ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

(P30)
Unnatural selection and the making of nonhuman animals
Location Room 7
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Rebecca Marsland (University of Edinburgh) email
  • Chrissie Wanner (University of Edinburgh) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Matei Candea (University of Cambridge)

Short Abstract

What effects do our concepts of racial purity and contagion have on other species? In this panel we seek to explore how the lifeworlds of nonhuman animals are shaped by practices of exclusion and inclusion, such as breeding, immigration regulations, and contagion.

Long Abstract

What effects can our concepts of race, classification, and taxonomy have on other species? Animal studies in anthropology have convincingly demonstrated that both the hierarchies inherent in racial classification and the distinctions we draw between humans and non-humans seep into the ways in which we imagine human Others. But how do these concepts affect non-human Others? Other species may not be aware of, or able to reflect on, the categories we impose on them, but racialised thinking still shapes their worlds. For example, how are concepts of race and ethnicity incorporated into breeding practices, and how do they affect the physiology, biology, and well-being of other creatures? Are the movements of different species restricted by the same fears and regulations which surround immigration? How do seemingly 'natural' boundaries between different species shape the ways in which we imagine the spread of disease and contagion? In this panel we seek to explore an ethics of co-existence which is shaped by practices of sorting and selection in multi-species communities.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Purity, pollution, panic: eastern european immigrants in the British dog-showing community

Author: Chrissie Wanner (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will examine attitudes towards canine and humans foreign Others in the British pedigree dog-showing community, asking how both individual dogs and wider breeds are shaped by notions of purity and contagion.

Long Abstract

In January 2012, UK immigration policy was relaxed, allowing puppies as young as 15 weeks to be imported into the country from mainland Europe. Many dog breeders involved in the pedigree dog-showing community were already concerned about European political intervention in their breeding practices. Now, the community was beset by new anxieties at the much publicised influx of European imports, and to many this seemed like the final nail in the coffin of the Great British Show Dog.

Concerns about puppies bred by supposedly unscrupulous 'puppy farmers' from Eastern Europe increased as more foreign bred dogs began to appear on the UK Kennel Club's registry. This led to acute concerns that the country's borders were not being policed properly and that puppies with falsified vaccination records would enter the UK, bringing with them the risk of diseases such as rabies. The perceived threat meant that arguments against importation invariably returned to the issue of purity, especially as many of the imported dogs had coat colours not generally recognised to belong in their breeds. These non-standard colours were taken by many as visible evidence of the genealogical impurities that threatened to contaminate Britain's purebreds.

This paper will examine these issues by exploring 'breeds' as multi-species communities of humans and dogs. It will ask how immigration has exacerbated long-standing tensions between the wellbeing of individual dogs and that of their wider breed. In doing so, it will consider how communities and bodies are shaped by anxieties about purity and contagion.

Making and unmaking deer in the Deer Park

Author: Christopher Ward (University of Nottingham)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the system of deer park management in the United Kingdom and the practices of recognising individual deer through their flaws and colouration in order to protect the deer herd’s purity, which in turn ensures the herd’s future as well as sustains the heritage of the emparkment.

Long Abstract

This paper will argue that the deer that inhabit the deer parks of the United Kingdom are constructed into a plural deer, the herd, through the destruction of the individual deer, a process that is performed through the surveillance of the deer manager. Deer management within parks revolves around the population limits of their environment, which ultimately implicates the hunter's skills in maintaining as healthy a population as the local conditions can provide. Whilst non-deer species are understood to carry internal and external threats to the deer herd, the deer manager frequently attempts to embody the "best interests" of the herd by recreating the purity of natural predation through the destruction of the old, sick and weak deer. As such, the deer manager must engage in constant surveillance of factors that could challenge the deer population, including those that are understood to represent poor genetic material. Especially in Fallow Deer, such factors include antler formation, which is monitored to perpetuate the idealised buck, and coat colouration which acts as a marker of the original sovereign granted medieval emparkment. As such, the idealised deer does not necessarily represent itself, but instead embodies a mixture of the park's heritage and the future of the species, becoming unrecognisable in the presence of its fellows. Furthermore, it would seem that flaws allow individuals to exist and their agency recognisable, but the deer manager must always act to prevent these flaws from propagating in order to protect the strength and health of the species.

