Training Relations: Horses, leadership and proper sociality in the Danish neoliberal welfare society

Aja Smith

Publikation: Monografi/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandlingForskning


This thesis explores the phenomenon of horse-assisted leadership training and the manners, in which the training relations between horses, managers and facilitators were entangled with perceptions of, what “proper sociality” entailed and felt like in contemporary Danish society. The study is positioned at the intersection of anthropology and consumer culture research and is based upon 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in fields, offices and conference rooms throughout Denmark in 2012 and 2013 as well as reading of emic literature and marketing material.

The main argument of the thesis is, that the relations between managers, horses and facilitators trained them all in being individual and social in ways, that aligned with perceptions of “proper sociality” in contemporary Denmark. I have argued, that facilitators specifically trained balancing uniqueness with sameness, managers specifically were training balancing authority with equality, and horses trained balancing lucidity with care – as did the facilitators through their relations with horses. I have held that more fundamentally, all were training to sense, feel, move and think in ways, that aligned their manners of relating to themselves and to others with perceptions about, what constituted desirable individuality and sociality in the broader Danish society. I have approached contemporary Denmark as shaped significantly by the local marriage between welfare and neoliberal logics and affects – and argued, that the particular balance, which managers, horses and facilitators were training to strike between self-centredness and other-orientation, self-interests and fellow-feelings, was related to this marriage.

The thesis contributes to the conceptualisation of the relationship between the self and sociality, particularly within consumer culture research interested in destabilising the primacy of the agentive powers of the human consumer. It does so by broadening the notion of the social to include animals – and by emphasising the sensorial, bodily and affective dimensions of the relations between self and sociality. A related contribution of the thesis is to illustrate the analytical and ethical importance of rendering these sensorial, bodily and affective dimensions of phenomena sensible.

The thesis also contributes to the charting of Denmark ethnographically, sketching the relations between perceptions of “proper sociality” and the tension between neoliberal and welfare affects. Finally then, the thesis – more broadly speaking – contributes to research on the local workings of neoliberal affects showing, how the marriage between neoliberalism and welfare in contemporary
Danish society has made striking the right balance between individuality and sociality a question always to be solved in relations with others. And as such requiring training relations.
ForlagSyddansk Universitet. Det Samfundsvidenskabelige Fakultet
Antal sider219
StatusUdgivet - 2017

Bibliografisk note

Aja Smith is an anthropologist, working at the intersection of human-animal relations, technologies of professional training and personal development and specialised in the Danish region. Aja is affiliated with the Consumption, Culture and Commerce research group at the Department of Marketing & Management at the University of Southern Denmark.

Before coming to SDU, Aja obtained an MA in anthropology from the University of Copenhagen in 2009 and then went on to teaching for a few years. She first taught at respectively Monash University and Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia where she then lived and upon returning to Denmark, she continued teaching at the Department of Anthropology, Copenhagen University. Aja has worked as a the chief researcher on two research projects pertaining to the role of interdisciplinarity at the Faculty of Arts at Monash University and has experience working as a junior researcher at two different international market research agencies.

Note vedr. afhandling

Grad tildelt d. 25-10-2017

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  • Citationsformater

    Smith, A. (2017). Training Relations: Horses, leadership and proper sociality in the Danish neoliberal welfare society. Syddansk Universitet. Det Samfundsvidenskabelige Fakultet.