ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P24)

Objects, persons or property? Revisiting human-animal relations in the Andes, Amazonia and the American Arctic

Location Chrystal Macmillan Building, Seminar Room 2
Date and Start Time 22 June, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen) email
Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

This panel seeks to bring into conversation scholarship on human-animal relations in the Andes, Amazonia and the American Arctic. It asks what this comparative perspective can contribute to the theme of human/nature and to discussions of how anthropologists can approach the more-than-human world.

Long Abstract

Post-Enlightenment thought originating in the 'Old World' displays ambivalence towards animals. The biological sciences brought humans and animals closer together, locating humans in the animal kingdom, while Enlightenment philosophers argued that animals differ from humans in being irrational, and that one may dispose of them at one's discretion (Kant) or that they are governed by instinct rather than reason (Hume). These latter positions converge with the Christian belief that God gave man dominion over animals - positioning animals as property rather than persons.

Anthropological work from different parts of the 'New World', the Andes, the American (Sub) Arctic and Amazonia, has demonstrated how Amerindian people make different ontological distinctions between humans and animals and assume different sorts of relations between them. Where present, animal domestication seems to have also taken a course different from that of the Old World, much less rooted in the idea of domination. Anthropological writing on humans and animals from the three regions has been productive in casting critical light upon general philosophical and anthropological questions such as the subject-object distinction, the nature of personhood and the idea of property, but convergences between the three regions remain underexplored.

This panel seeks firstly to bring into conversation anthropological scholarship on human-animal relations in the Andes, Amazonia and the American Arctic. Its second aim is to ask what this comparative perspective on human-animal relations can contribute to the conference theme of human/nature and to discussions of how anthropologists can approach the more-than-human world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Forests articulations in the Surinam: consorting with animals and exercises in mimicry and becoming

Author: Fabiola Jara Gomez (Utrecht University)  email

Summary

Carib ontology understands their being as the result of their involvement in the world. Implicit in carib sociality is the idea of being as a process of becoming effected in diverse practices of mimicry and transformation. Based on ethnographic research this paper focus on two different sets of Carib practices: shamanic learning paths and nomadic pathways.

Long Abstract

Carib ontology understands their being in the world as the result of their involvement therein. Most Carib groups in Surinam are horticulturalists. They use the method of shifting cultivation to produce manioc their staple food. Until recently (1960’s) horticultural practices were intertwined with hunting and gathering. Kinship notions still inform the relationships of the group with the cultivated plants while hunting and fishing are expressed in terms of intermarriage and sexuality. Key to the maintenance of these relationships is the püjai (shaman) who undergoes a long learning process which allows him to negotiate the terms of the alliances with inhabitants of the forest. In Surinam Carib groups have being known to (sporadically) embrace a nomadic way of life as answer to colonial encroachment. The way in which this transformation into nomadism is effected is suggestive of the actual ongoing character of the relationships. Going from cultivation to gathering needs a transformation of the way in which people consort with the animals. The nomad groups inscribe themselves directly into the ecology of the forest underscoring friendship and commensalism with the animals with which they share forest products and paths.

This paper will address the question of Carib sociality. It examines carib notions of being as a process of becoming. This effort is based on ethnographic research this paper focus on two different sets of Carib practices: shamanic learning paths and nomadic pathways.

In the society of animals: the nurturing of llamas and their herders in Isluga, northern Chile

Author: Penelope Dransart (University of Wales)  email

Summary

The paper examines notions of society in terms of companionship between species in an examination of the ‘nuturing’ of herd animals in Isluga, Chile. It discusses debates on the notions of continuity and discontinuity between human beings and other animals.

Long Abstract

Social worlds are more than human because they incorporate other living beings along with the human members. In this paper the term 'society' is taken to refer to companionship between species as an attribute of the members, both human and nonhuman. This approach differs from that of anthropologists who insist that social and cultural domains possess an ontological autonomy that differs from the biological 'base'. Based on fieldwork conducted among Aymara-speaking herders of llamas, alpacas and sheep in Isluga, northern Chile, the paper explores the productive activities of human herders and of their herd animals. It examines concepts regarding 'nurtured' and 'unnurtured' animals as well as the forms of companionship taking place between species. Recent debates have questioned notions of continuity or discontinuity between human and other animals; the argument that a 'boundary breakdown' is occurring between species is countered by authors who recognise the uniqueness of individual species. This paper explores spatial and temporal notions of distance between between 'nurtured' and 'unnutured' beings in the context of more-than-human social worlds.

Making partners in the Arctic: dog entanglements with fish, Caribou and people

Author: Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen)  email

Summary

This paper revises domestication through the making of partners between dogs and Gwich’in in northern Canada.

