ASA11: Vital powers and politics: human interactions with living things

University of Wales Trinity Saint David, 13/09/2011 – 16/09/2011

(P29)

Postgraduate forum

Location Room 3
Date and Start Time 16 Sep, 2011 at 09:00

Convenors

Eloise Govier (University of Wales Trinity St David)  email
Sarah Batt (University of Wales, Trinity St David)  email
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Short Abstract

This panel allows postgraduate students from a wide range of academic backgrounds to introduce their work by giving papers on a variety of topics related the central themes of the conference.

Long Abstract

We hope that this forum will provide a lively, open and exciting opportunity for students to present new field research and other ideas. Presentations include ethnographic research of communities in Scotland and Wales, complementary papers regarding perceptions of dogs as kin in Mongolia and the 'West', and fresh perspectives on ongoing debates in anthrozoology and human bioarcheology.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Becoming as nature: Rewilding a Welsh landscape

Author: Elaine Forde (University of Wales, Trinity-Saint-David) email
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Short Abstract

This paper emerges from my research in an ecovillage in Wales. Based on the understanding that people live with nature, as part of nature, with no formal structure, the group has developed certain taboos pertaining to their environment ensuring a tangible worldview embodied in the landscape.

Long Abstract

During PhD research, I discovered the history of a group firmly intertwined with references to the landscape. Through a deliberate process of rewilding the community has seen open moorland become thickly wooded in less than forty years. Nevertheless, people talk of "fields" where there are none visible, and stake claims to "gardens" which don't seem to be there.

Many such groups, so-called intentional communities which are somehow estranged from society come together with a common purpose (Sargisson, 2007). In what may be thought of as a liminal place, usually existing rurally, physically away from the influence of society's institutions, yet recreating their own formal structures to mimic this role, such experiments often fail or change beyond their original goals (ibid). Much of the literature on intentional communities overlooks examples where groups have no formal structure. In this case, and in the absence of such formalities, the very materiality and resilience of nature, either real or potential, has proven to be a powerful organisational principle and reference point. By appropriating the existing form of the landscape, it is possible to create a sense of belonging to nature, a powerful discourse in environmentalism.

In this paper I discuss the process of rewilding and how conventions become taboos, such as the taboo on the cutting of green wood. I present examples of everyday environmentalism which, informed by Rival (1993), demonstrate how social groups use the processes of growth and decay which occur in their surroundings as keystones of their own histories.

Keeping ducks in rows: boundary maintenance and reality in the Ruddy Duck debate.

Author: Sarah Batt (University of Wales, Trinity St David) email
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Short Abstract

This paper follows Kay Milton’s discussion of a UK conservation issue, the Ruddy Duck debate, and view of nature conservation as a ‘boundary maintaining’ exercise. I discuss the contrasting worldviews of those concerned and argue that, for nature conservationists, the preservation of culturally defined boundaries is paramount, continuing even when said boundaries may not correspond with ‘reality’.

Long Abstract

A little over a decade ago, Kay Milton wrote a short but comprehensive chapter for the edited volume "Natural Enemies: People-Wildlife Conflicts in Anthropological Perspective". Milton employed the 'Ruddy Duck debate' to examine nature conservation culture in the UK and discussed how the actions of nature conservationists can be interpreted as 'boundary maintenance'. The Ruddy Duck 'problem' is particularly useful for this discussion as the debate incorporates a number of key concepts: preservation of distinct species and biodiversity, the 'invasion' of 'alien' (non-native) species and the impact of human-introduced species (considered 'unnatural'). This paper also employs the Ruddy Duck debate to evaluate and expand upon the issues raised by Milton, with a particular focus on the concepts of species preservation and biodiversity. However, unlike Milton, I consider how far the categories and boundaries maintained by nature conservationists correspond with the 'realities' of the debate. I argue that, in the 'conservationist culture', concepts founded 'in reality' can become abstract and potentially applied indiscriminately. Action against the Ruddy Duck is an example of this: general conservation aims have arguably been applied in a 'one size fits all' fashion, rather than with regard for knowledge of the specific situation. This suggests that for some conservationists, adhering to the general aims of their culture takes precedence over evaluating whether their actions have 'real-world' correspondence with those aims. As the UK's Ruddy Duck population reaches less than 150 individuals, I also consider the perspective of the nonhumans central to this debate.

