Multispecies organizing: “de-anthropocentering” management practices in the city

By: Leticia Fantinel

Organizations are omnipresent in our lives. We are born in hospitals, we study in schools, we work for companies, and when we die, we go to cemeteries. Organizations represent one of the main instruments for mediating our relationships with other human beings, with our cities, or even with the environment and other animals. Organizations make possible animal exploitation in complex food systems and laboratory experimentation. Organizations coordinate human and non-human work in assisted therapies, as well as in aquariums and zoos. Furthermore, it is through organizations that public management intermediates our relationships with multiple non-human populations in our cities. The latter was the subject of a project we developed in Brazil.

The project, entitled “‘The organization of animals’: an important meeting between organizing practices and non-human animals”, focused on organizational practices that involve animal populations in the city. In this project, I conducted ethnographic work in the municipal center for surveillance, prevention, and control of zoonosis at Vitória, in the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo, an organization dedicated to the protection and surveillance of animal health in Brazil. It coordinates management practices that involve animal populations, monitoring them, controlling the proliferation of zoonosis, educating local communities, and developing projects regarding stray animals. Shadowing these activities, we could analyze several organizing practices that involve humans and other animals in the city.

For 14 months, I observed organizing practices in this municipal government organization, which had recently undergone reformulations and became a unit of the local health system. It is the workplace of biologists, veterinarians, health agents, and laboratory technicians, where they perform services to monitor populations of bees, spiders, scorpions, and other animals in the city, as well as respond to zoonosis and the surveillance of water, air, and soil quality. In this context, they carry out initiatives such as environmental health education, free sterilization of pets, and adoption of abandoned dogs and cats.

Figure 1: Health agents in orientation activity with the local community (author’s photo).

During fieldwork, we understood that the legal changes that regulate animal handling were fundamental in the city, as they established and explained activities, functions, and structures for public authorities. However, the effects of these changes are felt in the daily practices of management and organization undertaken not only by the municipal administration, but also by the local human residents, thus fostering new ways of producing the city.

Among the main legal changes, we can mention regulatory frameworks for the handling of animals in Brazil, such as the ban on euthanasia of healthy animals and the integration of zoonosis units in the National Registry of Health Establishments, linked to the Brazilian Health System (SUS). There is also the definition of specific attributions regarding the so-called “animals of relevance to public health”, such as animals that are venomous or that present imminent risk of disease transmission to humans. Thus, changes in legislation reflect manifest aspirations in human societies and give rise to the adaptation of environmental and animal management structures in cities. This process results in multispecies organizing practices that are more congruent with such collective aspirations.

Figure 2: Animal adoption fair in the city of Vitória (author’s photo).

Accordingly, we can witness these changes taking place precisely in organizing practices that integrate public power, human communities, and non-human populations. An example is the case of “communitarian” dogs and cats. Their presence in Brazil is acknowledged and their existence is protected by law, but it is when they are integrated into organizing practices in the city that we can see changes in the ways of dealing with these non-human animals in urban space. The relationships of human residents with such non-human beings can be observed in care practices such as providing food and water, for example, or in mobilizing members of the local community to ensure that these animals are vaccinated in the municipal immunization campaigns.

In our research project, we mapped a complex mesh of practices in which multispecies assemblages participate. These organizing practices involve humans, organizations, and non-human animals, but also other non-human agencies, such as viruses (in the case of organizing practices in response to rabies, for example), artifacts, technologies, etc. They demand constant renegotiation of the boundaries between organizations, human societies, and what we understand as the “natural world”. Interestingly, the reconfiguration of these boundaries requires new organizational structures, such as an increasing integration between health and environment public management, for example. A separation between human, non-human and environmental health management makes less and less sense in organizational theory and practice.

Figure 3: Municipal campaign for free vaccination against rabies (author’s photo).

For all these reasons, it is urgent that we discuss organizational and management practices from a “de-anthropocentered” perspective. This means not having the human being at the center, but rather within a network with so many other forms of life in the city. When we conceive multispecies organizing practices, we can understand organizations as means to carry out collective actions (human and non-human) in favor of real sustainability.

We live in an organizational world. Organizations are the means by which our interests and demands are accomplished. Taking humans and organizations from the center of our relationships with the world and putting them “in the web” requires reviewing our categories and our practices entangling these non-human agencies in organizing processes and practices.


Leticia Fantinel (PhD) is an associate professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo, Brazil. Leader of the Study Group on Symbolism and Daily Practices in Organizing (GESIP/UFES). Currently, she is a Visiting Researcher at the Hub Human-Animal Studies (HAS-Hub) and ICS-ULisboa, where she develops post-doctoral research in collaboration with the project Liminal Becomings: reframing human-animal relations in natural disasters. [CEECIND/02719/2017]. leticia.fantinel@ufes.br

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