Long Abstract

In the 1860s, Frances Galton commenced a treatise on domestication. Building on examples across the globe, including those from the Americas, Galton elaborated on the history of domesticating animals and shared its findings with his famous cousin Charles Darwin. Flowing out of older Enlightenment thinking, such Anthropogenetic perspectives on domestication would become strongly embedded in “Western Science” and “popular Western thought”. Recent theories on domestication have moved away from these perspectives and give credit to the role that animals have played in the process. Ethnographic work with indigenous peoples in the Americas has shed further insights on human-animal relations and notions of personhood. Domestication, or multi-species ethnographies for that matter, however, has often been side-tracked in these discussions. In this paper, based on work with Gwich’in in the Canadian North, I want to address vernacular ‘Working Dogs’. These ‘working-dogs’ were of vital importance for the Gwich’in, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and Missionaries. In this paper, the focus moves to the making of partners were dogs are “crafted” or “designed” through food (e.g. caribou and fish), breeding (e.g. cross with wolves or particular dogs), and co-inhabiting with Gwich’in. Thus, I conclude, ‘working dogs’ need to be considered as partners entangled in a mesh of relations in which notions such as property and objects are challenged and reformulated.

Prey as person? Some reflections based on an Amazonian case

Author: Carlos Sautchuk (University of Brasilia)  email

Summary

Based on an ethnographic study of the ecological relations between the harpooner and the arapaima fish in Brazilian Amazonia, this work explores the potentialities and limitations of interpretations that centre on the personification or socialization of animals in situations of capture.

Long Abstract

Evidence from diverse latitudes of the Americas support the idea of prey as persons: there is a spirit that controls animals; capture and death are not understood in violent terms, but socialized or eroticized; the animal surrenders itself through a relation of trust with the hunter; the hunter can be transformed into prey, etc. Both extremely interesting and highly pertinent, the theoretical-conceptual elaborations based on this data have stimulated at least two types of discussion: (i) this evidence is based more on discourse than the practice of hunting; (ii) we need to reflect on what person or sociality mean if we are to avoid making an undesired anthropomorphic projection. Taking this questions as a backdrop, I examine the capture of the arapaima fish with harpoons among caboclos of Brazilian Amazonia, where the aspects listed above are found. My interest is not in rejecting the ideas concerning the personification or socialization of prey, but in exploring the potentialities and limitations of this model within this specific ethnographic situation. Adopting an ecological approach to harpooner-arapaima interactions, I argue in favour of the role of these ideas in destabilizing ethnocentric assumptions vis-à-vis hunting. However I also point to some of their limitations in terms of comprehending the mutual ontogenesis of animals and humans on the basis of relations of capture.

Where are the fish? Gwich’in fishing and the question of cultivation in the Mackenzie Delta, NWT

Author: Robert Wishart (University of Aberdeen)  email

Summary

Fish camps are not given much attention in accounts of Gwich’in human-animal relationships. I explain why fishing has been neglected historically situating fishing as an important part of the Canadian fur trade and placing the fish camp as central to Gwich’in sensibilities about social life because of the relationships that these camps afford.

Long Abstract

This paper will introduce the importance of fishing to Gwich’in ideas of sustainability while attempting to reconcile why fishing and the ethnography of the fish camp has gone largely unnoticed in academic accounts of Gwich’in human-animal relationships. The paper puts forth an explanation for why fishing has been neglected, arguing that anthropology aided in this oversight through an over-emphasis on Gwich’in relationships with key megafauna which, in addition to underplaying the importance of fish, missed out on the cultivation of multispecies relationships. It also historically situates fishing as an important, but largely underestimated, part of the Canadian fur trade and returns to an older anthropological observation that the fish camp has been central to Gwich’in sensibilities about social life throughout history because of the relationships that these camps and their associate activities afford.

Why don’t we talk about the dogs? A call for more attention to human-canine relations in Andean herding communities

Author: Maggie Bolton (University of Aberdeen)  email

Summary

This paper uses fieldwork in a Bolivian herding community, to call for more attention to dogs in studies of human-animal relations in the Andes. It draws on theoretical perspectives that aim to take anthropology beyond the human and ethnographic accounts from other regions of the Americas.

Long Abstract

Anthropological scholarship on animals in Andean societies has progressed in recent years from studies that focus on either animal symbolism or the role of domestic animals in indigenous economies to the course of animal domestication in the region and more general issues concerning human-animal relations. Nevertheless, and quite understandably, scholarship has focused most often on relations between humans and herd animals – camelids, indigenous to the region, sheep (colonial imports easily assimilated to Andean world views) and even occasionally donkeys. However, my experience of living in a herding community probably involved spending as much time with local dogs as with herd animals – yet scholarship concerning human-canine relations in the region tends to be limited to a few words about the presence of dogs on journeys with llama caravan journeys, or to accounts of beliefs surrounding death and the journey undertaken by souls of the deceased. As a first step to remedying this situation, I consider Andean human-canine relations through recent theoretical attempts to take anthropology beyond the human, ethnographic accounts from Amazonia and the Arctic and the lives (and deaths) of the various dogs I knew in Sud Lipez, Bolivia and their sometimes ambivalent relations with humans.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.