'Cats in Riga': socio-economic, ethno-political felines in a European Capital of Culture

Authors: Gareth Hamilton (University of Latvia)  email
Māra Pinka (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents our (anthropologists’) experiences within ‘unnatural selection’ of cats and people in the film ‘Cats in Riga’ where cats are used as unknowing ethnicising and commodifying actors, strengthening stereotypical portrayals of Latvia as a peculiar, peripheral, postsoviet place.

Long Abstract

This paper presents our experiences as anthropologists within the 'unnatural selection' of cats and people in the film 'Cats in Riga' ('Kaķi Rīgā'), sponsored by European Capital of Culture 2014 funding. It also analyses the processes involved in this selection at the hands of a famous Danish documentary film director who chose Hamilton's idea to use cats as a means to represent the city. It shows how a lack of 'methodological mutualism' led to ethical quandaries. While cats are often used as a symbol of Riga, ironically, it is a city with a major feral population. Rather than as a means of presenting 'natural' cat behaviour, including human interactions, within an interesting urban environment, based on ethnographic fieldwork of 'catscapes' (as intended originally), the film became an exercise in sensationalism, provocation and stereotypical presentation. This resulted mostly from the process of 'selection', where cats were chosen based on their human owners' attributes, e.g. required to mirror the socio-economic status of their owners on one hand where cats are seen in dilapidated Soviet-era housing areas. On the other, cats became symbolic of ethno-political tension both within Riga, and within wider supposed quasi-regional ethno-national conflict (i.e. Ukraine). From a cat watching news reports of tanks, to cat and owner dressed in similar bright hues attending tense 9 May Victory Day celebrations seen as overwhelmingly ethnic Russian, cats are used as unknowing ethnicising and commodifying actors, strengthening stereotypical portrayals of Latvia as a peculiar, peripheral, postsoviet place within an unstable, troublesome eastern Europe.

The indigenous bee and the imported bee

Author: Rebecca Marsland (University of Edinburgh)  email

Short Abstract

Increasing rates of disease in bee populations means that there is increasing pressure to stop importing bees, and to breed indigenous bees. What are the biopolitics of these efforts to control bee populations?

Long Abstract

What is at stake in the import and export of bees? The increasing incidence of disease in bee colonies in the UK means that commercial beekeepers must rely on imported honeybees in order to keep their businesses afloat. Likewise soft fruit farmers import commercially-bred bumblebees to pollinate soft fruit efficiently. These immigrant bees do not travel alone - but reputedly threaten local bee populations with the disease-causing microbes that they carry with them. Some beekeepers wish to close our borders to bees, and are calling for import restrictions. Simultaneously there is increasing interest in breeding pure strains of indigenous bee, such as the Scottish Black Bee. In this paper I interrogate the politics of bee breeding and bee imports. To what extent is the interest in maintaining the purity of indigenous bees created by the fear of contagion associated with immigrant bees? What are the ethics and biopolitics of these efforts to control bee populations?

In the company of wolves

Author: Christopher Davis (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

In portrayals of the social/animal, the wolf is always the outsider.In an earlier paper, I gave thought to the fact that wolves, like ourselves, are social creatures. In this paper, I would like to explore the respect in which they are political creatures too.

Long Abstract

In portrayals of the social/animal, the wolf is always the outsider. Almost always alone, an unwelcome intruder, the wolf, it seems, carries the burden of recreating the social by demonstrating first society's abiding vulnerabilities and then its conclusive triumph and reconstruction through the use of lethal force. This, at least, is the European mythic form. In an earlier paper, I gave thought to the potentially significant change to our ideas of the social that might derive from taking seriously the fact that wolves, like ourselves, are social creatures. In this paper, I would like to explore the respect in which they are political creatures too. In the United States, where wolves in the lower 48 were hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th century, federal protections and reintroductions have allowed wolf populations to recover. In addition, new technologies of observation have provided the basis for the formation of individuated narratives. These are the stories wolves could tell of their lives and, in some cases, of their many wanderings as individuals and as groups. This in turn has set the stage for political conflicts about and around them; conflicts that often deploy political activity, including legislation, lawsuits, referenda and rhetoric - of both hostile and amiable intent, that is not unlike that used to shape relationships to other "outsiders".

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.