Feeling/Thinking With Sheep And More-Than-Human Lab  

Anne Galloway, Selena Shaw, Madelena Mañetto Quick, Lily Nichols & Birgit Bachler (2020)


Kia ora. Hello. My name is Anne. I am a researcher and teacher. A child of the colonies and new settler. A shepherd and part of the flock. This is a story about three lessons learned by living with sheep, and how they have shaped our approach to design ethnography at More-Than-Human Lab in Te Kura Hoahoa (School of Design Innovation), Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington), Aotearoa (New Zealand). Communally we come from the Pacific, the Americas and Europe, and we choose to make our lives here now. When I write in first person, I am speaking for myself. Third-person is used when all we speak together. Switching between individual and collective points of view acknowledges and preserves difference, without erasing our shared values, commitments, and efforts.


More-than-Human Lab takes feeling/thinking as our first step beyond an anthropocentric world and human-centred design ethnography. We are called instead by the deep interdependences of the world, and committed to openly situating ourselves in local and more-than-human worlds. We strive always for good relations with others, and believe that change begins with ourselves.

Readers familiar with Latin American sociology and anthropology will know ‘feeling/thinking’ from Orlando Fals Borda’s (1986/2009) sentipensamiento, a beautiful Spanish-language neologism combining sentir (to feel, sense) and pensar (to think). The term’s aesthetics and ethics come through its refusal to separate feeling and thinking, sentiment and intellect. And this entanglement gently reminds us that the world cannot change without us changing too. Inspired by Fals Borda’s work, Eduardo Galeano also wrote of “the marriage of heart and mind” in The Book of Embraces:

From the moment we enter school or church, education chops us into pieces: it teaches us to divorce soul from body and mind from heart. The fishermen of the Colombian coast must be learned doctors of ethics and morality, for they invented the word sentipensante, feeling-thinking, to define language that speaks the truth (1992, p.32).

My use of ‘feeling/thinking with sheep’ comes more directly from Arturo Escobar’s (2014, 2018) “sentipensar con la Tierra”, although I prefer a reversed translation:

Thinking-feeling with the Earth…does not refer so much to ecological thinking as to the profound conviction of our indissoluble connection with the Earth and with everything that exists in the universe, the unity of all beings … We free ourselves as we free the Earth so that we can live together well. This is our call and our commitment. This does not mean only to liberate the land and empower ourselves through the struggle, but to free up the thought, the heart, the will, identity, happiness, consciousness, and hope (2018, p.204-205).

I also want to extend “con la Tierra” to include “with sheep” as a way to align myself with other animals, and challenge the artificial distinction between humans and animals in so much scholarly practice.

Finally, I draw from Laura Rendón’s (2008) sentipensante pedagogy for both the focus and the translation, which has interesting embodied implications for empirical research and creative practice too:            

A sensing/thinking pedagogy also strives for balance and harmony; there is consonance between inner work, focusing on emotional and spiritual nurturance, and outer work, involving service and action in the world (p.135).    

I chose sentipensamiento, or feeling/thinking, as the way I want to describe what I have learned from studying and keeping sheep for three reasons. First, it allows me to acknowledge how much I would have missed if I had actually chosen—as researchers are so often expected—between thinking and feeling as my primary mode of inquiry and understanding. Then it resonates with my experience and belief in the transformative potential of both ethnography and design. Finally, I am convinced that if people hope to know, and live with farmed animals in ways that genuinely honour them-and-us-and-the-world-that-we-share, it will demand nothing less than bringing our full, feeling/thinking selves to the field and convivial table.

I come from Scottish, Irish and English stock but have never lived in any of those countries, instead taking shelter in others’ lands. I grew up in Peru and Ecuador, and entered Aotearoa New Zealand post-PhD on a Canadian passport. Despite being raised on ¡viva la revolution! and trained in anthropology and sociology, I have worked in design schools and as a design ethnographer for the past twelve years. And even though I have finally become the kind of ethnographer I always wanted to be, my overriding recollection of this time is how often the dominant cultures of commercial design education troubled my thoughts and feelings, and injured my spirit.

From this particular outsider-insider perspective I became concerned that in design’s adoption of ethnographic methods, it largely failed to recognise the ethnographic encounter’s ability to transform the practitioner and their practice—not just the designed product. Without that “call and commitment” (cf. Escobar) to change ourselves first, I saw design’s claims to making the world a better place fall flat. Capitalist techno-determinism and the conflation of market research with ethnographic understanding only added insult to injury. I needed to find another way.

More-Than-Human Lab

More-Than-Human Lab respectfully acknowledges the Māori ancestral lands on which we live and work. Our story is in, and of, Aotearoa New Zealand—entangled Māori and settler experiences. We speak only for ourselves, but ally with mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and more-than-human worlds. We accept that our knowledge and practice is highly situated, and we do not seek to make universal claims or prescribe universal actions. Instead we are committed to nurturing a “world of many worlds” (de la Cadena and Blaser, 2018) and the “larger process of humanity’s recovery of [Indigenous] Life-World[s]” (Williams, 2012, p.93).

