the ethics of a research imperative

At the CREW gathering last week on November 22, I started to see a need for us to experiment with developing a form of statement – a kind of abstract perhaps, maybe an essay, possibly a manifesto, an annotated diagram, a film or an animation – that articulates the ethics of one's research imperative. During our conversations I was trying to find a 'new word' to describe what I meant by this, and at the time I think I said 'the ethical urge'. In order to think about this further, I went back to a short essay that I wrote about ethics called 'The Ethics of the Imperative'...


It’s not the house

that threatens to fall. But

the betweenness of its moving.


Walls of white water

one after another

after an other

drive bodies in and out

of the kitchen.


Suck formless frames

of flesh and bone

into lead-ridden

spider’s dens

that I now realise

you didn’t want me to mention


See how easily they slide beneath the oily skins

of the free-range chickens

that nobody eats

this evening


Too many cooks in the kitchen

yet not enough to notice

the birds

that you take out of the oven

still raw.


Their lukewarm skin pulsing

absorbing the rhythms that we misunderstand mistrust mis-align

because we don’t see

choose not to see


the weight of all this water.


“…had I been alone for longer than a year I might have become a rather strange person, for inanimate objects began to develop their own identities: I found myself saying “Good morning” to my little hut on the Peak, “Hello” to the stream where I collected my water. And I became immensely aware of trees, just to feel the roughness of a knurled truck or the cold smoothness of yong bark with my hand filled me with strange knowledge of the roots under the ground and the pulsing sap within.”

In the Shadow of Man, Jane van Lawick-Goodall, New York: Delta, p. 50.


As I started to discuss in 'The Jane Approach', I recently finished reading Jane van Lawick-Goodall’s book, In the Shadow of Man,published in 1971. The passage above really struck me. I particularly loved that her little hut become a creature that she would say “hello” too. Her apparent solitude started to reveal that she was not alone, but surrounded by the presence of many types of others. Here she connects with Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, as a sort of vibrancy emerges in the world, infusing her perception of the life of things.

The book starts with her very first forays into chimpanzee research and the process of gradually garnering enough trust from the chimpanzees to observe their activity. It is a beautiful and simple tale about a research project that goes through many ebbs and flows, obstructions and breakthroughs, surviving quite radical changes along the way as the project itself affects the conditions it sought to observe. In that sense, it is an instructive story about research projects in general – and how to navigate the changes they inevitably (and necessarily) go through.