ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Symbiotic anthrozoology: cultivating (or advocating?) ethics of coexistence
Location Room 5
Date and Start Time 15 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 3


  • Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter) email

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Short Abstract

Anthrozoological interactions receive considerable anthropological attention. However anthropologists are often reluctant to advocate for their otherthanhuman informants. This panel urges scholars working on trans-species encounters to consider the ethical dimensions and wider impacts of their work.

Long Abstract

Anthrozoological (multi- or trans-species) interactions have received considerable anthropological attention. Debates have focused on how to understand the lives of other-than-human beings, and the methodological and theoretical challenges raised. Far less attention has been paid to the ethical dimensions of these encounters. Human-animal interactions are frequently based on inequalities, raising the question: whose 'voice' or experience should take priority? And what should be done in situations where animals might be 'suffering' from their enrolment in human social lives? Scholars from disciplines such as critical animal studies have been more pro-active in speaking up for the plight of some creatures, but why are anthropologists so reluctant to act as advocates here? Are scholars working on the human-nonhuman interface guilty of 'speciesism' by prioritizing the interests of those others deemed most 'like us' (e.g. other primates) at the expense of those less charismatic families (e.g. arachnids)? Moreover, categories 'animal' or 'other-than-human' are amorphous and heterogeneous, and human constructs with significant implications for how these others are defined and treated. Anthrozoological scholarship has a great deal to contribute not just in advancing theoretical debates but also in terms of improving animal welfare and mitigating trans-species conflict in 'real world' situations yet few anthropologists working in this field take steps to apply their work outside of academia, or to advocate on behalf of their other-than-human informants. This panel urges those scholars working on trans-species encounters to consider the ethical dimensions and impacts of their work.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Moral responsibilities to otherthanhuman informants

Author: Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Out of necessity anthropologists develop close reciprocal relationships with human informants while in the field, and as a result many have taken on a sponsorship role when the research ends. However, 'what's in it for the animals?' (Birke 2009).

Long Abstract

Out of necessity anthropologists develop close reciprocal relationships with human informants while in the field, and as a result many have taken on a sponsorship role when the research ends, sending resources back to support the people who helped facilitate their endeavours. For researchers who rely on otherthanhuman animals as informants and gatekeepers, it appears that comparatively little consideration is given to their fates, both during fieldwork and afterwards. Birke (2009) has urged social scientists to consider 'what's in it for the animals?' i.e., what do our otherthanhuman informants gain (or lose) from their enrolment in our research projects? Drawing on vignettes from fieldwork on farms in rural Wales this paper attempts to interrogate the predicaments of the otherthanhuman gatekeepers and informants who have contributed to my own acceptance in the eyes and minds of my human informants, and who have facilitated my understanding of the complex networks of trans-species relations which are integral to life in this particular fieldwork context.

Addressing the issue of dog surrendering: bringing action into research

Author: Sian Moody (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Despite being a much researched area, the surrendering on dogs to rescue shelters still entails much threat to dog welfare, as well as to the humans involved. Drawing on ethnographic research, a balance of advocacy and academia was called upon to address some of the issues of dog surrendering.

Long Abstract

Unwanted dogs face alarming threats to their welfare when their guardians choose to relinquish their responsibilities and hand them over to the care of a rescue shelter. Welfare concerns have been well documented, from the development of behavioural problems through to the danger of euthanasia. Previous research has documented the emotional strain dog surrendering also has on rescue shelter staff and relinquishers', yet practical application of such findings appears to be largely in its infancy. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted at a UK rescue shelter, similar issues were identified, yet also sought to explore avenues for practical strategic action.

Recognising that such welfare concerns transcend the species barrier, the current research looked to adopt a One Health perspective, whereby a focus on improving dog welfare could produce pragmatic strategies that improve the welfare of humans too. Whilst the research aimed to inform strategies that may benefit all parties, conflicts of opinions arose which had to be challenged to effectively advocate for better dog welfare. As such, research methods and the delivery of findings had to be carefully considered and reflexively practiced, to ensure the researcher's ethical code of conduct was not infringed in the process of advocacy.

A question of attitude regarding the keeping of nonhuman animals as livestock: what role can visual media play in influencing or affecting change in livestock policy and legislation?

Author: Jessica Martin (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Nonhuman animals as food pathways continue to gain more considerable attention, in both an academic and public contexts. In many post domestic societies media representations inform public knowledge, thus it is through these representations that change in policy and legislation can be instigated.

