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Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations

Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations

by Heather Anne Swanson (Editor)


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The domestication of plants and animals is central to the familiar and now outdated story of civilization's emergence. Intertwined with colonialism and imperial expansion, the domestication narrative has informed and justified dominant and often destructive practices. Contending that domestication retains considerable value as an analytical tool, the contributors to Domestication Gone Wild reengage the concept by highlighting sites and forms of domestication occurring in unexpected and marginal sites, from Norwegian fjords and Philippine villages to British falconry cages and South African colonial townships. Challenging idioms of animal husbandry as human mastery and progress, the contributors push beyond the boundaries of farms, fences, and cages to explore how situated relations with animals and plants are linked to the politics of human difference-and, conversely, how politics are intertwined with plant and animal life. Ultimately, this volume promotes a novel, decolonizing concept of domestication that radically revises its Euro- and anthropocentric narrative.

Contributors. Inger Anneberg, Natasha Fijn, Rune Flikke, Frida Hastrup, Marianne Elisabeth Lien, Knut G. Nustad, Sara Asu Schroer, Heather Anne Swanson, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Mette Vaarst, Gro B. Ween, Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822371267
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 10/19/2018
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Heather Anne Swanson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University.

Marianne Elisabeth Lien is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo.

Gro B. Ween is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the Cultural History Museum, University of Oslo.

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Intimate Encounters · Sara Asu Schroer

The breeding of birds of prey in captivity has long been deemed impossible. In contrast to well-known domesticates such as dogs, horses, and various livestock, birds of prey have resisted human-controlled breeding, a core element of classic definitions of domestication. The territorial and at times aggressive behavior of raptors, portrayed as solitary animals, toward those with whom they are most intimately bonded, namely, their breeding partner or mate, have made them exceptionally difficult to breed under "controlled conditions" within the confines of human-built environments. Yet despite these challenges, since the second half of the twentieth century, the captive breeding of raptors has become a possibility, and various species have been bred successfully through "artificial" insemination as well as through "natural" breeding pairs.

The aim of this chapter is to provide insight into captive breeding practices involving birds of prey, with a focus on the relationships involved in artificial insemination between breeders and "imprinted" breeding birds. I am concerned with how these intimate encounters require rethinking of the question of "control over reproduction," which figures centrally in classic narratives of human-domesticate relationships. Although enclosures and captivity shape breeder-falcon relationships, control is, as I will show, not exercised by humans alone. This is also philosopher of science Vinciane Despret's (2004) point in her investigations of Lorentz's descriptions of engagements with his imprinted jackdaw. Despret argues that rather than focusing on control, we should look for the essence of domestication in "emotional relations made of expectations, faith, belief, trust" (2004, 122). She understands domestication as a practice that has the power to transform both human and nonhuman subjects, opening new identities and ways of relating as a result.

Controlled breeding has been a defining element in classic definitions of domestication for obvious reasons. As this chapter will show, breeding in captivity has indeed dramatically altered the lives of these birds, but not necessarily in ways that completely disempower, alienate, or objectify them. The conditions of breeding birds of prey direct our attention to the choreographies of intimacy and sociality that emerge within such captive breeding practices and that shape not only birds' but also humans' ways of relating to their worlds (Despret 2004; see also Haraway 2008). Because birds are willful creatures with their own desires and rules of conduct, the continuous negotiation of intimacies becomes central for breeders who enter long-term, intimate, and affective social relationships with their birds that must be continuously negotiated.

Captive Breeding and Falconry Practice

Breeding practice cannot be understood without its connection to the practice of falconry. Even though the relationships between humans and birds of prey in falconry practice are diverse and have a long history, these relationships have so far not been considered under the conceptual umbrella of domestication. Like reindeer-pastoralist relationships in the Circumpolar North, sometimes referred to as "weak" forms of domestication or "semi-domestication" (Ingold 1994), the dynamic relationships involved in falconry do not easily fit into stark categories of the wild and the tame, nor do they lend themselves to domestication narratives of human superiority, domination, and control. In falconry, humans and birds of prey learn to cooperate with each other in the task of hunting. The practice involves methods and techniques peculiar to falconry and involves processes of taming and training, which in previous research I have analyzed in terms of colearning and enskilment (Schroer 2015, 2018).

