualify as responsible carers for the animals, and they take care of most of the daily tasks related to the well-being of the animals and maintaining the greenhouse.

Commonly, discussions of child-animal relations focus on the relationship between the children and animals in an isolated way. As if the child and animal exist in a closed reciprocity. Such discussions frequently foreground anthropocentric ways of valuing caretaking and child-animal contacts as useful for humans, or imageries of innocence where nostalgia and sentimentality are constantly lurking. However, for multispecies inquiry it is crucial to open the mutual and closed interspecies relations to a broader understanding of becoming, where becoming is always becoming-with.

This presentation will think-with empirical events involving violence, pain, disgust, and death. What can be learned from situations in which a gerbil bites a child, and in which mealworms are killed and fed to an agamid lizard? These events lend themselves to unsettling the idealized and innocent imaginaries about animals, children, or care, and to rethinking the human researcher “I”. But how are these disturbing events to be understood as co-becomings? Because becoming is always larger than being, it is possible to attend to excesses, and to ask: what else? What else is involved in child-animal becomings, and where else can the unruly rhizomes of care take us?

Dr. Riikka Hohti works as a researcher in the intersections of education, childhood studies and multispecies inquiry. She is currently visiting postdoctoral research fellow in the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, engaged with topics around child-animal relations and more-than-human epistemology and methodology.  In her earlier work, she examined children’s perspectives into the materiality and temporality of school classrooms and developed participatory ways of doing research with children based on post-qualitative methodology. She has also written about care, affirmative critique, children and digitality (smartphones) and feminist narrative research approaches.