The Jane Approach


“…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.