Animals and Society II: Considering Animals
July 3-6, 2007, The Old Woolstore, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Organised by the University of Tasmania Animals and Society Study Group
Reviewed for H-Animal by
Sally Borrell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Middlesex University (PhD candidate)
This conference sought to draw together researchers from a wide range of disciplines who are working on aspects of human-animal relations. It certainly succeeded in this endeavour. The following series of reports concentrates on some of the papers presented over the three-day event in the areas of literature and cultural studies, law, history, sociology, environmental studies, and visual art.
‘Circling the animal with art and with writing’
Steve Baker (University of Lancashire)
Baker began by discussing Kim Jones’s controversial Rat Piece of 1976, a performance in which rats were burnt alive as a way of making art. Baker asked what this would mean now if we choose not to condemn it. Jones connected the piece to his experiences as a US marine, when people dealt with rats by burning them. Even so, Jones has said that any audience intervention would not have stopped the performance but would merely have changed it. Baker said that Jones seems to have been trying to fashion a role for the artist as presenting an unadorned reality of which the audience can make what they wish. Baker explained that although he doubts that in 2007, a work like Rat Piece would be made, it is still contemporary in its materiality, its focus on immediate and direct experience, its attentiveness to form, and its avoidance of judging. Baker suggested an approach to animals that proceeds by indirection, which circles and encircles, protects and predates. He said contemporary art still invites ethical criticism. Art like John Isaacs’ 1995 sculpture of a wax monkey (with human hands, injecting itself with a hypodermic needle) is seen by critics like Anthony Julius as immoral in its breaking of taboos. However, Baker explained the productivity of the ‘collage principle’, in which artists work experimentally; Jim Dine, for instance, has said, ‘I trust objects so much, I trust disparate objects going together’. Baker said that Julius doesn’t trust artists, because he doesn’t think like one. Artists, he said, have a special kind of perception, with drawing always in mind. Sue Coe says ‘I’m always trying to sabotage my instincts’. Baker said that this might explain the violence or disturbance that art can cause. Looking at Angela Singer’s ‘recycled taxidermy’, where she attempts to turn killed animals’ gaze back on the human viewer and share her own discomfort, Baker notes that the viewer could miss Singer’s meaning and blame her. Such slippages between intention and interpretation on the part of the artist may seem irresponsible, he said, but artists need space not to know what they are doing. He referred to Fred Vargas’s fictional character the Commissaire, whose mind works without direction, in a slow sifting, wavering being its most productive element. Baker said that art is a means of wavering around the animal, and that this may be more productive than it sounds. He described Olly and Suzi’s experience of immediacy in relation to animals as ‘an embodied attentiveness’. Lucy Kimbell’s work with rats (for instance, drawings made by rats according to where they move across a surface) is about creating and occupying a ‘place of ambiguity’. These artists are placing trust in an embodied response, which Baker sees as a distinct form of attentiveness. Contemporary art, he said, consists in creating tools for thinking, and he concluded that animal studies could do worse than to follow suit, trusting itself to waver around the animal.
‘The Speech of Dumb Beasts’
Helen Tiffin (University of Tasmania)
Tiffin began with a colonial story about an island of woodhens, where if the explorers hurt one bird, others would come flocking to it. She described this record as a representation of nonhuman ‘speech’. Tiffin argued that representation is extremely important in terms of human-animal relations, as all representations have profound effects on animals. She referred to the debate in Coetzee’s Lives of Animals, in which poetry seems to be valued over philosophy as a way of representing animals so that people rethink animals. Cary Wolfe explains that one reason why animals matter is that the humanist concept of subjectivity is inseparable from speciesism, which makes it possible to engage in a ‘non-criminal putting to death’ (in Derrida’s phrase) of other humans who have been marked as animals. She also noted that the category of the animal is contingent, changing according to the convenience of the dominant culture. Tiffin said that speciesist racism maintains the human-animal divide, but that there is an inevitable interlocking too. For instance, Caliban (from Shakespeare’s The Tempest) has an animal nature: until he is taught, he is without language. Animals of course are similarly defined by their lack of the defining features of humans, but such distinctions have a tendency to crumble.
Tiffin now discussed three main problems facing the representation of animal ‘speech’:
- How can we show body and vocal languages that have no words?
- How can we show that animals are not symbols?
- How can we escape the idea that animal speech is childish?
Tiffin explained that it is difficult to represent animals speaking in literature for adults, because the anthropomorphism that is so acceptable for children becomes a problem. She connected this problem of voicelessness to Gayatri Spivak’s question about whether the subaltern can speak. Spivak asks not whether the subaltern is physically capable of speaking, but whether they can ever be in a position to speak within a society. For animals, their voicelessness is in part a result of their position in relation to us.
Finally Tiffin explored three novels contending with these problems. Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage tells the story of Noah’s Ark as one of destruction rather than salvation. Noah (Noyes) becomes the villain, in a story sympathising with Mrs Noah and Mottle, an aging cat. Thus, a text that has helped to set our attitudes to animals is rewritten in this novel, setting fable against fable. Animals in Not Wanted on the Voyage do communicate at first, but during the voyage they lose this ability. Peter Goldsworthy’s Wish troubled people not because it represents animals talking, but because it represents a human-gorilla love affair carried out via sign language. This affair is consummated, raising the issue of bestiality. However, it includes love in this. Here the animal can speak eloquently. In The White Bone too, Barbara Gowdy invents an elephant language, and claims that she based this, and the elephants’ customs, on extensive observations of real elephants. Some readers are more comfortable with this than others. Tiffin concluded that these novels thus offer three attempts to get around the problems of representing animal communication.