Dog as an extended family member in Mongolia: Some implications for kinship concept

Author: Gabriel Bamana (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David) email
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Short Abstract

Mongolian herders entertain a special relationship with their dogs. Next to being guardians of the herd against predators, a dog is very often considered an extended family member by herders. This presentation examines some features of this special relationship and dare to suggest some implications for our understanding of kinship concept.

Long Abstract

Recruitment into family and therefore an extension of kinship happens either by birth or by alliance. Amongst the many gift items Mongolian herders use to negotiate recruitment into family by affiliation are tea bricks. This process is entrenched into the symbolic connection between tea and family process. However, Mongolian herders do not use tea brick only as gift item to the bride family but they also exchange a tea brick to acquire a puppy dog. This is so because a dog, although not normally allowed to enter the home (ger), is nevertheless considered as an extended family member. Additionally, popular reincarnation beliefs in Mongolia suggest a dog to be one of the best animals a human being could incarnate into after death. This presentation examines some of the features of this special relationship Mongolian herders entertain with their dogs. Further, the presentation discusses some implications of family membership extension to dogs for the concept of kinship.

Mourning 'Fluffy' or 'fluffy mourning'? The role of pet memorials in preventing human socio-emotional isolation

Author: Fenella Eason (University of Exeter) email
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Short Abstract

This paper investigates physical and virtual tributes that maintain connection between humans and deceased pets, reducing the isolation of disenfranchised grief and allowing exhibition of individual and collective memorial and material culture to preserve the significance of loved companion animals.

Long Abstract

Drawing on multidisciplinary research into human death, grief and material culture, I take an anthrozoological approach to explore the ontological insecurity faced by today's nuclear families that has promoted pets into quasi-human 'stress-reducers' whose companionship may be intensely mourned when death occurs. Human life-stage reaction to pet death is examined as are categories of grief.

Disenfranchised grief may result from the failure of others to acknowledge a pet's significance in the human companion's life, causing a sense of shame and lack of self-esteem similar to that sometimes encountered, for example, among HIV/Aids sufferers or members of minority groups or cultures. However, validating grief for companion animals rather than dismissing it as senseless or contemptible, allows acceptance of the pet's importance to the mourner, increases the bereaved individual's self-worth and offers opportunity to release suppressed emotion.

The paper discusses the value of physical and online pet memorials in providing access for enduring tribute and visible expression of grief. The expanding availability of web pages and social network 'walls' offers mourners new means to reconcile the pet's absence with a continuing presence in cyberspace. Similarly, items of material culture that bring the past into the present and future of human-companion animal relationships are emphasized.

I argue the need for greater communication between pet-bereaved individuals and experts in the field of companion animal death to improve decision-making, discussion and understanding, thus inviting mutual respect whether the pet dies from natural or unnatural causes.

Human remains: people or objects

Author: William Rathouse (University of Wales: Trinity St David) email
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Short Abstract

Protestors against the museum display of human remains sometimes claim that displaying bones and preserved bodies removes their humanity, reducing them to the status of objects. This paper examines whether skeletons are considered persons or objects and then explores how museum display affects this perception.

Long Abstract

One area where the practice of archaeology and its dissemination to the general public has been contested is the realm of human bioarchaeology. Aboriginal communities from formerly colonised areas have successfully campaigned for their ancestral remains to be repatriated and reinterred. Since the 1990s, activists within the contemporary Pagan community in the UK have begun to campaign for reburial of pre-Christian human remains. One of the principle arguments against the display and archiving of ancient human remains is that these practices do not respect remains as people, reducing them to objects. This paper evaluates this argument assessing the extent to which human remains are considered persons and then the extent to which museum display may be said to be detrimental to the individual identity of these deceased people.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.