Traditionally, falconers derived their birds from the "wild," where they were either taken as nestlings from the eyrie (eyasses), trapped on their first migration (passage hawks), or taken as adult birds (haggard). In this context, the "wildness" of birds of prey is not understood as something to be contested or overcome but rather something falconers appreciate and strive to get close to. In contrast to other human-animal relationships in which captive breeding led to the development of animal breeds that in some cases are considered superior to their "wild" relatives, in falconry this longing for improvement of bird species through human interference did not become dominant (for a contrast, see, for example, Cassidy 2002 in relation to the breeding of racehorses). Historically, when the taking of wild birds was still allowed, falconers typically did not put much effort into the breeding of birds in captivity, which has often been considered a difficult and time-intensive enterprise.

Today, the taking of wild birds is illegal or highly regulated in most countries, and the captive breeding of birds of prey has become a regular way for falconers to continue their practice. The first large-scale breeding successes with raptor species began to emerge in the 1960s. During this time, people concerned about birds of prey were alarmed by the decline of some species of raptors — some to the brink of extinction — due to the use of pesticides in industrial agriculture (Ratcliffe 1980). This resulted in joint efforts by falconers and researchers in different countries to work on the captive propagation of birds of prey to produce offspring for reintroduction into the wild. Much of this restoration work has been based on knowledge from falconry practice, using techniques of handling, taming, training, and hunting with birds of prey to create adequate domestic breeding environments and to keep the birds in healthy condition (both physically and mentally). During this time, much was achieved, not only by research institutions but also by private falconer-breeders who experimented with breeding birds of prey in captivity. Breeding success was based on several improvements in relation to the birds' diets and built environment and on a better understanding of the birds' complex courting rituals. It furthermore benefitted from experimenting with artificial insemination and the ability to sex birds more accurately through DNA testing (Weaver and Cade 1991; Platt et al. 2007; Roots 2007).

For many falconers in Britain who have the time and financial resources to do so, the breeding of their own birds has become an extension of their falconry practice. Some falconers welcome it as a way to learn more about their birds. Breeding provides the opportunity for them to be included in the processes of pair bonding and courtship as well as the early stages of a young bird's development. This is usually not the case when they purchase already-flying youngsters from commercial breeders. Because the creation of a social bond between human and bird is central for developing hunting cooperation later on, it becomes important to know that young birds did not have bad experiences under the breeder's care that might lead to a negative association with human beings. Falconer-breeders routinely emphasized that working with birds of prey requires being responsive to interspecies forms of communication and rules of conduct. The falcons, hawks, or eagles with whom one hunts or breeds are usually understood as distinctly willful creatures that can show affection and cooperation toward humans as much as they can dominance and aggression. Falconers, in turn, do not understand themselves as dominant masters of inferior beings but experience their engagements with the birds as cooperative. Attempts to use force will likely make a bird unwilling to cooperate, thereby making its continued domestication an impossible project. This is a point that I will further explore in the next section.

"Controlled" Breeding of Birds of Prey

At first glance, the practices involved in the captive breeding of birds of prey based on selective breeding and the "production" of offspring for either private, conservational, or commercial purposes seem to be at the heart of some of the classic narratives of domestication that prevail in predominantly Western discourses on the human-domesticate relationship. Indeed, in many such discourses, controlled domestic breeding — the removal of animals from the spaces to which they "naturally" belong and their integration and subjugation into the human domain or household — is depicted as "the essence of domestication" (Bökönyi 1989 22; 1969). In these narratives of cultural progress, the human is seen as standing in a dominant and superior position to the domesticated animal. For example, Clutton-Brock argued that, for domestic creatures, the human community "maintains total control over their breeding, organization of territory, and food supply" (Clutton-Brock 2012, 3, emphasis added; see also introduction).

A focus on the dynamic interspecies interface within the captive breeding of birds of prey helps to challenge and decenter such classic understandings of domestication that appear too generalizing to capture the manifold relationships and practices that constitute avian domestication. First, drawing a strict boundary between the lives of the captive animals, on the one hand, and the "human community," on the other, seems difficult to achieve in the case of falcon breeding. The practice involves continuous social contact between humans and birds who gradually learn how to engage in meaningful communication in which both take part in creating "rules" for their social interactions. This relationship, then, challenges the human-animal divide that attributes subjectivity to humans only and encourages thinking about the significance of sociality in the domestication process. The "social" here is not a domain bound to a species; rather, in captive breeding, sociality should be understood as an emergent process through which living beings grow in relation to each other and their environments (Ingold 2000, 2011; see also Long and Moore 2012; Strathern and Toren, in Ingold 1995, 50–55, 60–63; and Tsing 2013 on "more-than-human sociality").

