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Animals, Society and Culture


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Title: Animals, Society and Culture

Animals, Society and Culture
  • Lecture 10
  • Animals and cultural identities
  • 2013-14

Lecture outline
  • Colonial encounters, how cultural identities
    defined in relation to animals, and how animals
    are implicated in processes of conquest
  • Post-colonial processes of asserting national
  • Animals as national/racial symbols

  • Word that comes from Ojibwa (Native North
    American) and means brother/sister/kin a totem
    animal is kin.
  • In such societies marriage is prohibited between
    people of the same totem as it denotes close
  • Borero in Brazil identify with the red macaw,
    they say that they are macaws.

Colonial encounters - bison
The destruction of the bison by A C Isenberg
(2000, Cambridge University Press).
  • Bison declined from 30 million in the middle of
    the 18th century to a few hundred by the early
    20th century.
  • The near extermination of the bison resulted from
    the encounter between Indians and Euroamericans
    in the Great Plains interactions of ecologies
    just as important as economic and cultural
  • So hes talking about ecological imperialism as
    well as economic and cultural imperialism.

  • Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Indians
    relied on a range of resources, hunted bison on
  • After arrival of Europeans, migrated to marginal
    lands, used the horse to hunt bison.
  • The rise of the nomadic, equestrian,
    bison-hunting Indian societies of the western
    plains was largely a response to this European
    ecological and economic incursion (Isenberg,

18th century
  • Nomadic Indians became specialists in bison
    hunting with a new technology, the horse.
  • Also became involved in fur trade beaver was
    almost exterminated by the fur trade by the end
    of the 18th century.
  • And were decimated by imported diseases such as
  • The horse, the fur trade and epidemic disease
    together created the nomadic hunters. The
    emergence of the plains Indians in the 18th
    century was thus largely a reaction to European
    conquest of North America. (Isenberg, 200061)

Folk tales
  • Bison totemic animals for plains Indians
  • Tales present the bison as both a mythic source
    of social and environmental stability and a wily,
    elusive antagonist (Isenberg, 200075)
  • The tales located the origins of communalism in
    their encounter with the bison.

Bison revered
  • Extended ethic of cooperation to bison believed
    the animals sacrificed themselves for the good of
    the human community.
  • In return for bison allowing themselves to be
    killed the nomads offered a portion of the hunt
    as sacrifice. Shared its meat as sacred food at
    ceremonial feast that concluded the hunt.
    (Isenberg, 200082)
  • The nomads customs indicate that they
    understood that just as their survival depended
    on the cooperation of the community, their
    continued subsistence depended on cooperation
    with their game. (Isenberg, 200083)

19th century
  • Expansion of the trade in skins of bison led to
    commercialisation of nomads culture and the
    destruction of the bison and the Indians who
    depended on them.
  • Euroamerican bison hunters completed the almost
    total extinction of the bison in the late 19th
  • Domestic cattle replaced the slaughtered bison
    (Isenberg, 2000129).
  • Eventually Indians had no option but to submit to
    reservation system, theyd eliminated the
    resource they relied on for survival.

Conflicting views
  • Bison and Indians were seen as wild and therefore
    inferior to domestic cattle and their masters.
  • Advocates of slaughter appealed to belief that
    extinction of the bison and subjugation of the
    Indians necessary for Euroamerican settlement of
    the Great Plains.
  • Conflicting belief - that bison and Indians
    shouldnt be exterminated. Animal protection and
    Indian humanitarianism emerged in 19th century.
  • Hunting of bison was robbing plains Indians of
    their livelihood and causing Indians to resort to
    acts of violence.

Natural selection and survival of the fittest
  • Arguments in favour of slaughter were legitimated
    by ideas about natural selection.
  • Destruction of the bison inevitable part of the
    advance of civilisation. Domestic cattle used the
    range more productively than did bison. Wild
    animals have to vanish before the advance of
  • Bison are wild, savage cattle are domesticated,
  • Slaughter seen as the survival of the fittest.
    Advancement towards higher forms from Indians
    and bison to Euroamericans and domestic

Creation myths
  • Bison symbolised untamed nature, the frontier,
    and masculinity
  • The preservation of the bison was a means to
    preserving an imagined, masculine, frontier
  • So not about the bison but about how
    Euroamericans saw themselves.
  • The bison was a living icon of an imagined
    heroic West.

  • Bison now an icon of wilderness, like the wolf
  • But the late 19th and early 20th century
    wilderness mentality, found no place for
    Indians in its conception of a pristine,
    uninhabited North American environment
    (Isenberg, 2000185).

Changing understandings
  • Was transformation from wilderness to
  • Now understood in terms of encounter,
    environment, domestication
  • Interrelations between human societies and the
    natural environment, reciprocal rather than

Acclimatisation society
  • Wild animals were to be raised as livestock, not
    because their flesh would improve the national
    food supply, but because those with the wealth
    and skill to breed them wished also to
    appropriate them as completely as possible
    (Ritvo, 1987237).

  • Acclimatisation Societies also established in
  • The aims of the Acclimatisation Society of
    Victoria, founded in 1861, were similar to those
    of the British society but they were more
    interested in supplanting the native fauna than
    in supplementing it (240).
  • Found no useful animals in the colony so proposed
    to introduce the roe deer, the partridge, the
    rook, the hare, the rabbit, the salmon and the
  • Acclimatisation societies set up in every state
    of Australia between 1861 and 1896 (Franklin,

Eradication thinking
  • eradication programmes ostensibly based on sound
    ecological principles, science, but actually
    theyre pursued where theres no evidence of the
    harmful effect of introduced species.
  • some species which are invasive trout, deer,
    hare arent subject to such intense eradication
  • some native species which have migrated out of
    their proper ecosystem are left in peace or, if
    action is taken then its couched in terms of
    nationalism rather than ecology (Franklin,

Species cleansing and nationalism
  • Nations are imagined communities and part of
    these imaginings involve ideas about nature,
    native and nation
  • Eradication is ritual a ritual of purification.
  • But insiders and outsiders difficult in Australia
    as its a migrant society so which animals are
    to be defined as outsiders?
  • Links ideas of nationalism to ecology the idea
    that certain animals, species, races belong in
    certain places/ecosystems while in others theyre
    out of place.

