Human and nonhuman actors within organisations: Feminist analyses 

Stream convenors:

Kate Sang, Heriot Watt University, Scotland  

Charles Knight, Edgehill University, England 

Lindsay Hamilton, Keele University, ENGLAND 

Janet Sayers, Massey University, New Zealand 

Organizational studies has traditionally focussed solely on human animals within organizations (or the organization of human animals). Such approaches neglect other organizational actors, including nonhuman animals which have often been marginalised as ‘part of the background’, as food, as symbols and as resources. This gap is striking given that nonhuman animals are key ‘tools’ within organizations providing food, assistance (e.g. guide dogs) and acting as agents of state power (see for example police and armed forces horses, sniffer dogs). Furthermore, recent research has shown how animals can become integral to the meaningful experience of work in such environments as zoos, rescue shelters and veterinary surgeries; often presenting a physical reminder of human value creation in the doing of worthwhile and dignified labour (even within ‘dirty conditions’). As such, organizational studies is neglecting an important aspect of organization. The human centric approach which dominates organizational studies is hegemonic, in that it is rarely questioned and is taken as natural. While this is understandable, given that many organizations are ‘human’ structures, usually managed by humans, the humanist hegemony that dominates organization and management studies reveals only a part of the story.

However, outwith the organizational studies literature, there is recognition that ‘organizations’ are not limited to human actors. Insects, such as ants, are a frequent focus on research on organizations amongst nonhuman animals. Dussutour et al (2004) investigated how ants organize traffic in bottleneck situations. Ant research has also examined how individuals interact within organizations, and the differences identified in various ant communities (Sanders and Gordon, 2003). Within primate populations, social organization has been discussed as an evolutionary adaptation (Di Fiore and Rendall, 1994). This is by no means an exhaustive list of the study of social organizations amongst non-human animals, however, it suggests that organizational studies which retain a sole focus on human animals are neglecting a broader range of literature and organizational actors.  The extent to which organizational scholars wish to draw on the largely positivist, scientific underpinnings of the research on non-human animals is questionable. Alternative frameworks are needed which can incorporate the knowledge from traditional science and the social constructivist/post-structural frameworks which have informed our understanding of humans within organizations. In this regard, organization studies can learn from a range of disciplines which have traditionally been pre-occupied with the human: geography, sociology, ethnography and anthropology, for instance, but which are now turning towards multi-species settings (see, for example, Buller, 2015).

A feminist posthumanist lens may offer a route to extending the analysis of organizations beyond the human animal. Although there is no consensus on posthumanism, general themes emerge across the perspective which aim to make visible the false dualism which underpins the Cartesian notion of humans and animals (Peterson, 2011). Donna Haraway, who does not consider herself a posthumanist, for example, draws on a trajectory of thought which emphasizes the importance of the subject in terms of both ethical and political accountability. She contributes to critical theory as well as to the social criticism of science (what many term STS) and this can be usefully extended into organization studies, particularly in settings where there is a connection between bio-technical science, humans and nonhuman animals, for example in the meat, farming and veterinary industries. In a similar vein, Rosi Braidotti, emphasizing the gendered elements of this particular interaction, argues that the contemporary era of advanced postmodernity, is one in which “the very notion of ‘ the human’ is not only de-stabilized by technologically mediated social relations in a globally connected world, but it is also thrown open to contradictory re-definitions of what exactly counts as human” (2006: 197).  This radical respecification of humanity makes the theoretical space for ‘others’ of various sorts, be they cyborgs, robots, ‘monsters’, ‘food-producing’ animals, working animals or ‘pets’.