Second, the notions of control and dominance must be understood in their various enactments, rather than as purely human and unidirectional (see Anderson et al. 2017; Sax 2014 on Porcher). Captivity is, of course, what allows for intimate human- bird relations, and in the end, falcon breeding is, in some ways, unequal and even possibly coercive. Yet, while breeders acknowledge that they put falcons in aviaries, they also stress that the birds' actions shape and contribute to human-animal engagements within these captive environments. When one pays attention to the experiences and narratives of breeders, it becomes evident that birds are perceived by the breeders as taking active part in, and influencing, breeding practice and their engagements with humans. This is particularly the case when it comes to the protection of their territories that are formed through the birds' enactments of dominance toward potential mates (e.g., a bird or the breeder) as well as toward outsiders that may try to intrude (e.g., an anthropologist on fieldwork trying to clean their aviary, whom they stoop-attacked from above). Furthermore, while breeders may have control over the amount and quality of food they supply, how this food is accepted and consumed by the birds lies outside their control. Especially during the time of courtship, food and mutual feeding have an important meaning for the establishment of a pair bond between breeder and imprinted birds. Before considering these aspects further, let me briefly consider the case of imprinting and artificial insemination.

Imprinting and Cooperative Artificial Insemination

Breeding birds in captivity can be achieved through the making of so-called natural breeding pairs, in which a male bird and a female bird are placed together in an aviary in the hope that they develop a pair bond and show a willingness to mate. Another option is artificial insemination, which can be accomplished either through involuntary or voluntary cooperative insemination. Involuntary insemination may be technically possible, in the sense that involuntarily inseminated birds could produce offspring, but breeders consider it more stressful for the birds. They fear it may lead to a breakdown of good relations with the bird, making it unmanageable. Cooperative insemination is seen to be more effective in comparison with involuntary practices, because the birds are said to be "enjoying" it and are actively involved in the act of courtship (see Fox 1995; Berry 1972). For instance, the female, if stimulated well, will draw in the semen properly, leading to a greater likelihood of egg fertilization (on the practices involved in the artificial insemination of pigs, see Blanchette 2013 and Anneberg et al. 2013).

To breed with birds cooperatively, breeders develop a close bond with male and female birds that have been raised as "social imprints" (Durman-Walters 1994). Social imprinting initially involves raising the nestlings in the breeder's home, where they become part of the everyday routine of the human household. After this period, the breeder needs to continuously maintain a relationship with the imprinted birds so that the strong association with the breeder will eventually lead the birds to sexually identify the breeder as a breeding partner or mate. However, it is important to point out that in the narratives of falconer-breeders, imprinting does not at all present itself as a straightforward process. The falconer-breeders I spoke to often highlighted that the status of a bird as "imprint" was not a fixed, predetermined condition of the bird's identity but rather was subject to the flexible and unpredictable aspects of bird behavior. For instance, birds of prey hand-reared by humans associate strongly with them, but they have also been observed to form pair bonds with other birds if kept together for a long enough period. Birds that have not been imprinted on humans can also develop a pair bond with humans even if other potential bird partners are around. The case of imprinting birds of prey, then, shows that it is difficult to make generalizing claims about imprinting across or even within species.

When breeding with male birds, the breeder takes over the "female" role in courtship (and vice versa). In the case of birds of prey, these ritual roles do not differ significantly between the sexes (Ratcliffe 1980). The event usually involves so-called appeasement gestures in which both partners avert their gaze, bow down their heads, and use different calls that vary in intensity and according to the situation. The moment of copulation itself is very brief. Female birds when aroused and ready will start to "stand," pointing their behind upward so that the male may mount them (breeders may use a hand to put pressure on the bird's back to simulate this part and use a syringe to squirt semen on top of the bird's cloaca). The male bird, on the other hand, after having been courted, will get accustomed to copulating with a particular part of the breeder. In breeding with falcons, this is most often the head of the falconer covered with a rubber hat, which the bird will jump up on and with which it will copulate. The semen will subsequently be collected with a syringe from the hat. Whether the bird will copulate with the designated hat is another question. Some birds are said to prefer to copulate with a falconer's boot, while others prefer a hand or even an external object that can be placed on the floor while the breeder does the calls and bodily movements of courtship. The hats used are also often adjusted to the specific desires of the birds (in terms of size and features such as color) (Wrege and Cade 1977; Weaver and Cade 1991; Platt et al. 2007).