Valuing Animals I
In the first paper in this session, ‘The question of the animal and the study of religion’, Aaron Gross (University of California) addressed the role of animals in religion. He explained that our management of the human-animal relation has been used to constitute not only humans, but religions, and the space of humanities in which both are studied. Gross compared the work of Paul Waldau and Kimberly Patton. He explained that Waldau attempts to envision the inquiry in expansive terms, placing emphasis on the task of ensuring that actual animals are discussed. He noted, however, that this can elide the history of our thought about animals. Patton, by contrast, expresses a conviction that the relation between humans and animals is something holy. Gross suggested that Patton and Waldau thus represent two poles, which might, nevertheless, be compatible. He argued for a third approach that might address both real animals and the ways in which ideas about them have already contributed to religion. Gross’s exploration of this began with Emile Durkheim’s use of a sacred-profane binary: the human, to Durkheim, is uniquely indeterminate: human thought is seen as varying, while animals are seen as fixed. Jonathan Z. Smith and Mircea Eliade followed this idea, seeing a sacred-profane binary as foundational. However, Gross suggested that Smith uses the human-animal divide more critically than Eliade, undermining and opening the problem. More recently, Giorgio Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal asks whether we can think withoutthis binary. Gross emphasised that thinking about animals is central to understanding both religion and the humanities more generally.
In the next paper, ‘The Qu’ran, Shari’a law and the exclusion of non-human animals’, Rod Bennison (University of Newcastle, NSW) sought to give an overview of Islam’s approach to non-human animals. He explained that like Christianity, Islam frames our relation to animals in terms of stewardship. Bennison observed however that many of the Qu’rân’s teachings are not applied in practice, any more than the Bible’s are. Muslims believe that Islamic law was laid down by God, human actions being divided into five categories: obligatory, recommended, permissible, offensive and forbidden. As with Christianity, however, there are layers of interpretation at work here. Local traditions such as sacrifice are either adopted and regulated, or forbidden. Bennison explained that stories of a flood, for example, are told and retold. In the Qu’rân, humans had to become caretakers of the nonhuman because heaven and earth refused the task. As in the Christian tradition, there is an emphasis on dominion, but the Qu’rân also states that humans must not harm or interfere with nature. Thus, respect for nature is theoretically obligatory in Islam. Interconnectedness is seen as a specific part of divine design, and God-given resources such as food and water should be shared between species. There is also a belief that a good or bad deed done in relation to an animal is as good or as bad as it would be in relation to a human. In terms of wildlife, it is permissible to hunt herbivores, but not carnivores unless they are a threat or one is on a pilgrimage. It is also prohibited to kill animals if they are not to be eaten. Again, Bennison emphasised that many of these rules are not followed in practice. In this respect, the paper demonstrated some similarity between Christian and Islamic stewardship of animals in terms of the degree to which theory translates into practice.
In her paper ‘“Non-consuming animals”: Vegetarian perspectives in Aotearoa New Zealand’, Annie Potts from the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, University of Canterbury, discussed the results of a recent survey addressing the perspectives of non-consumers of animals in Aotearoa New Zealand. Its questions addressed many themes, including people’s formative experiences with animals, their views of human-animal relations in New Zealand, and the impact of non-consumption on their social identity. Potts focussed on the respondents’ sense of their country. Two views of New Zealand were raised, one being a myth of a green, natural paradise, the other, of a romanticised farming culture creating a beautifully cultivated landscape. These images are associated with native and domestic animals respectively. Potts found that many respondents saw their original views of New Zealand as naïve, and often attributed their changed opinions to an enhanced awareness of farming practices and economics. Respondents rejected myths of New Zealand farming practices as more humane than elsewhere. The Government was seen by some as the pawn of the agricultural sector, putting economics above animal welfare. Immigrants expressed a strong sense of disappointment. Socially, all the participants in the survey felt themselves to be at odds with mainstream culture, having to fight against core traditions and seen by others as a threat. However, some also felt that New Zealand’s democratic structure and international policies made for a climate of understanding; the country’s anti-nuclear and anti-whaling stances, for instance, were seen to promote the acceptability of alternative choices.
In her paper ‘Health enhancing effects of companion animals: Does dissociation reveal two underlying mechanisms?’ Jacqueline R. Gately (with Francesca E. Collins, Felicity C. L. Allen) from Monash University, Melbourne, suggested that in the relationship between human health and human-animal relationships, there are two pathways at work: absorption and relationship building. Interaction with animals is found to be helpful on three levels: contact or proximity, ongoing exposure and the development of a bond are all conducive to human health, in terms of blood pressure, heart rate, and recovery. Gately explained that the three categories of dissociation in mental functions are consciousness, memory, and identity and perception. Trauma can result in absorption, amnesia and de-realisation or depersonalisation. In the current study, Gately and her colleagues tried to establish whether the results of a previous, narrower study (which found a relationship between dissociation and bonding with animals) might have a more general application. Their broader study also adds two new factors to the Lexington Pet Attachment Scale: ‘Loyal understanding friend’ and ‘Joyful companion’. The study found that absorption (a trance-like state which serves to calm both mind and body) is most closely associated with relationship building (which serves to reduce loneliness, increase trust, and promote better psychological health). The stronger the bond, the higher the dissociation seems to be. Gately said that because animals permit examination of both pathways, our relationships with them are very important to studies of dissociation. Overall, the study has found initial support for the two pathway model addressing both relation and absorption as a way of explaining the link between human-animal bonding and human health.
The second paper in this session, ‘Furry families: Making a human-dog family’ was presented by Emma Power (Macquarie University, Sydney). Power explained that while academia sees the family as a human-only group, we don’t always view families this way in practice. Despite an enduring human-centred view, the idea of the biological family is being increasingly challenged, and replaced with a view of family of something that is created. This means that space is opening for more-than-human families. Power said that analyses of interviews with and diaries of dog-owners showed that dogs tended to be constructed as family members, but at the bottom of the family hierarchy. She said that the inclusion of pets in a family involved emotional bonds, proximity, participation and care, but also dominance along species lines. Power found that people believed that dogs saw the family as their pack, and that people perceived parallels with packs such as hierarchy, behavioural rules and boundaries. This connected to an emphasis on dogs’ needing to know their place. Strongly othering dogs was seen as a means of maintaining stability. Finally, Power noted that in practice, human-dog relationships still seemed to be much more mutual – dogs would pull humans into interactions, for instance – which meant that dogs were maintaining their own agency in human-animal relations, and thus helping to reshape the nature of the family themselves.
