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 identity • Animals as national/racial symbols
Totemism • 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 affinity. • Borero in Brazil identify with the red macaw, they say that they are macaws.
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 interactions. • So he’s talking about ecological imperialism as well as economic and cultural imperialism.
Hunter-gatherers • Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, Indians relied on a range of resources, hunted bison on foot. • 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, 2000:32).
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 smallpox. • 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, 2000:61)
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, 2000:75) • 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, 2000:82) • ‘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, 2000:83)
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 century. • Domestic cattle replaced the slaughtered bison (Isenberg, 2000:129). • Eventually Indians had no option but to submit to reservation system, they’d 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 shouldn’t 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 civilisation. • Bison are wild, savage – cattle are domesticated, civilised. • Slaughter seen as the survival of the fittest. Advancement towards higher forms – from Indians and bison to Euroamericans and domestic livestock.
Creation myths • Bison symbolised untamed nature, the frontier, and masculinity • The preservation of the bison was a means to preserving an imagined, masculine, frontier culture • So not about the bison but about how Euroamericans saw themselves. • The bison was ‘a living icon of an imagined heroic West’.
Wilderness • 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, 2000:185).
Changing understandings • Was transformation from wilderness to civilisation • Now understood in terms of encounter, environment, domestication • Interrelations between human societies and the natural environment, reciprocal rather than unilinear
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, 1987:237).
Australia • Acclimatisation Societies also established in Australia. • 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 sparrow. • Acclimatisation societies set up in every state of Australia between 1861 and 1896 (Franklin, 2011:201)
Eradication thinking • eradication programmes ostensibly based on sound ecological principles, science, but actually they’re pursued where there’s no evidence of the harmful effect of introduced species. • some species which are invasive – trout, deer, hare – aren’t subject to such intense eradication programmes • some native species which have migrated out of their ‘proper’ ecosystem are left in peace or, if action is taken then it’s couched in terms of nationalism rather than ecology (Franklin, 2011:196).
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 it’s 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 they’re 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 do. • 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, 2011:203)
Eco-nationalism • 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 – it’s 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: 93). • 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, 2008:355).
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 illusion. • Breed often understood as race and, in turn, often understood in terms of genetics rather than culture. • ‘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, 2008:355)
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 degeneration.
German Shepherd Dog • Breed society established in 1899 in Stuttgart, Germany. • Breeds sometimes identified with wider geographical and ‘imagined community of the nation-state and elevated into national symbols’ (Skabelund, 2008:356). • 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 Germany. • 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, 359) • The breed only came into existence in the 19th century!
Breeding purity • Animal breeding practices often used to legitimate ideas about artificially improving human heredity. • Stephanitz’s ‘quest to form a pure, healthy, strong, and standardized race of dogs anticipated and served to bolster Nazi racial policies’ (Skabelund, 2008:359) • 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.
Summary • 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).