Sociocultural Animal Geographies: Identities and Place

Much of the focus of sociocultural animal geographies has been on animal roles in construction and ordering of culture and individual human subjects, and wider links between human and animal identities in particular times and places. Some animal geographies have experimentally approached animals as something akin to a marginal social group that emphasizes unequal power relations between animals and people, and then also between differing groups of people. Historically, in London for example, farmers, or drovers who brought animals into the city to be sold and slaughtered, in the nineteenth-century, came to be defined as more animalistic in terms of having an inclination to wildness, deviancy, and sexual excess because of their closeness to cattle and other animals. The animal practices revolving around live – meat markets and slaughterhouses clashed with new urban identities associated with standards of civility, public decency, and norms of compassion andsexual propriety. This ultimately led to both animals and drovers being excluded from the city.

Such work also suggested that a continuum of inclusions and exclusions of certain animals in, or of, certain spaces can be found, with, for example, pets currently seen as inclusive members of some cities, homes, and families, and other animals such as larger carnivores as excluded to the periphery of human lived spaces – with many points in between these. Yet, many examples of animal practices do not fit easily into such a range, and it is a range complicated by social, cultural, and historical factors of diverse forms.

Other sociocultural animal geographies informed by feminism and environmental politics have dwelt on links between race, gender, class, and certain animal practices in modern or late modern spaces. Much of the focus here has been on re conceptualizing the human–animal divide from one of oppositional dualism into networks of intricate interdependencies focused on kinship. In terms of connections between race and representations of animality, empirical work with different ethnic groups in American cities showed that attitudes to animals are complex, but also that certain animal food practices are, and have long been, used to other, and often to demonize, certain ethnic groups in particular societies.

Such work has to a great extent been experimental, theoretically and methodologically, in order to search for new ways of bringing animals back in to social theory and practice. Yet, just how far the marginal group approach has useful durability, rather than becoming a standard social explanation of certain situations, is open to some debate. Moreover, there may be residual humanist aspects to this work that emphasizes social categories, though this is a wider difficulty of social and cultural animal geographies.

To some extent, the role of animals in the making of places and landscapes can be incorporated in this section, though it does bleed out into other approaches. Such work has sought to reverse the view of earlier cultural ecology by demonstrating the active roles of animals in helping to produce certain landscapes. For example, work on the early twentieth century English Broadlands demonstrated how some resident animals of these landscapes helped define relational human identities. This work has variously showed how differing technologies and corporeal expert practices – looking, touching, listening, testing, hunting, killing, tasting animals – produced differing claims to authority concerning local conservation and right ways of behavior towards animals of these landscapes. Similarly, work on whale and dolphin watching has pointed to how such eventful spaces work as landscapes of performance that are co constituted between tourists, technologies of envisioning, sea life, and wider processes such as weather conditions. These excursions may not always be successful – whales may not ppear, weather may be bad, or other factors may intervene. When they are successful, these performances are seen to be, often, highly emotional for tourists and are discussed by them in ways that emphasize the transformative capacities of the experience.