In his paper ‘The human-animal bond is it for real?: Pets as part of a person’s attachment hierarchy and as a source of perceived emotional support’, Michael Meehan from the University of Queensland also explored humans’ bonds with animals. He explained that such bonds are in some cases as close as bonds with people, and provide sources of emotional and social support. For this reason, he suggested the application of human relationship theories to human-animal relationships, such as Attachment Theory. This measures a bond through the associated behaviours. The four used by developmental psychologist John Bowlby are:
- proximity seeking
- separation distress
- secure base
- safe haven
Meehan explained that multiple attachments are often hierarchical. According to theory, we have four to seven close attachments, the number expanding as we enter adolescence.
These attachments are considered to offer emotional social support, by providing information showing that a person is valued and included. Our perception of this is very important to coping and to achieving in life. Sources of social support include ‘significant others’ – a category which could, by extrapolation, include a pet. Meehan explained that two studies have shown that pets are seen as a unique source of social support, but usually a less significant one than other humans. In a person’s attachment hierarchy, they usually ranked lower than partners, parents, and close friends, but often higher than siblings. These applications of human attachment theory thus underscore the emotional significance of pets for human social wellbeing.
The final paper, ‘Urban animals: The paradox of human/animal relationships in the 21st century’ presented by Lynne Blundell (University of Technology, Sydney), explained that urban animals are something of a paradox in human-animal relation. We pamper and anthropomorphise some animals, while exploiting others. When she and a colleague opened Bones Café, a dog-friendly outdoor café in Sydney, they found conflicting human needs at work: for companionship and for independence.
There was evidence of suspicion about the strength of the human-animal relationship, yet a recognition that it is hugely significant. Blundell said that Bones Café’s acknowledgement of these conflicting needs made it very popular, and it received worldwide media attention. She suggested that the café spoke to an inter-cultural question about our relationships with other species. She noted that literature is similarly exploring this question: she referred to Raimond Gaita’s The Philosopher’s Dog, J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals and Disgrace, Michel Faber’s Under the Skin, and Paul Auster’s Timbuktu. She asked whether or not the problem is anthropocentric. She noted that Vicki Hearne considered the unknown a problem for us, but not for animals. Humans are drawn to yet fear otherness, with the result, she argued, that the ‘us and them’ syndrome is repeated in relation to animals.
The Literary Animal
The paper by Tamerlane Camden-Dunne (Australian National University, Canberra), ‘The animals of the ancients: A study of literature’, explained that fiction provides a significant source of information about cultural values. Camden-Dunne used The Iliad and The Odyssey to explore the place of animals in Homeric society. Traditional Homeric values emphasise status, which is derived from heroic qualities such as prowess, strength, and also cunning. Other quieter values also appear, but are surpassed by these. Sympathy, Camden-Dunne argued, is important, but does not necessarily entail moral responsibility. In The Iliad, for instance, although it is lamentable that Hector must leave his family’s side and go to war, there is no suggestion that this is the wrong choice. In terms of animals, Camden-Dunne explained that there is no moral obligation with regard to animals’ suffering; it is a fact of life in Homeric society. However, he found strong indications of sympathy for animals, wild or otherwise. In Book V, he finds evidence of this when Pandaros comes to war without his horses, because he does not wish to take them from their luxury. Arriving on foot and walking into battle, he behaves in a way antithetical to the values of honour and glory.
In descriptions of the battle, Homer dwells on the sufferings of horses as well as men. He also uses extended animal similes, for instance, for tragic scenes, deriving impact from the audience’s sympathy with animals. Thus, Camden-Dunne argued that there was a Homeric capacity for sympathy for animals, even though there was no associated moral compunction.
Philip Armstrong (University of Canterbury, NZ) began by introducing the phenomenon in 1950s New Zealand of a dolphin, Opo, voluntarily interacting with humans in Hokianga Harbour in his paper ‘Opo’s children: Cetaceans and sentimentalism’. He suggested that Opo’s story is a case of sentimentalism in relation to cetaceans. In retellings of her story, Armstrong noted four unchanging elements:
- A relationship between an animal and a child.
- An ‘extension of selfhood’ to animals, in that Opo chose to interact with people. (Philip Fisher, in Hard Facts: Setting and Form in the American Novel, describes sentimental compassion as ‘experimental “extension of selfhood”’).
- A period of special grace. People were in awe of Opo, some going into the water fully clothed. There were also no recorded accidents or conflicts.
- Temporality and tragedy. Opo died just as legislation was passed protecting dolphins.
Armstrong suggested that these elements make Opo’s story a case of sentimentalism. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, sentimentalism was seen as an aesthetic, ethical and political virtue, but since then has been seen in a pejorative light. Armstrong suggested that sentimentalism might, now, be making some return, as suggested in the challenges made by writers like J. M. Coetzee. As a final example, Armstrong discussed the orca Skana. In Vancouver in the 1906s, Paul Spong did visual tests on Skana, and when she suddenly began to fail them, he concluded that she was bored. He also considered that she experimented with him, repeatedly trying to take his feet into her mouth until he no longer removed them from the water. In other words, Spong was extending subjectivity to Skana. Later he sought to free her, and was probably on the point of success when she died, recalling the circumstances at the time of Opo’s death. Thus, the story of Skana provided further evidence of sentimentalism in relation to cetaceans.
