Associate Professor in Health Aging and Society James Gillett’s key areas of research include: human animal relationships; sport, leisure and recreation; mental health and well-being; media and communications; perspectives on living with health and illness across the life course; and inquiry as an approach to education and learning.
Gillett’s recent research looks at the collaborative and inter-dependent relationship between human and other species. This work includes studies of animal assisted interventions, like the use of therapy dogs on university campuses, in libraries and at long term care centers and interspecies sports and recreation like equestrian events, dog sports and even falconry. Gillett seeks to challenge and expand upon ideas about what it means to be human. His work also connects to practical questions about the health and wellbeing of all species.
Some social science theories postulate that the complexity of humanness is best understood in the context of our relationships with other species. While exploring such challenging concepts, Gillett is immersed in research programs that benefit humans and non-human animals. His research is primarily qualitative and interpretative and is situated in social psychological and sociological theories and research perspectives.
For instance, at McMaster Gillett is involved in a program called Dogs at MAC. A unique feature of this program is exploring the contribution that a therapy dog can make when working along with academic staff on campus. One dog, Liam, works closely with one of the librarians on campus. A second dog, Lilly, works with an academic advisor, assisting students in making the most of their time at university. In another project, rescue dogs from the SPCA are paired with boys at a Hamilton youth detention facility. Over four weeks, each boy trains a dog, preparing it to be ready to find a home.
Through such programs, Gillett explores complex research questions and puts this research into practice, identifying and exploring the mutual benefits that can come with relationships between people and animals.
His work brings an important component to the Department of Health, Aging and Society, with its mandate to view aging and health as a social, political and historical process, and to the Arts & Science Program.