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Book: Ritual, Personhood and the New Animism

Chapter: ‘Guesthood’ as a Scientific Method: Principles Supporting Relational Research

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.45202


In an important article appearing in the journal Numen in 2003, Graham Harvey argued that research among living communities requires that those conducting the investigations assume that they are guests of the subjects of their academic studies. In other words, scholars must acknowledge that their research can proceed only by the consent of the communities being studied. In this sense, consent equates to an invitation. Harvey called this research method ‘guesthood’. In this chapter, Harvey’s description of research is expanded into an analysis of ‘relational research’, which has grown out of scientific principles advocated by the leading physicist Carlo Rovelli, who contends that everything in the universe is relational. Rovelli has demonstrated in laboratory studies how so-called physical processes differ according to context and are relative to the position of the observer. By extension, when applied to the study of human subjects, the interaction between the researcher and those being researched is determinative in producing scientific conclusions. Relationality as a key concept in research methodologies not only acknowledges local agency as critical in designing research projects, but, following Rovelli, this chapter contends that principles derived from relational research are requisite for a study to be regarded as genuinely scientific.

Chapter Contributors

  • James Cox ([email protected] - jamescox) 'University of Edinburgh and Western Sydney University'