In ‘Animals, art and activism (a personal tale of passionate pursuits)’, a paper by Yvette Watt (University of Tasmania), it was noted that animals seem to be increasingly present in art. Watt said that initially, she had reservations about including socio-political issues surrounding human-animal relationships in her own work. Despite postmodernism’s avoidance of animals as symbols, animals were still figuring as representatives of the natural world, rather than sentient individuals. She noted a lack of concern for the ethics of human-animal relations among artists, which meant that animals seemed fashionable in but also marginalised by art. Later, she said, her artwork became more overtly socio-political. As they started to reflect her own campaigning, she began to seek an individual, emotional response to the viewer. Now she tries to confront the viewer’s own position, despite the dangers of being seen as too literal. Watt also explained that she tries to explore the personal side without imposing or shocking, preferring to discomfort but not to alienate the viewer. She suggested that perhaps artists don’t explore an ethical position more often because it might be seen to be too closed, or that it is not considered part of the artist’s role to pontificate. Yet, she said, we cannot deal with animal-human relations without taking them seriously. She argued that contemporary art can address the killing of animals, and can be a powerful instrument in social change, even if it cannot effect it alone.
Julia Schlosser (California State University) focused on pet-photography in her paper ‘Human-animal relationships in the work of three contemporary artists’. She explained that traditionally, pets in art have been represented as nostalgic and sentimental rather than as having central significance. Pet-art has been seen more as ‘kitch’ than as fine art. Modernist pet-photographers employ particular tropes in relation to animals, such as anthropomorphism, or use pets as class-markers, choreographing their representation rather than showing animals’ natural actions. For instance, Elliot Erwitt uses images which derive comedy from framing dogs in relation to humans. Marc Joseph uses animals in such a way as to represent human culture too. In Bill Owens’ suburbia, pets are markers of status. In the work of Shelby Lee Adams pets represent rural life. By contrast, Schlosser explained that in the postmodern context, it is animals’ own individuality and agency that is allowed to drive photography. Schlosser explored this in the work of Carol Schneemann, John Divola and Francis Alÿs. These photographers do not concern themselves with formal structure. Schneemann and Divola work without looking through the lens of the camera. Schneemann’s Infinity Kisses explores cats, female sexuality, and by association, witches. Divola’s images are of dogs chasing his car. Alÿs’s El Gringo was achieved by walking through a Mexican village, photographing dogs that became angry and approached him. Schlosser argued that by incorporating animals’ own agency into their work in this way, these artists treated them as subjects rather than objects, thereby suggesting ways of rethinking human-animal relations more generally.
Barbara Dover from James Cook University, Queensland, began her presentation with an image of Kate James’ The World is a Dangerous Place (in which a woman and a horse regard one another, attached by a specially-knitted double balaclava). Her paper ‘Interrogating reciprocal gaze: The animal and human in contemporary art’ explored the reciprocal gaze in contemporary art in terms of its meaning for human animal relations. Dover explained that sentience is common to both figures equally in this image, and asked how contemporary art approaches constructed boundaries. John Berger, she noted, sees the human-animal gaze as occurring across a narrow abyss of non-comprehension. Dover questioned whether this is true in relation to pets. In the human-horse image the gaze appears to be one of comprehension. Dover said that eyes are important to both humans and nonhumans, as a source of information about another’s intentions. Although much art depicts both humans and animals together, they are not always shown engaging with one another like this. She contrasted James’s image with art like that of George Stubbs, which shows little engagement with animals, only random interactions or control. She asked how much James has shifted this and argued that the interface seems to work from another starting point. She suggested that since the 1960s there has been an increasing permeability of boundaries, and argued that in contemporary art, there seem to be a different animal-human gaze to that discussed by Berger. The spectatorial and proprietorial gaze has been replaced with something more mutual and participatory, suggestive perhaps of a social bond. This is appearing in increasingly compelling ways, which might question how we think about animals.
In her paper, ‘Conserving genes: The bio-politics of cloning in species recovery’, Amy Fletcher (University of Canterbury, NZ) explored responses to the possibility of cloning an extinct species. She explained that the phenomenon of ‘Ancient DNA’ forces us to rethink exactly what extinction means. Fletcher explained that conservation policy addresses the environment, development, biotechnology and politics. Conservation genetics entails the management of small populations, attempts to resolve taxonomic uncertainties, the use of molecular genetic analyses in forensics, and attempts to understand species biology. Bringing back extinct species does not form part of conservation genetics. Ancient DNA, then, is something of a renegade technology. This is DNA retrieved from old specimens, such as archaeological finds. For instance, one might obtain DNA from Neanderthal remains, or from the ‘Pickled Pup’, a 136yr old thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) specimen. The thylacine cloning project at the Australian museum explored the possibility of cloning to bring the species back from extinction. Fletcher explained the mixed responses to this. One perspective is that of Aboriginal culture, and the relationship between their history and that of the thylacine. Another problem is that recreating the thylacine might mean appropriating it to market Australia or Tasmania. The possibility also raises the question of the social construction of an animal’s worth: Fletcher underscored the sudden jumps in value from the bounty on thylacines, to the insurance value of the ‘pickled pup’, to how much one might pay to see a live thylacine. Significant themes associated with the possibility, then, include Jurassic Park, the Darwinian race (the desire to help animals that we have harmed), virtual wildlife (the thylacine would become a technological artefact), the idea of ‘ghost species’ returning to haunt us, postcolonial guilt, and finally, the implications of the idea that extinction could be a curable disease.
