human and non-human animals


human and non-human animals

For anthropologists interested in human-animal relationship.

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Latest Activity: Oct 31, 2014

"It was so easy to imitate these people. I could already spit on the first day. Then we used to spit in each other’s faces. The only difference was that I licked my face clean afterwards. They did not. Soon I was smoking a pipe like an old man, and if I then also pressed my thumb down into the bowl of the pipe, the entire area between decks cheered. Still, for a long time I did not understand the difference between an empty and a full pipe."
From F. Kafka "A Report for an Academy"

Discussion Forum

Want to share bibliography and other resources? Put it here please. 16 Replies

Started by Isabel Cardana. Last reply by Nold Egenter Sep 6, 2012.

Schools, Colleges, Faculties, and Departments 1 Reply

Started by Isabel Cardana. Last reply by Kara White Oct 30, 2011.

Courses in HAS 2 Replies

Started by Margo DeMello. Last reply by Margo DeMello Mar 29, 2010.

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Comment by Nicolas Lescureux on August 26, 2010 at 2:14pm
Only two comments before to read the paper and think deeper about the topic. First, the exploitation is not only a human or illnesses feature. It exists among animals. Some ants (Formica sanguinea) force others ant species into slavery. You can also think about the frigatebird (Fregata sp.) which steals the food from other birds and forces them to regurgitate. Second comment, if you take the human-dog relationships, which started through a human-wolf relationship, you can consider that the species Canis lupus took benefits from these relationships since there are quite more dogs today than wolves in any times. Of course, it is only one point of view, since the dog's life is not a wolf's life, and it can be discussed how it is an improvement or not for Canis lupus species. However, I cannot really see how the comparison between the scientific point of view on human "civilisation" and on cancer cells can help here.
Comment by Layla AbdelRahim on August 25, 2010 at 7:39pm
PS. and neither does Harraway, by the way. Again, I link all these aspects in my genesis piece - the machines, identity, violence, speciesism, racism et al.
Comment by Layla AbdelRahim on August 25, 2010 at 7:36pm
Thanks for your responses, Paul and Josh,
I don't have the time to go in-depth with illustrations and critique right now, but want to mention that my problem with evolutionary theory and science in general is that they use this value-imbued vocabulary and a narrow humanist perspective in interpreting the evolutionary trajectories of other species (and until recently of other ethnic and racial human groups as well), thus naturalising human motives for exploitation inscribing it in the scientific language itself. If the scientific or any other observer zooms out of civilisation, the picture becomes very different - there is nothing mutual, for example, in the relationship between cancer cells and the cells of their host - the parasite devours its environment - this is how we describe someone who colonises our bodies.Species disappear, die out every day due to human knowledge and activities - the recent oil spills are only among the more visible deadly effects of our science, knowledge, racism or speciesism). It's time to really zoom out and this essay doesn't offer me that.
Comment by Josh Reno on August 25, 2010 at 7:16pm
I do not wish to defend the essay in question, and I acknowledge the importance of Layla's point (that exploitation should not be written out of accounts of human/non-human animal relations, as they are e.g. in fairy tales). On the other hand there is some interesting work on dogs, in particular, that challenges the exploitation/mutualism dichotomy. I am thinking in particular of Eduardo Kohn's work on dog dreaming or Haraway's ideas about species companionship.
Comment by Paul Wren on August 25, 2010 at 7:13pm

I agree with your criticism of Greg Downey's article on the subject of non-human interspecies compassion in the wild. There are many examples that would counter his statements.

I also understand the perspective you are taking on his discussion of domestication. From a compassion and empathy viewpoint, his statements would seem to be slanted in the direction of endorsing exploitation.

I believe that you have misread the author's intent, however. From an evolutionary/biological viewpoint, early humans and wolves were both doing what they need to do to survive, and that is the angle the essay is taking.

Domestication of several non-human species by early humans occurred. Whether one approves of that or not is irrelevant to the study of domestication and its possible role in furthering human evolution. This is the job of anthropologists as scientists, and I welcome such analyses.

A historian might similarly state that

"enslavement of large populations of africans for labor represented a major change in western hemisphere economics, providing significant muscle power at a low cost and a host of other advantages."

This is an analysis of how a particular situation effected outcomes, and is valuable in the understanding of what happened. We can all agree that human enslavement is indeed outrageous, but that is a moral, ethical, and political issue, not an anthropological one.

To summarize, I respect your views on the treatment of animals by humans (and your right to have such views), but I'm not sure they are part of the anthropological discussion in this essay.
Comment by Layla AbdelRahim on August 25, 2010 at 6:11pm
What bothers me in this essay on the dog-human "connection", is the language that pretends to be scientific, yet which serves specific, abusive and exploitative human interests. Imagine, if a neuranthropologist wrote this about human slaves, substituting them for "animals":

"Evolutionary theorists have long recognized that the domestication of [black human slaves] represented a major change in human life, providing not just a close-at-hand food source, but also non-human muscle power and a host of other advantages"

Well, today, that would be outrageous! But if the abused creatures have fur and run on four - that's "cute", apparently.

Also, the author provides false information about inter-species compassion in the wild. Animals do help each other (Goethe and Kropotkin and the various indigenous peoples around the world have observed this long ago). The difference is that lions and gazelles do not domesticate one another and exploit for life. Exploitation is a feature of civilised humans only and terminal cancers and other illnesses.

Further, I find it problematic to call human relationship with exploited human or non-human beings "mutual". This language is understandable in politics or education (these fields and their practitioners are meant to be misleading, after all), but for some reason, I still harboured secret expectations from anthropologists (who never fail to disappoint me).

Anyway, for those interested, I've had a chunk of my dissertation published recently and it deals with these questions from an inter-disciplinary perspective:

(scroll down for the full version in PDF and the table of contents)
Comment by Paul Wren on August 25, 2010 at 12:11pm
I just stumbled onto a wonderful (and lengthy) blog post at Neuroanthropology: The dog-human connection in evolution.

I decided to search around the OAC to see if anyone was discussing related issues, and found this group which had somehow evaded my attention! I'll be back to read and post very soon.
Comment by Piers Locke on September 18, 2009 at 9:30pm
A pleasure to discover this network and this group! With my other anthropologist colleagues at the University of Wales, Lampeter, I am launching a new masters programme in Anthrozoology. Building on our research interests in captive elephant management, ethnoprimatology, llama herding, horse breeding and showing, fox hunting, Alien Big Cats, volunteer tourism and animal sanctuaries, this is the first masters programme in Anthrozoology in the world (I think). A Research Centre should follow shortly. We shall be hosting the 2011 meeting of the Association of Social Anthropologists (ASA) on the theme of 'Human interactions with living things', and I have just created an Anthrozoology group on Facebook - do please join. I look forward to participating in what I think is an exciting and upcoming field.
Comment by Cristina Sá Valentim on July 4, 2009 at 4:27pm
Hi there!
In fact, the relation between animals and humans can provide a lot of important questions usefull to understand the complexity of human behaviour. Animals are our opposite definition, while living non-humans ('living' here we could think in objects as well), and in this dichotomy there are a lot to discover, in a sense of social interrelations. Animals are our partners in life.
Isabel, thank you to this group discussion.
Comment by Layla AbdelRahim on June 27, 2009 at 8:14pm
Greetings everyone!
Isabel, thank you for your welcome note. I'm looking forward to the discussion here. Keith is right in pointing out that, perhaps, the greatest divisions are between humans and animals and (I'd skip "humans and" here) children. It is fascinating how books written for children and youth play with these categories and divisions: where do we identify with animals/children and at what point do we turn around and eat them?

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