ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P48)
Tracking and trapping the animal
Location Science Site/Chemistry CG60
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Christopher Ward (University of Nottingham) email
  • Caetano Sordi (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil ) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

What does the tracking and trapping of animals tell us about interspecies relations and agency? This panel will seek to investigate how the mechanisms of classifying, tracking and trapping the nonhuman animal can themselves modify relationships in unexpected ways.

Long Abstract

What does a trap communicate? How does tracking an animal create a narrative, be this on an ethnographic, literary, scientific or philosophical level? Is the classification of different species the cognitive outcome of trapping and tracking animals in multiple ways? If so, how and where do classifications of different species emerge? When do the mechanisms that interact between species, these methods of tracking, trapping and classifying, themselves apparently act on their own accord? Whether through the senses or by technology, the following of the non-human animal permeates inter-species interactions as well as the study of the multi-species. By sensory perception, knowledge or technology, the animal might be followed, located or trapped, but can these mechanisms, methods and experiences themselves act, communicate or temporally displace relations in unexpected forms? Does this displacement, whether over geographic distance or time, have a greater importance for such things as biosecurity, ethics, wildness, conservation and domestication? How do the techniques alter our own perceptions, movements and lifeworlds? What kinds of engagement with landscape, atmosphere, anthropogenic or "natural" environments do these activities require or encompass? This panel will seek to discuss such displacement, welcoming papers from all academic disciplines, regarding the tracking, trapping and classifying of animals. We also encourage participants to reflect on how anthropologists and ethnographers become (or can become) skilled in the tracking practices of the peoples they study or collaborate with, as well as the limits and challenges imposed by this endeavour.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Animal tracks, abductive reasoning and the 'absent-yet-present' condition of carnivores in south central Chile

Author: Sebastian Benavides (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Several native wild animals in southern Chile, particularly carnivores, show cryptic behaviours; despite this, different local people establish varied relationships with them. Registering and interpreting tracks and traces emerges then as a crucial aspect in these and in the resulting knowledge.

Long Abstract

The mountain areas of south-central Chile concentrate various national parks and private reserves, with neighbouring small-scale farmers and touristic services. Being an area with considerable autochthonous forest cover and 'wild' landscapes, it hosts an interesting variety of wild animals.

The area has historically registered the co-existence of humans alongside wild species, with relationships that go from evident indifference to acute wariness, particularly with medium and large carnivores. Even though some -like foxes- are seen more commonly, in general they show 'cryptic' behaviours, sustaining an 'absent-yet-present' condition regarding people.

Thus, those relationships rely little on sightings or close encounters, which are fleeting and brief. Instead, I argue that these animals are 'brought in' through the engagement with tracks and traces of their activities, as well as the dynamic casting and recasting of narratives about them. As Ingold (2010: S129) argues, footprints and animal tracks constitute clues of whereabouts and intentions, weaved through the process of "abductive reasoning" (Peirce 1955: 150-156) into explanatory micro-stories. Through this active engagement with the environment and its cues, knowledge emerges and puzzling events are faced, in a constant 'sense making' activity of people's life.

Consequently, farmers, park rangers and researchers weaved stories that connected at some points and that diverted at others, as their own life backgrounds and interests contextualized their approaches to those tracks and traces. Thus, their relationships with those 'phantasmagoric' animals were varied and shifting, mirroring the fluid character of those same environmental cues that provided the basis for their narratives.

Making a home, trapping the market: Gwich'in sensibilities about trapping and challenging anthropological assumptions

Author: Robert Wishart (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Gwich'in sensibilities about trapping emphasise knowledge, respect and creating homes for themselves as well as animals. These sensibilities directly challenge anthropological theories which emphasise alienation and disenchantment so as fulfil prophecies of conjectural history.

Long Abstract

The Gwich'in of the Mackenzie Valley, NWT, Canada have consistently positioned trapping as a valuable exercise despite fluctuations in the price of furs. In this paper I will contrast two visions of trapping. Materialist anthropological theories applied to the trapping economies of boreal forest First Nations created an image of trapping as an activity that necessarily leads to alienation and disenchantment because the furs were being produced for trade in the world economy; with some arguing that the result is nothing short of debt peonage and slavery for a once independent people. From what I have been taught in the field and from the observations and theorising of anthropologists not so concerned with conjectural histories, trapping seems far away from an alienating practice. Gwich'in trappers will talk about how trapping requires knowing the land and relating to the animals in respectful ways; that a good trapper knows where animals are, can read the tracks and trails, but also knows how to invite them into their sets. For the trappers I worked with, creating the correct architecture for animal 'homes' is key to luring animals into giving themselves to the trap. Anticipation of whether this was done correctly and if an animal has accepted the invitation to enter, is also a part of this dynamic understanding of trapping that aligns with the value placed on the activity rather than on the product.

Comes (and goes) with the territory: towards an anthropology of tracking

Author: Joshua Sterlin (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing upon my training as a wildlife tracker I explore the 'relational' turn in Anthropology through tracking, attempting to deepen our understanding of both tracking itself as an 'education of attention' and hodology, narrative, and (more-than-human) semiotics with respect to it.