‘Careerist or idealistic? Political imperatives and resistance: The institutional ethics of wildlife management’, a paper presented by Julian Barraclough (University of Tasmania), explored the question of ethics in relation to seal relocation. He began by introducing the relocation programme, which moves seals away from areas where they are a problem for salmon farmers, trapping, transporting and releasing them. Barraclough said that one ranger had told him that the issue was all to do with politics and sentiment, which made him realise it was a productive issue to study. Seals, he explained, are politicised along productivist – conservationist lines. Policies come before sentiment, making any dissent look radical. Any sense of guilt is met with the idea that practices are simply the norm. Within the relocation programme, protocols form an ethical code which suppresses individual morality. Barraclough saw this fracturing individuals’ identity. He noted that one farm manager wanted to manage the seals benignly, but the rest tend to see seals in very negative terms, and thought it acceptable to destroy them if this was done humanely. For others, species makes a significant difference: to shoot a seal might not be acceptable, while the mass culling of kangaroos might be fine. Barraclough concluded that through anthropomorphism and perhaps some other mechanism we identify with seals, but feel that we have to be pragmatic. In practice, it is a question of adopting the lesser of two evils, shifting the seals rather than killing them. Thus, the people involved experience a fractured identity, but maintain moral impulse.
Peta Cook (Queensland University of Technology) explored how science stories emerge and become stabilised in ‘Why pigs? Science stories on animals in xenotransplantation’. She explained that although xenotransplantation means transplantation across species, it now tends to mean predominantly animal-to-human transplantation. This can occur between concordant (closely related) or discordant (dissimilar) species. Despite appearances, the use of discordant sources is the more productive. Cook explained that in the case of primates, the phylogenetics (evolutionary relatedness) are close. This means that they are sometimes seen as more desirable candidates for xenotransplantation work, but that there is also increased risk of cross-species disease. Physiologically, they are similar to humans, but their organs are a different size. Thus, primates are too close but also too far. They are also considered unacceptable for moral reasons – they are thought to need a high level of care and socialisation, and their similarity to us in appearance and character causes discomfort. Pigs, by contrast, are accepted as the most appropriate source model. In terms of phylogenetics, their distance from us means that rejection of pig organs is very common, but at the same time, there is less risk of infection (although it does occur). In terms of physiology, pigs are similar in size, but this does not mean that their organs would necessarily work in humans, since they are ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ animals. Morally, pigs are seen as more acceptable resources because they seem very different from us, and not needing the same level of care and socialisation that a primate would. Most importantly perhaps, pigs are already extensively used by humans, and they seem different from us. The irony is, of course, that if pigs really were so different, pig-human xenotransplantation wouldn’t work at all. Cook concluded, therefore, that science chooses its story, constructing animals to suit human purposes, and blurring the natural and the social to support its claims to the ‘truth’. Ultimately, she said, xenotransplantation can only occur if we believe the science story that animals are different.
At the beginning of his paper ‘The impact of cats and dogs in the urban fringe’, Derek Turnbull (University of Tasmania) said that the public perception of cats’ effect on native fauna is that they have a hugely detrimental impact. Then he painted a more complex picture. He explained that studies show domestic animals preferring to hunt introduced over native mammals, but native over introduced birds. He noted that such studies are also faced with multiple variables besides preference. Factors such as season and time of day both have an impact on what cats choose to catch. Most birds are killed in spring, while mammals are the focus in other seasons, and in terms of prey animals, mammals are more active at dusk and at night, birds in the morning, and reptiles late in the afternoon. He also observed that animal individuality has a significant impact: some cats and birds cohabit, and some cats try to chase birds much larger than themselves and therefore do not succeed in their hunting. Diet may also be a significant factor. Turnbull also noted a tendency to concentrate on cats rather than dogs in studies of domestic predator impact, and observed that there is significant variation in the size and ability of different dog breeds. He concluded by asking whether domestic predators are perhaps becoming scapegoats for environmental guilt, and whether we are seeking to control them instead of ourselves. He suggested that all the reasons animals hunt can be dealt with otherwise, by providing nearby food for domestic animals, and by offering habitat complexity for native animals to provide refuge, food, shelter. Since domestic predator energy intake is not dependent on hunting, he asked whether this provides us with the opportunity to manipulate the predator-prey interaction.
Film and Literature
In her paper ‘On bambis, puggles, and other poetic beasts’, Claire Hero (University of Canterbury, NZ) discussed ‘made-up’ dogs, such as the puggle (pug-poodle). She asked if these are really names, observing that they seem to be part of the fun for the breeder. She noted that Donna Haraway’s ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ contains references to this practice in ‘femaleman’ and ‘Oncomouse’. In her paper Hero also asked how designer dogs differ from transgenic animals, how contemporary poetry figures animals, and how poetic animals respond to and critique these scientific mutations of animals. She suggested that poets can speak for both science and animals, representing both actors and asking the reader to choose a side. She explored a poem by Robert Buchanan, noting an ambiguous worship of the animal through vivisection, as well as an address to the animal, resulting in an uneasy participation. Eza Burke’s ‘In the heart of the guinea pig darkness’ represents guinea pigs which have changed or gone feral to become monsters. Hero noted that there is also a conflation of the guinea pigs with the human, echoing the issue of responsibility. Finally Lara Glenum’s ‘The Sign of the Goat’ offers a similar ambiguity as to whether the poem’s first person ‘I’ is the goat or not. The poem blurs questions of vivisection, fashion and sexuality. The poem confronts us with the grotesquery of our own imagination in terms of the use and misuse of animals. Hero concluded from these examples that poetry can look into and explore future possibilities in terms of human-animal relations, something which she tries to do in her own work.