It is likely that any efforts to understand the research the nonhuman animal members of organisations will need to adopt an innovative and creative lens. Researchers will need to locate their research within the broader debates, outside of organisational studies, in order to consider the vast array of perspectives. The nonhuman animal is a focus of empirical and theoretical consideration within disciplines including eco-feminist theory, zoology, biology, psychology, sociology, legal studies, and criminology (links between abuse of nonhuman animals and domestic violence, for example). Here we can learn from discussions of the presence of culture within nonhuman animals. McGrew (2004) argues that experimental approaches are inappropriate for the study of any large brained mammal, including humans. In part this results from a lack of clear definition of culture, which can also be seen in any discussions of agency or subjectivity (Schnabel, 2014), the focus of much human organisational research.

This stream encourages authors to consider the role of feminist theory in destabilising one of the key tenets of organizational theory – namely a speciesist preoccupation with the (male) human as key to understanding organizations. Submissions may address questions such as:

  • How can feminist theory be used to reveal and understand the gendered labour of nonhuman animals within organizations?
  • In what ways can feminist posthumanism revision understandings of the organizations which are considered worthy of study?
  • How are the relations between human and nonhuman workers gendered, and what are the implications for the (re)production of gender inequalities?
  • What are the implications of using feminist posthumanist theory for the ontology of the human worker, or who/what can constitute and organizational actor?
  • What is the potential for feminist theory to advance organizational concerns with nature, for example, locating contemporary organizational studies with current debates on the anthropocene and climate change?
  • How can we overcome the inherent difficulties associated with researching nonhuman actors, including nonhuman animals within organizations?

Abstracts of approximately 500 words (ONE page, WORD NOT PDF, single spaced, excluding any references, no headers, footers or track changes) are invited by 1st November 2015 with decisions on acceptance to be made by stream leaders within one month. All abstracts will be peer reviewed. New and young scholars with ‘work in progress’ papers are welcomed. Papers can be theoretical or theoretically informed empirical work. In the case of co-authored papers, ONE person should be identified as the corresponding author. Note that due to space restrictions, multiple submissions by the same author will not be timetabled. In the first instance, abstracts should be emailed to:    Abstracts should include full contact information, including your name, department, institutional affiliation, mailing address, and e-mail address. State the title of the stream to which you are submitting your abstract. Note that no funding, fee waiver, travel or other bursaries are offered for attendance at GWO2016.


Armstrong, P. (2002). The postcolonial animal. Society and Animals, 10(4), 413-420.

Braidotti, R. (2006). Posthuman, All Too Human Towards a New Process Ontology. Theory, Culture & Society, 23(7-8), 197-208.

Buller, H. (2015) Animal Geographies II: Methods Progress in Human Geography 39(3): 374-384

Deckha, M. (2013). Initiating a Non-Anthropocentric Jurisprudence: The Rule of Law and Animal Vulnerability under a Property Paradigm. Alberta Law Review, 50(4).

Deckha, M. (2012). Toward a postcolonial, posthumanist feminist theory: centralizing race and culture in feminist work on nonhuman animals. Hypatia, 27(3), 527-545.

Dussutour, A., Fourcassié, V., Helbing, D., & Deneubourg, J. L. (2004). Optimal traffic organization in ants under crowded conditions. Nature, 428(6978), 70-73.

Di Fiore, A., & Rendall, D. (1994). Evolution of social organization: a reappraisal for primates by using phylogenetic methods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 91(21), 9941-9945.

McGrew, W. C. (2004). The cultured chimpanzee: reflections on cultural primatology. Cambridge University Press.

Novek, J. (2005). Pigs and people: Sociological perspectives on the discipline of nonhuman animals in intensive confinement. Society & Animals, 13(3), 221-244.

Peterson, C. (2011). The posthumanism to come. Angelaki, 16(2), 127-141.

Sanders, N. J., & Gordon, D. M. (2003). Resource-dependent interactions and the organization of desert ant communities. Ecology, 84(4), 1024-1031.

Schnabel, L. (2014, June). The question of subjectivity in three emerging feminist science studies frameworks: Feminist postcolonial science studies, new feminist materialisms, and queer ecologies. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 44, pp. 10-16). Pergamon.

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