Long Abstract

Though the trail itself, as well as many 'tracking' peoples, have been a focus in anthropology for some time, the actual practice has gone little theorized beyond its efficacy as metaphor and concept. No doubt many anthropologists have become competent trackers through their fieldwork, however this has not translated into a theorization of the processes involved in doing so. Drawing on my experience of training as a wildlife tracker at the Wilderness Awareness School (and through the CyberTracker certification system created by Louis Leibenberg), I attempt to ground our analysis, thus deepening our understanding of already existent trends, and its efficacy as an analytic concept. Specifically, I move beyond hodology as trails between, focusing on the trail's constituent track and sign which provides insight into more-than-human relations, the education of attention, taskscapes, rhythm and movement, temporality, and so forth, not to mention the actual specific (drawing on Derrida) 'animot' itself. Furthermore the actual act of trailing an animal Other brings one directly into connection and encounter with topography, the weather-world, flora, and ones' own training and memory. Thusly it provides a generative locus in bridging the 'social' and 'natural' sciences. Finally, drawing upon, and moving beyond trails and walking as linked to narrative through their shared linearity and hodological aspects, I connect this to the work being done in more-than-human semiotics, both in terms of interspecies communication, and the development of our semiotic abilities (and thus narrative ability) evolutionarily, theorized to be resultant from tracking itself.

The trap of the deer park and the trailing of deer

Author: Christopher Ward (University of Nottingham)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the systems of recognition of deer within the deer park, and how such recognitions transforms the interactions, the geography and behaviours beyond the deer themselves.

Long Abstract

This paper will discuss the role of tracking, classifying and perceiving deer has had in the deer parks of the United Kingdom. For the last millennia, fallow deer have been maintained in such emparkments, but have not always been apparent nor necessarily even recognised as deer. Instead rather than their presence and the ability to hunt them, the sovereignty granted over an area through denying the movement of deer seems to have been a driving force in the creation of these structures. In successfully maintaining a "natural balance" within the park, the continuity of the deer would also allow the continuity of the heritage of the family that held it. As such not only did these structures act to create a trap for the deer, but for the family and later "heritage" also; maintaining a natural balance of deer ensured the continuity of the personage and park itself.

This natural balance therefore would be maintained, and also espoused to demonstrate proper conduct; and in this vision of nature, all that was deemed unsuitable requires cleansing. Yet in identifying and removing threats and predation to the deer, it would seem that the remaining humans would become entrusted with recreating the effects of the predation that they removed. This paper will argue that it is through the tracking and perception of deer, but also within the unanticipated effects of such efforts, that a commensurate continuity would be achieved throughout the park.

Perspectives on the trapping of Atlantic salmon in the river Taff, past and present

Author: Elgan John (Swansea university)  email

Short Abstract

Salmonids went locally extinct in the Taff, Cardiff (Wales, UK) in the 1800s, but since the 1980s the population had been stocked, practice that stopped throughout Wales last year.

Long Abstract

The breeding population of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) went locally extinct in the river Taff, Cardiff (Wales, UK) in the early to mid-1800s. Since their return to the river in the 1980s the population had been artificially stocked by Natural Resources Wales (Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru), formally the Environment Agency. This practice was reviewed and halted after public consultation throughout Wales last year, a decision that remains controversial among some in some groups (stakeholders).

Here I will examine the history of the relationship between people and the R. Taff Salmon (and other fish species) from the earliest existing historical records to present day scientific data. Naturally, this time frame covers significant changes in the conceptualisation of Salmon and Salmon like fishes (Salmonids), as well as a change in the relationship between the fish and the people interacting with them and with the larger ecology and environment. I will also try to address concepts of value regarding the fishery and of the fish themselves and how this is related to the conceptualisation of the fish and to how this affects decisions on how government funding has been allocated and prioritised.

Encounters in tracking frontiers between humans and animals

Author: Paride Bollettin (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

The paper aims to compare Amazonian natives, primatologists and Italian hunters actions of tracking and trapping animals. These actions reflect specific finalities and animal classifications, but their comparison will illustrate possible encounters in humans/animals interrelations

Long Abstract

In recent years, the theme of humans/animals relations returned at the core of anthropological reflections. Due to the emergence of new theoretical approaches, such as the animism, the anthropology of science and the study of skills, the hegemonic assumption of the separation between the two spheres become more ambiguous. The paper will present three ethnographic cases: the Mebengokré in the Brazilian Amazon, the work of primatologists and the hunters in central Italy. Each of them develops proper skills, techniques and learning processes for tracking and trapping animals, such as following the father, studying at universities or joining an association. They also respond to specific finalities. In the Amazon, hunting serves to feed or to obtain pets. Primatologists track and trap primates to radio-collaring or morphological measurement. Italian hunters are moved from a desire of competition and socialization. Each of them, however, incorporate symbolic values and objectives, and a discussion of these will lead into different ways of conceiving frontiers between species. The hypothesis of the paper is that some common traits can be identified among them, such as the permeability of the reciprocal conditions of prey and predator. This ambivalence illuminates the condition of ambiguity in which the acts of tracking and trapping an animal collocate the tracker. In this direction, the paper will discuss not only the attention on humans and animals relations in recent anthropological discussions, but also the dichotomy between traditional or local attitudes and scientific attitudes in producing knowledge about animals.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.