Elizabeth Leane (University of Tasmania) presented a paper with Stephanie Pfennigwerth on ‘Political penguins: A comparative analysis of March of the Penguins and Happy Feet’. Leane began by observing that while March of the Penguins was the subject of debate, Happy Feet was much less so. Penguins were at first seen as a missing link between birds and humans. A colonising impulse. Now they are seen as hugely charismatic. Both films treat penguins in a highly anthropomorphic way, yet only March of the Penguins was condemned for this. In the French version, humans in fact speak for the penguins. The film presents us with a love story against the odds. This is not new, even in natural history, but it is the primary moot point in terms of March of the Penguins. Leane went on to explore three other issues. In terms of religion, she said, March of the Penguins fails to discuss the evolution of penguins, making them seem the result of intelligent design. In the US, the film was also narrated by Morgan Freeman. Happy Feet is explicitly anti-superstitious. However, Mumble’s story is very similar to a religious quest narrative. Converting the colony to tap-dancing, he becomes a redemptive prophet for the community. This doesn’t necessarily undermine the anti-religious message, however. In terms of family and gender, March of the Penguins promotes family values (even though these are not strongly borne out in real penguin life). In Happy Feet, there is evidence of family instability, and Mumble finds an alternative Adeli peer group. However, the birds are also gendered (Mumble’s mother, Norma Jean, has an hourglass figure), self-sacrifice for love is a strong theme, and monogamy is not drawn into question. In terms of environment, March of the Penguins was criticised for its failure to comment on threats to penguins or on their future. Happy Feet deals with multiple instances of environmental problems, until Mumble’s human actions (tap-dance) communicate the penguins’ plight to humans. Again however, there is no mention of global warming. The problem humans pose in Happy Feet is to do with fish shortage. Ultimately, Leane concluded that the two films are much more similar than they appear, in that they are ultimately conservative.
The paper ‘Zebra shoes and gazelle consommé: Embodiments of Osa Johnson’s wildlife encounters’ explored Osa Johnson’s self-fashioning as she and her husband travelled through wild places, hunting and exploring. Kelly Enright (Rutgers University) demonstrated that Johnson perpetuated domesticity in exotic environments. She was an expert hunter as well as an expert housewife, yet Enright suggests that she reconciled these skills by blurring the distinction between the wild and the domestic. The Johnsons travelled to film, photograph and collect biological samples, but Johnson’s appearances on film also served to familiarise the exotic. Her interactions controlled wildlife by domesticating it, creating human spaces in which animals were included. Johnson’s ‘housewifely’ construction of her hunting is encapsulated in the notion of gazelle consommé: one must kill the animal, but the result is a gourmet dish. Johnson said that hunting was almost impossible if she looked into the animal’s eyes, and she claimed never to have killed without cause. She always represented it as a necessary part of caring for her husband. Thus, although this was not a female context, Johnson shirked the stereotypes of the savage girl gone wild in the jungle, and instead brought respectability to female adventuring. She also used animals as surrogate children, almost ‘playing house’ with them. On the other hand, she wore animal derived clothes, but she did not see this as cruel or exotic, but as a question of thrift. Thus, Osa Johnson managed to blur the boundaries both between male and female roles, and between the wild and the domestic.
‘Go Wild: Native wildlife rehabilitation and education in Tasmania’
Sally Bryant, director of Go Wild Tasmania project,and James Harris, a veterinarian, began with a promotional slide series relating to wildlife extinction and conservation. Bryant told the story of Tasmania’s Mary Roberts, who established Tasmania’s first private zoo at her Beaumaris Estate, where the last captive thylacine died. Bryant draws a moral from this, saying that the zoo took its eye off the ball in this case. She said that attitudinal change has to be forced. She sees the plight of Tasmanian devil, overlooked and ridiculed until five years ago, as evidence of how little has been learned. Harris then explained that urbanisation has isolated our species from the living environment. He explained Go Wild’s aim to establish a facility to address this, where people could receive training as volunteer wildlife carers, injured animals could be cared for, their rescuers could also receive support, and where the community could be educated about how to live with animals.
Valuing Animals II
Jonathon Balcombe from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, was the first speaker in this session. His paper ‘Animal experience and human ethics’ began by referring to humans’ superiority complex. Balcombe argued that we live according to a ‘might makes right’ or perhaps a ‘bright makes right’ view of ourselves in relation to other species. With regard to animal sentience, Balcombe suggested that our treatment of animals goes against everything we now know about what they feel.
Pain, he said, is adaptive. It is a natural way of punishing behaviours that might remove an animal from the gene pool. That nettles have evolved to cause pain, he said, offers basic proof that other animals feel it. Balcombe explained that pleasure is also adaptive, a case of nature rewarding behaviour that promotes survival. He gave the example of play (the least controversial form of pleasure in animals), which is usually seen as evolutionary but which includes pleasure too. Balcombe explained that again, the nature of plants suggests that animals feel pleasure, for instance in flavour. Balcombe also noted that we should expect sexual intercourse to be a rewarding experience for animals: again, although we often represent it as passionless and instinctive, studies show that this is not necessarily the case. In terms of emotion, finally, Balcombe explained that some animals demonstrate affection, peer bonds, and grief at the loss of a peer. Sheep, he said, can see emotional differences in photographs, and can recognise a familiar sheep even after two years. Hens, he said, have a very complex language, and one that can include deception, which demonstrates an awareness of others’ thoughts. Balcombe concluded that the implications of all these examples are that animals can be said to experience quality of life. If this means that their lives have intrinsic value, then we have a moral responsibility towards them. Therefore, he recommended that we change our views and start to empathise, recognise animals’ individuality, and accord them some basic rights.
Teresa Buss-Carden’s began her paper by saying that humans are part of nature and that the consequences of over-exploitation increasingly recognised. In ‘Ethical responsibility to animals – crucial to our survival’, Buss-Carden, from the World League for the Protection of Animals, Sydney, suggested a need to move towards compassion and peace, and natural balance in our interactions with the world, and to avoid speciesism. Our consumption of animals and the environment, she said has led to pollution and degradation of the environment, hunger (as crops are used to feed animals, which feed fewer humans), human conflict (over the pasture necessary to sustaining meat production), and the extinction of other animals seen as less useful. In terms of health, Buss-Carden argued that both vivisection and meat consumption have negative impacts on human health via their social implications. Cruelty to nonhumans, she said, is linked to violence to humans, via desensitisation. Selective compassion and species differentiation imply a double standard. Buss-Carden explained that factors which influence our attitudes towards animals include commodification, normalisation, and speciesist language, which, unlike sexist and racist language, remains acceptable. She concluded that the question is not whether we are oblivious to animal suffering, but whether we choose to be so.
