And now it is official: Pauliina and her team – Riikka, Tuure, and Riitta-Marja Leinonen – were granted a three-year project funding to study children’s relations to other animals by the Emil Aaltonen foundation. To receive the grant Pauliina visited the once home of Emil Aaltonen, now a home museum, and was appropriately greeted by a painting of a girl and a lamb in the foyer (the former art history major Rautio forgot to check who the artist is* [see footnote]).
In the project, titled “Significant Others – How Animals Matter in Children’s Everyday Lives” or AniMate (Tärkeät toisilleen – Eläinten merkitys lasten arjessa) the objective is to produce knowledge of the ways in which child–animal relations are significant in order to accommodate their existence in a rapidly urbanising world.
It is virtually uncontested that animal contacts in children’s lives have diverse positive effects. Studies on how significant child–animal relations form and evolve on children’s own terms and thus contributing to their experienced wellbeing, are still missing however. At the same time there is growing concern in urbanising societies of the diminishing of direct, spontaneous contact between children and animals.
If societies respond to this challenge by fostering child–animal relations animals and children can form strong bonds, meaningful ‘networks of learners’ and ‘communities of knowers’. Such communities exemplify ’common worlds’ in which the human actors are intensely aware of their interconnectedness with and responsibility towards the environment. Fostering such common worlds will not be possible, however, until we know how significant child–animal relations form and are sustained by children and the animals as part of their everyday lives.
The main research question that AniMate poses is: How do animals matter to children in their everyday lives? This question is further operationalised into subquestions exploring the meanings, contexts, engagements and practices that make up significant child–animal relations. AniMate will provide answers to the questions through a three-stage empirical design in which results of each stage contribute to the design of the following stage. In the first stage c. 50 children partake in classroom ethnographies exploring the meaning of ’animal’. In the second stage c. 10 children and guardians take part in structured interviews exploring social and cultural views of child–animal relations. In the final stage researchers and children (ages 7–12) with their respective significant animals conduct 6 month long multispecies ethnographies of child–animal engagements.
After the event at the museum the lucky project grant recipients and the board members of the Emil Aaltonen foundation continued on to a fancy dinner while Pauliina boarded a train back to Oulu – only to take off the next day and travel to Sydney and Melbourne (more about these travels in due time).
*Footnote/edit: Pauliina’s PhD student Anna ‘detective’ Vladimirova was clever enough to find out that the painting is by Hugo Simberg (1873-1917), titled Lammastyttö (Sheep girl) from 1913.