Tag Archives: What is animal

Word. Anthropology = humanity alone?


If you are new to anthrozoology, allow me to introduce you to:

a) An avenue of anthropology in which we think about animals to find out about ourselves
b) An orphan subject, since questioning interspecies relationships from all sides excludes it from science or (human) social science
c) An undoubtedly amorphous but importantly rad and overdue framework that allows us to ask not only how people think about animals but vice versa.

In your reading you will find a few major types of thinker. One is the social anthropologist. For these authors anthrozoology is typically an examination of humanity. By studying what they can’t do, we find out what we can do. Tim Ingold, editor of the brilliant collection “What is an Animal”, holds firm on the point that animals have a practical consciousness that enables them to perform tasks that are largely pre-programmed, whereas humans have the conceptual framework and language to speculate and plan in thought.

And then there are people like Goodwin (link to follow) who kick Descartes to the kerb by expounding on the rational and essentially creative qualities of the non-human mind. I myself am rather pleased Descartes is no longer around, but he sure left a mark.

Read this in amazement guys. Here is an example of anthrozoology attempting to understand the non-human consciousness. I think this is also an important approach and one which includes questions, for example, on the weeping and graveyard vigils of elephants.

That studies like this are often represented in anthropological context is not cowardice on the authors part, it is not for want of imagination. Anthropology has the tools and practice to allow us to examine relationships between beings, other beings and the environment – and the cultural patterns that result. This affords anthrozoology a multidisciplinary context that would greatly shrink under the single lens of science, economics, politics etc.

Importantly, anthropology has decades of practice in trying to overcome the limits of subjective experience. Even as we study humanity, we simply cannot always know what other people are thinking. We heavily borrow the mental equipment of anthropology.

It’s probably because humanity builds on subjective experience that anthrozoology is such an ambiguous subject. Elephants turn the bones. A cultural anthropologist chooses a pastry for breakfast. I read a little about chimps and go comfy comfy to sleep…

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