Kate Booth, from the University of Tasmania, discussed ‘Humans as animal: The cosmology of hairy underarms’. Booth explained that the denial that humans are animals, which has such a significant impact on life, is in fact dependent on our conception of animality. She argued that the human-animal distinction is false by demonstrating that we are in fact instances of symbiosis. The human body houses microbes that are healthy as well as causes of disease, influencing our protection, energy, vitamins, immune system and organ development. We are only microbe-free in the womb. Humans, Booth said, are habitats. We have individual microbial selves. Indeed, symbiosis, she said, is the origin of multi-celled organisms. Therefore, the human is an animal. She argued that this has cosmological implications – for instance, of boundless selfhood. This might change our view of other species, in a move towards posthumanism. Booth suggests that it might also take the form of humanising animals rather than the reverse. She concluded, however, that there is no need to abandon humanness, nor to humanise animals, but that one might simply view life as a patterning of relationships making up an ecological self.
Marsha Baum’s paper ‘Animals and weather disasters: The legal treatment of companion animals in times of crisis’ began by looking at the debate about the need to rescue animals in order to save some humans in times of crisis. Within law, value is placed primarily on humans, although there have been some changes: endangered species, for instance, can now be considered ‘the plaintiff’. Baum (University of New Mexico Law School) explained that before Hurricane Katrina, there was a focus in crisis management on protecting humans only. Some states were attempting to plan for animals too, but this was not legislated, and no animals were allowed in shelters.
Katrina changed the situation because peoples’ awareness of animals’ plights was heightened by the media. This led to recognition of the companion animal population, to rallies, and to some recognition of the psychological loss to people. The 2006 PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) Act was the first federal legislation to address animal evacuation. It took into account the needs of humans with animals, and amended the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. However, the Act did not focus on animal rights but animals in relation to humans. It addressed the needs and rights of pet owners, but only if caring for the animals posed not danger to other humans. There are no consequences for failure to implement the plan, and there is an assurance that no money would be diverted from human rescue. Thus, despite the changes to the legal treatment of animals brought about after Hurricane Katrina, Baum sees the PETS Act as only a small step in the direction of legislation for animals.
Wildlife and Conservation
‘What is a zoo? Perceptions and popularity’, a paper by Andrew Tribe (University of Queensland), explained that in the past, zoos were for entertainment and spectacle. Now, zoos are more enlightened, having gone from being living museums to something of a resource for conservation. He credited Gerald Durrell with facilitating this shift. However, Tribe observed that a quandary remained in terms of the commercial versus the ethical: zoos still need money if they are to focus on conservation and animal welfare. Tribe focussed on whether zoos are doing enough, whether they are effective, and whether they are educating visitors and staff. In an ongoing project to compare attitudes, he explained that he examines Australian and UK zoos, surveying visitors, staff and external conservationists. He has found that visitors come for a variety of reasons, but that recreation seems to be paramount. Conservation is not a reason for coming, even though visitors consider this important. Staff, meanwhile, saw this as a primary concern, especially in terms of breeding endangered species and protecting habitats. Conservationists saw zoos’ role in conservation as less significant, and thought of zoos’ main function as educating the public. Despite some agreement, then, about education, Tribe concluded that as zoos’ role in conservation remains unclear this somewhat destabilises their credibility.
Rick de Vos pointed out that river dolphins are little known creatures, especially in comparison to their marine counterparts in his paper ‘Perceiving the imperceptible: The riddle of river dolphins’. De Vos (Curtin University of Technology, Perth) revealed that all seven species of river dolphin are endangered or critically endangered, yet they remain almost imperceptible. The population of the Yangtze River dolphin is being reduced by hunting, human population and industry. Water quality, riverbed dredging, the construction of dams and increased shipping traffic have all affected its habitat adversely. The Yangtze river dolphin is now seen as effectively extinct. The Indus River dolphin’s preferred habitat is deep still water, or at confluences. Again, humans significantly impact upon them. They are still hunted, and must contend with numerous dams and irrigation water being taken from the river. De Vos turned to Deleuze and Guatarri’s notion of ‘becomings’ to discuss the phenomenon of disappearing river dolphins. In particular, he looked at their idea that becomings (moves away from selfhood towards multiplicity) move towards becoming imperceptible. The narrative of modernity renders the imperceptible absent. The imperceptibility of river dolphins, he argued, needs to be considered in terms of attempts to take further action on their behalf.
In her paper ‘Managing wildlife for people or people for wildlife? A case study of dingoes and tourism on Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia’, Georgette Leah Burns from the Griffith School of Environment, and Centre for Innovative Conservation Strategies in Queensland, began by saying that of course, Fraser Island needs to manage both groups for each other. There is some tension, however, between the different management priorities. Historically, humans have been excluded from or restrained in the context of national parks. In returning humans to parks, multiple human interests intersecting, including tourists, residents, rangers, tour operators, and researchers. Animal interests include those of mammals, birds and reptiles. Although tourists come to experience the natural space, they can impede conservation and the preservation of wildlife. This makes the role of management crucial. On Fraser Island, there is an attempt to manage humans and dingoes so that they do not interact. Humans are managed through the use of fines, fencing, and education. Dingoes are managed through culling, fencing, and hazing, in which dingoes are hurt to make them avoid people (this, Burns noted, tends to have the result of making them avoid the rangers in particular). Thus, Fraser Island is trying to manage both humans and animals. There is a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of both, and that this management should be ethical and humane. Burns concluded that although Fraser Island is an extreme case, it provides an instructive example for wildlife tourism, as it raises issues of sustainability (she concluded that the situation is not sustainable, as no-one is satisfied) and the dominance of anthropocentric values. She said that the question of which group the island is to be managed for remains unanswered.