Long Abstract

Nonhuman animals as livestock have received considerable academic attention, albeit with regards to ethics and welfare, and continue to receive increasing attention in post domestic social contexts with the rise in vegetarian and vegan lifestyle choices. In post domestic societies whereby the majority of the human social members are living in urban environments and are divorced from nonhuman animal livestock production, media representation becomes the primary means of establishing a form of relation between the human and farmed nonhuman animal. With regards to visual representation, it has been argued that visual media occupies a dominant role in disseminating and circulating cultural imagery. In this instance, media imagery can be seen to function mimetically, as a simulacrum of farmed nonhuman animals, without which human animals would otherwise not engage.

Current post domestic agriculture and livestock practices are somewhat implicated in agribusiness systems, and are thus contingent and temporal to socio-economic market forces. It has already been proven in various studies that an increased awareness of methods in nonhuman animal livestock keeping and production has been an underlying reason for the elective exclusion of non-human animal flesh (i.e. meat) and by-products in individuals' diets. Thus, the use of visual media and developing visual anthrozoology can serve as an instrumental tool for advocating nonhuman animal rights and welfare, ultimately affecting change in policy and legislation.

Still 'serving' us? Anthropocentric imaginings highlight a human-canine mutualistic coexistence

Author: Fenella Eason (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Malamud's 'serve us, animals' reflects anthropocentric thinking but can this transmute to ethical effect by learning from interdependent human-canine partnerships? The symbiotic lifestyle of a medical alert dog and a chronically ill human illustrates mutualism within 'rights' imperatives.

Long Abstract

Drawing on Randy Malamud's grammatical coup de plume: 'Service Animals: Serve us animals: Serve us, animals', I examine the human(e)ly-trained medical assistance dog's ability to serve autonomously - as a self-regulating, decision-making organism - to benefit a human companion in terms of medical, social and emotional health. This trans-species partnership, which appears mutualistic in terms of benefitting both individuals while harming neither, supports Hamington's proposal that we can learn ethics from interactive relationships with animals by discovering 'qualities of empathy and compassion crucial for social morality'. Such discoveries may result in a cross-species embodiment of moral interdependence that also succeeds in extending the biomedical armamentarium.

However, the shadow of dominance for human gain still looms avariciously over weaker species and our user-consumer exploitative society allows erasure of the significant concepts of altruism, empathy and compassion necessary for ethical coexistence. As Malamud (2013, p.35) suggests, 'serve us, animals' is a command 'from the oppressor to oppressed'. Human disability can confer parameters of overwhelming social exclusion often echoed in the disallowed canine 'right' to be present, valued, and included in an anthropocentric society. So where is the balance for achievable moral coexistence in the partnership between a chronically ill human and a medical alert assistance dog? Looking at the negativity evolving from disability, inequality, and concomitant lack of 'rights' among species, and examining the converging biomedical and social roles enacted within a human-nonhuman symbiotic partnership, I favour Hamington's contention for a social morality that enforces rejection of speciesism.

The experience of mounted police horses in an English city: commodities or colleagues?

Author: Sarah Cochrane (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Horses used by police to patrol cities and control situations of unrest face stressful conditions, raising concerns for their welfare. A view behind the public image of a mounted police unit suggests a blurring of boundaries between horse and human, leading to interdependent agency and collaboration.

Long Abstract

Mounted police patrol the streets within eleven cities in the United Kingdom, the formality of the police horses' presentation under the uniformed officers conveying a militaristic image of authoritarian control. As tools of social control, like the war horses used in armed combat, these horses experience sights, sounds and smells which in a predator-fearing species would naturally lead to fear and flight. Their exposure to such conditions raises concerns about possible stress amongst these nonhuman animals.

This paper presents research within a mounted police force in an English city, to consider the incidence of stress amongst the police horses. The opportunity to 'go behind the scenes' as well as observe the police horses at work has led to a revised view of the horses' experience, and appreciation of the balanced, inter-subjective relationship between the horses and humans. In both routine policing and situations of public disorder, the boundaries between human and nonhuman animal are blurred. On routine patrols within the city, the horse acts as mediator between the police and the public, bridging an often fractured relationship. In describing their experience of policing situations of public disorder, the officers reflect an embodied relationship with their horses, recognising the shared communication with each horse as an individual and their responsibility to be part of that relationship. The selection and training of both horse and officer promotes a mutual confidence and shared agency in jointly managing the challenges of policing.

