DOI: 10.1215/22011919-10745968 ISSN: 2201-1919

Sensory Co-laboring

Diana Pardo Pedraza
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology
  • Ecology


Demining has not been an exclusively human affair. Mine detection dogs have been indispensable in the work of detection and in the slow but essential effort to regain trust in mine-suspected landscapes. Famously renowned for their extraordinary sensory perception, physical strength, and mental traits, they are part of human-nonhuman units training and working together to perceive explosives’ odors. This article considers the role of these units, known in Colombia as binomios caninos, in the strenuous task of mine clearance. Drawing on eighteen months of ethnographic engagement with global and local humanitarian demining efforts in Colombia, it examines detection choreographies and daily interactions, proposing to think of their joint work in terms of sensory co-laboring. Bringing anthropological work on collaboration between worlds, sensory labor, and animal work into dialogue, this composite term foregrounds detection as labor and as a result of human-nonhuman cooperation. It also highlights the asymmetrical field in which these collaborators converge and the divergent desires, affects, and attachments that mobilize their participation in demining. Mine detection is conceptualized as a sensory task through which dogs and humans intra-act, both together and apart. Recognizing this partial connection allows us to rethink how humans and other creatures are ontologically reconstituted and how overlapping histories of warfare and humanitarianism, legacies of animal behavioral practice, and instrumental-affective interactions shape these reconstitutions.

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