Writing Animal Histories
In the first paper in this session, Stephanie Pfennigwerth (Melampus Media, Hobart) spoke ‘Of emus and empires’. Pfennigwerth explained that in 1804, a cargo of exotic animals that arrived in France included a dwarf emu from King Island, Tasmania that had been collected by explorer Nicolas Baudin. The primary aim of the expedition to Australia was to glorify Napoleon’s France via the expansion of scientific and intellectual territory. Pfennigwerth noted that there was some competition for the animals between museums in Paris and Josephine Bonaparte, but the latter received the emus and they came to live for a short time at her garden at Malmaison – an emblem of the taming and civilising of nature – before being sent to a Paris zoo. However, the story of the emus was not so civilised. The naturalist François Péron had encountered them first as a food source. He interviewed sealers about the birds life and habits, learning that they had a claw on each wing, and that they could defend themselves by kicking. However they were helpless against the sealers’s hunting dogs. On the return journey, the seasick emus had to be force fed, and two were lost en route. However, those that survived outlived Baudin, Péron, Josephine Bonaparte and the remaining member of species that were driven to extinction by the sealers. Now, confusion of writings of Baudin and Péron, and confusion of where their scattered remains are, means that the birds’ history remains ambiguous in the present. In Tasmania, there exists just one feather from the species. Pfennigwerth showed that human and animal heritage has thus become lost through the process of colonisation. In telling the story of the King Island emu she argued for a reversal of the process; a symbolic re-acquisition of human heritage and that of all species denied their intrinsic right to exist.
Carol Freeman’s paper, ‘Extinction, agency and representation: The case of the dodo … and a word about the devil’, began by referring to a recent posting on the H-Animal website, in which Erica Fudge critiqued David Gooding’s suggestion that dodos ‘allowed’ themselves to be slaughtered. However, Freeman (University of Tasmania) said that neither Gooding nor Fudge explored the complexity of the records of human-dodo contact. The first task, Freeman argues, is to reread the narratives, and to attempt to revalue the dodo. She explained that the dodo became extinct in about the 1680s. Freeman noted that records show some confusion with other birds, and that early images of dodos could be based on bad taxidermy or written accounts, rather than first hand encounters. These images nevertheless became the basis for understandings of dodos. Recently, zoologist Andrew Kitchener has found that dodos were misrepresented as plump and immobile. After extensive scientific tests on skeletal material, he agrees with a few rarely quoted stories in which they are described as biting and running very quickly. This account of dodos would mean that their extinction was more likely to be due to their isolated island, their small population, and their vulnerability to introduced animals, than to ease of capture. Thus, dodos were not entirely passive in their extinction, as Gooding had suggested.
Freeman then linked this story to that of Tasmanian devils. She notes that the representation of devils is changing. Traditionally represented as demonic and savage, ironically, now that they are suffering from facial tumour disease, they are being seen as cute. As is the case with the dodo, interdisciplinary research is crucial, as the reality of Tasmanian devils can, for most people, only be accessed via representations.
‘Mutiny on the thylacine bounty’, a paper presented by Robert Paddle (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne), showed that information on people’s behaviour during the bounty on the Tasmanian tiger is highly unreliable. He conceived of this as a four-fold mutiny, in terms of justification, validity of estimate, distribution, and payment date.
- First of all, the bounty came about because farmers blamed tigers for having a detrimental effect on their farms, leading the government to offer a one pound reward per adult tiger.
- At the time, the figures resulting from this were believed to be an underestimate of how many thylacines were actually killed. However, Paddle said it was unlikely that with such a substantial reward, hunters would not have cashed in. He considers it more likely that the figures are an overestimate. He suggested that people probably tried to obtain multiple private rewards for their trophies, without the kill being destroyed, before taking them to a police station. Therefore, the records probably over-estimate the number of tigers killed. This makes for a serious validity problem.
- In his research analysing the bounty, Eric Guiler was less concerned about distribution, and did not record the full names or the gender of the hunters cashing in bounties; he took only their initials. This creates a data problem, and also makes the location of capture difficult to determine.
- Payment dates are also misleading: sometimes it took four days for the bounty to be paid, sometimes over a year. In one case, it took 587 days. There was also sometimes a delay in approvals. Thus, Paddle concluded, the data is immensely flawed.
It is for these reasons that Guiler has not wanted to publish his material, and Paddle said that it is therefore important to respect this view in this case, and to be generally wary of our constructions of animals’ histories.
In the last paper of the conference, ‘Historiography and human-animal relations – the importance of the longue durée’, Linda Williams (RMIT University, Melbourne) sought to demonstrate that the study of human-animal relations could be usefully perceived via what the Annales School calls the longue durée. Her points were that (1) it is important to refute claims for an era of postmodernism, (2) the model of longue durée is preferable, and (3) the work of some social theorists in this line offers a rigorous methodology for the study of human-animal relations.
- In general, a rupture with modernity is seen as very important in terms of contemporary human-animal relations. Williams argued that the current interest really seems to occur within late modernity. It is needlessly reductive to suggest that there has been a ‘paradigm shift’. Modernity’s ideas, including the blurring of the human-animal boundary, have simply developed. In some respects, there have not been such significant changes either: for instance, the rise of vegetarianism is not offsetting the increase in meat consumption, and laboratory animals meet the same fate as those of the Enlightenment.
- Human-animal relations do not reside in an autonomous realm. Deep genealogies inform them. Symbiosis for instance, was at work long before cyborg culture. Cloning and bioengineering are simply acute points in a process with Neolithic origins. Williams argued that it can be salutary to consider this history. The longue durée of modernity is also crucial to our understanding of contemporary human-animal relations.
- Finally, she argued that temporal flux is not always visible. We are distracted by short-term limits of time. An instance on ruptures obscured deeper currents.
Williams argued, then, that ideas can transcend their point of origin and persist. She concluded with reference to Norbert Elias’s exploration of social patterns of interaction and interdependence over a long period, and advocated the application of such ideas to animal studies.
Review of "Animals and Society II: Considering Animals"
Date Published: September 7, 2007