Māori scholar Mason Durie writes that “all Indigenous peoples have a tradition of unity with the environment” (2005, p. 137) and Manuka Henare (2001) explains that in Māori cosmology, the world is not a resource for humans but rather, humans are part of the world and creation is a dynamic process, always becoming “networks of kinship and alliance” and “animated reciprocal exchanges” (p. 198). To live in, and with, this more-than-human world is to recognise that all things have a tinana [body], a wairua [spirit], a mauri [life force], and a hau [cosmic vitality]. Together, they “protect tapu [the sacred] and so maintain the mana [authority] of the person or group, the tree or forest, the dandelion or flower, the stream or ocean” (Henare, 2001, p. 210-212). We understand that insufficient or unbalanced care of the mauri or life force of one affects the life forces of all, and we follow Stewart-Harawira (2012) in believing that the “meaning and practice of inter-connectivity and of spirit…is vital” (p. 84) to our shared futures.

I began researching sheep farming a decade or so ago, and for the past six years I have kept a small flock of Arapawa sheep—a re-domesticated feral breed found nowhere else in the world—for companionship and food. My fieldwork had been so personally transformative that I took up the practice I had been studying, although my intimate approach to farming individual animals is not compatible with mass production and our small, non-commercial flock tends to socially exclude me from the ranks of ‘real farmer’. In retrospect, it is fair to say that the sheep (and the cat) were the first members of More-Than-Human Lab, and at the time of writing there are only five humans in the Lab, so we remain outnumbered.

More-Than-Human Lab is currently a collective of ethical vegans, vegetarians, and livestock farmers, all committed to feeling/thinking our way gently through the world, learning and growing together, and re-imagining what design ethnography can be and do. Inspired by CLEAR’s (2017) Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research Lab Book, what follows is a value framework for our shared approach to empirical and creative research, based in more-than-human worlds and honouring what Aotearoa’s sheep have taught me.

Lesson 1: Love For The World

Sheep show their love for the world in at least two ways. Sheep at play show what it looks like to be joyful-in-bodies-and-with-kin-in-the-world. They run, jump, kick their legs out in the air, and headbutt each other at every age! Sheep at rest show what it looks like to slowly digest the little that has been consumed, and enjoy being well cared for by the Earth. I often rest in the grass with the sheep, falling in love with them again each time.

Once I had helped a lamb be born and an old ewe die, I witnessed the cycle complete and understood the “unity of all beings” (cf. Escobar). My continued love for the world is what keeps me committed to reparative critique—the kind of critical practice that highlights possibilities for reconciliation, restoration, and transformation. Put a bit differently, love for the world involves recognising gifts and responsibilities. As Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013) reminds us,

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond (p.124-125).

Love is what asks us to dismantle exploitative institutions and industries, and just as importantly, to heal our wounded worlds and damaged relations.

As part of More-Than-Human Lab’s commitment to respectful and reparative relations with the world, we try to create and maintain mutually-nurturing collaborations based on aroha:

Aroha is the closest Māori equivalent for ‘love’, but…the Indigenous concept does not completely match the English term […] Aroha literally means to follow the breath, which implies attentive care and empathy for self and other: to follow one’s heart; go with the flow […] Aroha [also] calls to a larger concept of love, understood as a boundless sense of responsibility for the Other – whoever it is with whom we interact. Responsibility and responsiveness are linked (Tuari Stewart, 2019, p. 103-104).

More specifically we draw on the compassionate, kind-hearted, caring of he Ngākau aroha to express our gratitude for the world and each other.

Following New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence Te Pūnaha Matatini, we also recognise and celebrate the distinct status of Māori as tangata whenua, people of the land. We are committed to upholding the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Treaty of Waitangi, and we seek to understand the differences between the Māori version and the English.

Our love for the world further calls and commits us to the responsibilities of kaitiaki:

[P]rotecting and upholding the mana [spirit, authority] of the local Māori people – the act of kaitiakitanga [guardianship, protection, care] is a direct expression of their tino rangatiratanga or absolute authority assuring the sustainability of taonga (treasures), which includes all natural resources (Science Learning Hub, 2017).

Lesson 2: Interdependence, Trust & Reciprocity

There is a joke amongst local livestock farmers that they are actually grass farmers because none of their animals would be able to live without food to eat. While this clearly acknowledges ecological interconnectedness, I think that interdependence better conveys the gifts and responsibilities that come with “our indissoluble connection with the Earth and with everything that exists in the universe” (cf. Escobar).