Cultural colonialism
  • Being Australian means that you should want to
    protect native species and not have any
    attachment to species that originate where you
  • By second half of 19th century Australian
    wildlife was being valued in its own right (cf.
    America and early attempts to protect the bison).
  • Australian animals like the kangaroo and koala
    becoming symbolically important.
  • Rather as in the US a reverse process began
    whereby native animals shifted from being a
    commercial colonial product, rendered into fur
    and feathers by gangs of professional shooters,
    to icons of nation (Franklin, 2011203)

  • Movement to get rid of non-native species, create
    pure Australian wilderness
  • There is increasingly a recognition that the
    introduction of non-native species is a two-way
    process similar argument to Isenberg -
    hybridity is to be valued rather than purity
    its a strength of Australian nature rather than
    something to be eradicated.
  • Processes of nation building are about imagined
    communities that include a particular view of
    nature and animals, and that these views have
    significant implications for animals.

National identity
  • Skabelund, A H (2008) Breeding racism the
    imperial battlefields of the German Shepherd
    dog, in Society and Animals, 16 (4) 354-371
  • Ritvo shows that in the 19th century when dog
    breeds were established in their modern form
    breed was understood as a subspecies of race
    with definable physical characteristics that
    would reliably reproduce itself if its members
    were crossed only with each other (Ritvo, 1987
  • It was something that developed amongst the
    middle classes and different breeds signified
    distinctions between different social strata.

Breed societies in 19th century
  • Skabelund argues that until the establishment of
    breed societies in the late 19th century, dogs
    were little valued except for the job of work
    that they could do or as pets.
  • With the establishment of breed societies and
    breed standards, some breeds were identified with
    the nation-state, the rise of nationalism and
    the growth of the urbanised, bourgeois middle
    class, whose members were nostalgic for the
    countryside (Skabelund, 2008355).

Purity and bloodlines
  • Dogs who were imagined to be pure bred were
    thought of as having pure blood, ability to mold
    the bodies of animals and the recording of the
    bloodlines in pedigrees reinforced this
  • Breed often understood as race and, in turn,
    often understood in terms of genetics rather than
  • Indeed, people often do not recognise or forget
    that animal breeds, like human races, are
    contingent, constantly changing, culturally
    constructed categories that are inextricably
    interconnected to state formation, class
    structures, and national identities (Skabelund,

Judicious mating
  • Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, argued
    that there should be judicious mating of
    members of the middle classes and professions and
    that the breeding of the lower classes should be
    discouraged. This would improve the human race by
    genetic means.
  • Increasing concern with racial hygiene which
    overlapped with concerns about class and

German Shepherd Dog
  • Breed society established in 1899 in Stuttgart,
  • Breeds sometimes identified with wider
    geographical and imagined community of the
    nation-state and elevated into national symbols
    (Skabelund, 2008356).
  • This happened with the British bulldog and with
    the German Shepherd.
  • Founder of the club in Germany said that the
    breed had traits of loyalty, bravery, also
    claimed that it was distinctively German in
    blood, origin and character.

Symbol of German nationalism
  • GSD was supposedly temperamentally German,
    perfectly bred, unquestionably loyal, and
    fearless as a wolf.
  • So much associated with Germany that in Britain
    when it was recognised by the Kennel Club in
    early 20th century, was called Alsatian because
    of anxiety about anything associated with
  • Reflected the character of the German Volk
    because of ancient and intimate relationship with
    Germans, it was the primeval German dog, in time
    immemorial.. the warlike proud German held in
    high esteem his courageous hunting comrade who
    helped him in his struggle with the rampaging
    wild-ox, the destructive boar and the greedy
    beast of prey (Stephanitz cited in Skabelund,
  • The breed only came into existence in the 19th

Breeding purity
  • Animal breeding practices often used to
    legitimate ideas about artificially improving
    human heredity.
  • Stephanitzs quest to form a pure, healthy,
    strong, and standardized race of dogs anticipated
    and served to bolster Nazi racial policies
    (Skabelund, 2008359)
  • Similar ideas informed eugenics, that can breed
    pure lines and for best qualities, can breed out
    unwanted traits.

Cultural creations
  • Notions of animal breeds and human races are
    interconnected. Both assert that there is a
    necessary link between biology and behaviour and
    a hierarchy between breeds and races.
  • Associated with attempts to exterminate human
    races and animal species that were deemed to
    be inferior.
  • But both breed and race are creations of the
    human mind cultural creations.

  • Animals are used as symbols of cultural identity
    in many different ways.
  • In North America belief in the superiority of
    Euroamerican civilisation led to near extinction
    of bison, wolves and Indians but for both
    Indians and Euroamericans bison important symbols
    of cultural identity.
  • The imagining of the nation is an imagining of
    nature and animals as well as humans, there are
    national natures and national.
  • Animal breeding perfected in the 19th century
    associated with ideas about purity of blood and
    racial purity.
  • Animals are in many ways still used as totems
    symbolise group identity (class, gender, nation,
    sub-culture, celebrity culture).
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