'Water off a dog's back? Reflections on anthropological ethics and ethnographic methods in a Korean dog-meat market'

Author: Julien Dugnoille (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper based on thirteen months of fieldwork, I look at how cat and dog meat shops are organized amidst Seoul’s largest meat market and explore the discrepancies between official discourse and actual practice regarding cat and dog slaughter and meat consumption.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I show that rarely have anthropologists focused on the marketplace as a space where animals are sold as food (a notable exception being Bestor's study of Tsukiji, Tokyo's fish market (2004)). I show that even more rarely, yet understandably as there are few that fit the profile, have anthropologists carried out ethnographic research of marketplaces where some species are simultaneously identified by both sellers and buyers as pets and livestock. I show that the organization of the market follows a strict layout based on thirteen categories of goods. I show that animals are kept alive outside for customers to appraise their health before they are killed, cooked and consumed in the back of the stalls. I strive to give a voice to my participants at the market and engage with both Viallès' dichotomy between zoophagan and arcophagan attitudes towards meat consumption (1994) and Candea's account of the distance (epochè) endorsed by scientists in research that involves animal testing (2013). I argue that Korean buyers, who enter the marketplace operate a similar form of detachment that allows them to be oblivious to the discrepancy between the Korean discourse about the existence of a pet/livestock boundary, and the absence of such a divide in practice.

I also reflect on my engagement as an anthropologist in the field and show that operating a similar detachment from my own Western inclinations, in this particular context, was far from being an easy thing to do.

Human-bovid dwellings in Hong Kong: 'challenging' post domestic and cosmopolitan human and bovid entanglements

Author: Daisy Bisenieks (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic encounters exploring human-bovid ‘dwelling’ in Hong Kong reveal complex relations with ever-changing landscapes. This paper looks at how humans and bovids negotiate relational difficulties, including the anthrozoologist's whilst challenging what their post domestic and cosmopolitan moments mean.

Long Abstract

Drawing from Ingold's 'dwelling' perspective, this paper explores ethnographic encounters of a unique trans-species experience between humans and bovids in Hong Kong. Free roaming herds of cattle and water buffalo, offspring of a former generation of bovids relinquished from agricultural labour, now live and mingle with human residents in semi rural/semi-urban settings, bringing real and perceived benefits and hazards to each other. Yet, these often-conflicting perceptions reveal more complex relationships with Hong Kong's continually changing physical, socioeconomic and political landscapes. Such entanglements are descriptive of both post domestic and cosmopolitan 'moments' in Hong Kong, where close cohabitation highlights various senses of separation and connection. Through their relational spaces, individuals and communities, both human and bovid, confront and creatively challenge the difficulties of the co-construction of their shared environs. At the same time, I also suggest that these relations challenge what post domestic and cosmopolitan moments might mean. From the perspective and challenges of performing multi-species ethnography at home (or in this case, a new home), I also reflect on the strengths and dilemmas of performing applied anthrozoology as a form of advocacy that can have implications for animal (and human) welfare policy and human-wildlife conflict mitigation practices.

Mindful ambivalence: notes from the front line(s) of wildlife management conflict

Author: Sarah Crowley (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper uses an amended form of the Orwellian concept of ‘doublethink’ to consider how we can explore and appreciate and the meaning and significance of multiple ethical positions within environmental conflicts.

Long Abstract

There are multiple axes of ethical tension surrounding the management of introduced wildlife. One is a longstanding question about the appropriate scale of moral concern: does this lie at an individual, population or species level? There are also deontological questions: to what (or whom) do humans owe a duty of care? Is there a human responsibility to atone for ancestral environmental blunders? Should one species be controlled to protect another, or to prevent future ecological disturbance?

This paper draws from fieldwork researching contemporary wildlife management conflicts to consider a persistent methodological and reflexive challenge: where (and whether) to position oneself in these debates.

Following a consideration of the possibilities and challenges of either attempting neutrality or adopting a position of advocacy, this paper employs an amended form of the Orwellian term 'doublethink' to describe an alternative approach. 'Doublethink', here, describes the power to simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs in order to better understand the meaning of each, and it is suggested that this reflexive, purposeful form of ambivalent thinking is both possible and productive when researching complex social controversies.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.