We are excited to share the latest release in the ASI-managed Brill Human-Animal Studies Book Series, Sentient Entanglements and Ruptures in the Americas: Human-Animal Relations in the Amazon, Andes, and Arctic.

This volume, edited by Maggie Bolton and Jan Peter Laurens Loovers, draws together anthropological studies of human-animal relations among Indigenous Peoples in three regions of the Americas: the Andes, Amazonia, and the American Arctic. Despite contrasts between the ecologies of the different regions, it finds useful comparisons between the ways that lives of human and nonhuman animals are entwined in shared circumstances and sentient entanglements. While studies of all three regions have been influential in scholarship on human-animal relations, the regions are seldom brought together. This book highlights the value of examining partial connections across the American continent between human and other-than-human lives.

ASI Program Director, Gala Argent, sat down with the editors of Sentient Entanglements and Ruptures in the Americas to discuss the major messages of this edited volume, and how a focus on Indigenous Peoples can help to illustrate the ways in which the lives of human and nonhuman animals are deeply entangled.

GA: Why did you want to publish this book?

MB/JPLL: The book resulted from a conference panel that we organised back in 2014 at the Association of Social Anthropologists Decennial Conference in Edinburgh. In the panel we aimed to bring together studies of human-animal relations among Indigenous societies in three different regions of the Americas – the Andes, Amazonia, and the American Arctic.  We wanted to do this because human-animal relations have long featured strongly in anthropological studies of the three regions, but the studies of the different regions have often not been in dialogue with one another.

We feel that the book illustrates the strengths of bringing together studies of different Amerindian peoples with a singular focus. Although there certainly are many differences within and between the regions, that are important to highlight, there are also many similarities, that are sometimes surprising given the different ecological settings, in how Indigenous Peoples relate to animals and to their land.

GA: How does the book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

MB/JPLL: We are both anthropologists who focus on human-animal relations in our research.  Maggie held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Manchester and is currently a lecturer at the University of Aberdeen.  She has conducted research in the Andes region of South America with llama herders since the mid-1990s, and has written on human-camelid and human-canine relations in the Andes.  Peter has worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Aberdeen and as an Academic Researcher at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland and has specifically furthered his interests in human-animal relations through a focus on dogs and domestication.  This also informed him in his work as Project Curator for the British Museum’s Arctic: culture and climate exhibition.

It was conversations around our shared interest in dogs, domestication, and animals more generally, that led first to a conference panel and then to the edited volume. In our work on the Arctic and Andes region, we found we were both drawing inspiration from anthropological writing on Amazonia, so it seemed a good idea to bring together a group of scholars working on the three regions.

GA: Place your work in the context of literature in the field of Human-Animal Studies. How is it addressing and advancing current debates/issues/problematics in the field, and in public policy if appropriate?

MB/JPLL: Our book follows the excellent work that has been done in the Human-Animal Studies field. The Animals & Society Institute is a prime example. The animal turn, as Harriet Ritvo has pointed out, has led to an increased interest in investigating human-animal relations. Multi-species ethnographies have come to abound and there have been various attempts to revisit, rethink, and revise accepted theories of domestication. For example, the Arctic Domus project at the University of Aberdeen, led by David Anderson, who wrote the afterword to our volume, and on which Peter worked, questioned domestication theories formulated from an agrarian perspective and moved towards more nuanced perspectives on human-animal relations. Ideas of domestication as domination and control over animals are particularly ill-fitted to the lives of Indigenous Peoples, who have told outsiders over and over again about animal sentience and volition. Frederic Laugrand, in the contribution, illustrates why Inuit have been resisting colonial initiatives of the domestication of reindeer in Nunavut, Canada, In his contribution to the volume, Peter, together with Aberdeen colleague Rob Wishart, problematizes the pivotal work of Donna Haraway on companion species, through a focus on dog mushers in the Arctic region.  They argue that this human-canine relationship is not so much one of companionship, but of partnership. Here, dogs enable the tedious tasks of trapping or fishing. At the same time, Peter and Rob put other animals in the equation. Fish as dog food, in particular, have been essential to make the partnerships work.

The applicability of Old-World models of domestication to the camelid herders of the Andes was questioned in the early 2000s by Penny Dransart, another contributor to our volume.  Maggie, in her postdoctoral research, critiqued models of rural development that attempted to impose ‘scientific’ models of herd management and animal breeding on Andean herders, disregarding the subtleties of relations between humans, llamas and the land. In her contribution to the volume, she turns her focus to the severe, freak weather events that are becoming more common in the current era of climate change.  She focuses on an unseasonal snowstorm in the Andes and its effect on human-animal relations there, arguing that such events threaten to rupture the fragile bonds of domestication.

While the majority of contributors to our volume are based in northern institutions, an increasing quantity of highly influential anthropological writing on human-animal relations is being produced by scholars from Brazil working on Amazonian and other societies.  We are thus delighted that two Brazilian anthropologists have contributed to our project. Carlos Sautchuck reminds us that death is often a part of human-animal relations when he focuses on the relations involved in fishing for different species of fish. Felipe Vander Velden’s contribution on animal taxonomy among the Karitiana, makes a broader point: that the world and its living things are of such complexity that no one system of classification can understand it in all its aspects.  Our scientific system, focusing on species, illuminates some aspects of it, while the Karitiana classify the world in a different way, not reducible to science.

Our edited volume, then, takes further the vast amount of literature on human-animal studies by critically questioning (albeit at times perhaps indirectly for the reader) what we understand as animal welfare, what place hunting and fishing can take within this literature beyond Enlightenment treatises. In short, we illustrate the shared lives of humans with animals even when those animals are hunted or fished. At the same time, we also broaden the field of Human-Animal Studies by including weather, spirits, land features and death.

GA: What are some of your major messages?

MB/JPLL: Although widely established within the Human-Animal Studies literature, our volume sends out a strong message that animals are sentient beings with volition. This is something that Indigenous Peoples have long emphasised as it is so fundamental in their lives, especially when it comes to hunting or working with the animals. We also emphasize that there is not just one way of looking at the world.

We also want to demonstrate how a focus on Indigenous Peoples can help to illustrate not only the ways in which the lives of human and nonhuman animals are entangled, but also how this entanglement can sometimes be threatened or ruptured – for example, by freak weather events.  Our examples are from Indigenous societies, but these sentient entanglements (and threats to them) are, of course, present in other societies, including our own.

GA: Who is your intended audience?

MB/JPLL: The publication will obviously be of interest to anthropologists and other scholars working in the field of human-animal relations in the regions in question and elsewhere.  It will also be useful to undergraduate and postgraduate students in these fields. While we do not explicitly address policy-making, it may also be of interest to those working in this field.

GA: What are the goals of your research in terms of improving the welfare or understanding of human-animal relations? What policy implications does the work provide regarding the advancement of human-animal relationships?

MB/JPLL: A major goal of much anthropological writing on human-animal relations is to demonstrate that relations between humans and animals can take different, and often less hierarchical, forms than those with which we are familiar in the so-called West.

While we do not aim the volume directly at policy-makers, in the course of the contributions, we cover many issues that may be of interest to those working in fields such as rural development and the environment more generally – issues concerning the land, its status and its ownership, the effects of climate change, attitudes towards animals and Indigenous peoples.  While it remains an ambitious goal, one hope we have of presenting our material is that we can learn something from Indigenous Peoples and perhaps incorporate something from Indigenous philosophies in our attitudes towards animals.


For more information and to purchase your copy of Sentient Entanglements and Ruptures in the Americas, click here.

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