Part 5, 5 August 2019

Mediated Intimacy, Companion Animals and Careful Surveillance

Associate Professor Ingrid Richardson


Ingrid has a broad interest in the human-technology relation and has published on the cultural and phenomenological effects of games and mobile media, digital ethnography and innovative research methods, urban screens, wearable technologies, virtual and augmented reality, remix culture and web-based content creation and distribution. She is contributing co-editor of Studying Mobile Media (Routledge, 2011) and co-author of Gaming in Social, Locative and Mobile Media (Palgrave, 2014), Ambient Play (MIT, forthcoming), and Understanding Games and Gaming Cultures (Sage, forthcoming).


When we first entered Australian homes as part of a three-year multi-city research project on mobile media and games, we envisaged that people would be the sole focus of our data collection. Yet it soon became clear that in many homes, humans and their companion animals are entangled in various forms of digitally mediated intimacy. We have observed cats playing with iPads, birds strutting across keyboards and mimicking the clicks and buzzes of digital devices, dogs watching television and participating in Skype calls, and pets of all kinds co-opted into the use of wearable devices and monitoring systems. 

As we increasingly involve our pets in the gamification and quantification of everyday life, wearable technologies have become integral to an ethics of care and surveillance that engages paradoxical notions of constraint and guardianship. Our relationship with domestic animals is fraught with ambiguity; pets are both nature and culture, instinctual and social, controlled yet nurtured, at the same time possessions and friends. As a way of addressing these paradoxes of care, in this paper I suggest that our mediated kinship with domestic animals is informed by a kind of “careful surveillance”. 

The significance of human-animal relations has been the ongoing focus of multispecies theorists, including Donna Haraway, Anne Galloway, Matthew Calarco, Hanna Wirman, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa and others. Their work actively critiques the age of the Anthropocene, and challenges human-centric approaches to ontology, agency, design and ethnographic research. As I will argue, adopting multispecies approaches has significant implications for how we understand digitally mediated intimacy, kinship and the affective geographies of the home.