To build trust with sheep requires time, respect and patience—not least because they have good reason to be wary of humans. In an interdependent world, relationships are paramount and must be upheld through trust and reciprocity. When I kill a sheep for food, I remember the questions that Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017) asks of a moose she hunts:

Does that moose see me as someone who is engaging with her in the relational terms set out in our diplomacy? Does she feel respected and that she has sovereignty and agency over the act of harvesting? Or have my actions made her feel like a resource? Does she see me as the enemy? Does she feel exploited? Unseen? Unrecognized? Hunted? (p.180)

More-Than-Human Lab strives to extend similar concerns to our relationships with all our partners and collaborators—both human and nonhuman. We also see this to be consistent with the Māori concept of manaakitanga:

[M]anaakitanga is commonly translated as ‘hospitality,’ or showing care and respect for others. If one breaks the word into its constituent parts, mana, the spiritual force within a person, place, or thing; aki, a verb meaning to encourage; and tanga, a suffix designating a process, we then see within manaakitanga the process of encouraging the spiritual force of others toward life affirming ways (Larsen and Johnson, 2017, p.159).

[T]aking responsibility for oneself, acting with integrity, treating others with due respect for their mana and caring for the non-human elements of the environment are all examples of manaakitanga (Tuari Stewart, 2019, p.103).

Trust can be grown by supporting the mana (spirit, authority) of others—including sheep—and we support the kaupapa Māori concept of āta to grow both personal integrity and respectful and reciprocal relations as “āta focuses on relationships, negotiating boundaries, creating and holding safe space” (Pohatu, 2013, p.15). More specifically, Āta haere means to go gently, purposefully, and carefully, making a point of reinforcing that we are not always right and we must take care in our interpretations of ‘others’. In practice, this calls on Āta-whakarongo:

To listen with reflective deliberation. This requires patience and tolerance, giving space to listen and communicate to the heart, mind and soul of the speaker, context and environment. It requires the conscious participation of all senses, the natural inclusion of the values of trust, integrity, and respectfulness (Pohatu, 2013, p.15).

This sort of deliberate reflection, careful communication, and thoughtful action is central to shepherding, and to the transformative power of feeling/thinking as well. To this end, when possible we try to situate our critiques in terms of “calling in” (Trần, 2013) rather than “calling out” practices. 

Lesson 3: Humility & Self-Determination

Sheep have a simple but effective way of humbling humans: they make you force them to do something they do not want to do. A cooperative sheep is a sheep that trusts you and with whom you have established a perpetual cycle of giving-and-taking where force has no place. Sheep also have a strong ability to take care of themselves and each other, and sometimes the only ‘right action’ is to let them do whatever they want. Agency can become autonomy, but neither is absolute when we are interconnected.

More-Than-Human Lab prizes intellectual humility, and promises to work with, rather than for, others. We recognise others as experts on their own lives, and deliberately slow down our practice to get to know those with whom we work—and to give them the time and space to know us, and our expertise. We understand that there can be no futures without histories, and we will never ask a partner or collaborator to take a risk alone. As a tikanga (protocol) of the Lab, this is a way of operating within the research world, being part of decision-making processes, and journeying alongside our partners and collaborators. Acting according to manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga often means we do not find the individual in what we seek, but instead find the whole or whānau group, including nonhumans.

We also realise the power of refusal: as design researchers and practitioners, we are not entitled to anyone’s attention, participation, or knowledge. We recognise Māori tino rangatiratanga, or absolute authority, which can be understood to exceed the right of self-determination under international law: “Māori who signed the Treaty did not in fact cede sovereignty to the Crown [which] implies that tino rangatiratanga exists independently of state sovereignty” (Toki, 2017, p.143).

More-Than-Human Lab is first called and committed to the process of decolonising design practice and education in Aotearoa New Zealand:

At its base, decolonisation means Pākehā giving up some power – particularly the power of deciding what our country should look like and how it should be organised, to the exclusion of Māori visions, dreamings and restorations. This is going to mean discomfort for us non-Māori (Thomas, 2020, p. 132).

To this end we also acknowledge and respect that it is ultimately to tāngata whenua to decide if we are tāngata tiriti, people committed to a Treaty relationship.

Feeling/Thinking Together

E iti noa ana nā te aroha. A small thing given with love.

Kia ora. Thank you.


This is dedicated to the sheep: Ursula, Grace, Emmaline, Mercy, Victoria, Glory, Edith, Melvin and Mingus, Ulla and Ulrich, Gus, Esther and Ned, Max and Murray, Godric and Gregor Samsa, Maeve and Ram Lamb M.

An earlier version of this essay was presented in the Design Informatics Research Seminar, University of Edinburgh. Thanks to everyone who joined Anne on Zoom in the dark days of 2020 and provided caring feedback.


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Author Bios

Dr Anne Galloway is founder of More-Than-Human Lab and Associate Professor, Design for Social Innovation, Victoria University of Wellington.

Selena Shaw (Te Whakatōhea, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu, Te Rarawa) is a Masters of Design candidate in the School for Design Innovation, Victoria University of Wellington.

Madelena Mañetto Quick is a PhD candidate in the School for Design Innovation, Victoria University of Wellington.

Lily Nichols is completing a Masters of Design Innovation in the School for Design Innovation, Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr Birgit Bachler is an artist, researcher, and Senior Lecturer in Creative Technologies, Massey University.