Cooperation in these intimate interspecies encounters presents itself as a multilayered social negotiation, which is ill-described as belonging to either of the extreme sides of "total human control" or interspecies mutuality. Such conceptions would leave us ignorant of the manifold enactments of agency and intimacy that appear to be involved in these interspecies courtship rituals on both sides of the human-bird bond. While the birds are living in captivity and therefore restricted environments and depend on humans for their well-being, they do, within these structures, possess the capacity to act and engage in intersubjective relationships. Intersubjectivity has also been observed to be central for the interactions between humans and nonhuman animals by Despret, for whom this involves a bodily attunement to the other, of learning to affect and be affected by other beings and worlds (2004). Attunement enables "a new articulation of 'with-ness,' an undetermined articulation of 'being with'" (Despret 2004, 131). "Being with" birds of prey in the context described here is, of course, ambiguous, in that it is a situation created by practices of captivity and captive breeding; this chapter thus aims to describe the becoming-with (on agility training, see also Haraway 2008, 206–8) that occurs in these settings, without either justifying or critiquing the settings themselves.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Naming the Beast—Exploring the Otherwise / Marianne Elisabeth Lien, Heather Anne Swanson, and Gro B. Ween  1
Part I. Intimate Encounters: Domestication from Within
1. Breeding with Birds of Prey: Intimate Encounters / Sara Asu Schroer  33
2. Pigs and Spirits in Ifugao: A Cosmological Decentering of Domestication / Jon Henrik Ziegler Remme  50
3. Dog Ears and Tails: Different Relational Ways of Being with Canines in Aboriginal Australia and Mongolia / Natasha Fijn  72
4. Farm Animals in a Welfare State: Commercial Pigs in Denmark / Inger Anneberg and Mette Vaarst  94
5. Ducks into Houses: Domestication and Its Margins / Marianne Elisabeth Lien  117
Part II. Beyond the Farm: Domestication as World-Making
6. Domestication Gone Wild: Pacific Salmon and the Disruption of the Domus / Heather Anne Swanson  141
7. Natural Goods on the Fruit Frontier: Cultivating Apples in Norway / Frida Hastrup  159
8. Domestication of Air, Scent, and Disease / Rune Flikke  176
9. How the Salmon Found Its Way Home: Science, State Ownership, and the Domestication of Wild Fish / Gro B. Ween and Heather Anne Swanson  196
10. Wilderness through Domestication: Trout, Colonialism, and Capitalism in South Africa / Knut G. Nustad  215
Provocation. Nine Provocations for the Study of Domestication / Anna Tsing  231
Contributors  252
Index  255

What People are Saying About This

Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene - Donna Haraway

“What do Pacific salmon, British falcons, pine trees everywhere, Ifugao pigs and spirits, and Norwegian apples have in common? They perform ‘domestication’ in ways certain to change the narratives and politics of domestication for scholars of whatever discipline and for critter people all over the earth. Read this book for up-to-the-minute, deeply researched, very smart, contentious takes on the shapes of conjoined humans and nonhumans living and dying together in diverse histories of civilization, colonialism, capitalism, times-past and times-yet-to-come. Perhaps what opens up in this book are real possibilities for caring more materially in urgent times.”

Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades - Laura A. Ogden

Domestication Gone Wild provides an important intervention in the ways we understand domestication as a kind of developmental stage in world civilization. Its contributors examine how slippery the boundaries are between ‘domestic’ and ‘wild.’ A significant contribution to debates in environmental humanities, posthumanist philosophy, and the politics of difference, this volume will appeal to a broad audience concerned with the ethics of living in a time of ecological crisis.”

Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene - Donna J. Haraway

“What do Pacific salmon, British falcons, pine trees everywhere, Ifugao pigs and spirits, and Norwegian apples have in common? They perform ‘domestication’ in ways certain to change the narratives and politics of domestication for scholars of whatever discipline and for critter people all over the earth. Read this book for up-to-the-minute, deeply researched, very smart, contentious takes on the shapes of conjoined humans and nonhumans living and dying together in diverse histories of civilization, colonialism, capitalism, times-past, and times-yet-to-come. Perhaps what opens up in this book are real possibilities for caring more materially in urgent times.”

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