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A multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals
ISSN: 0892-7936 (Print) 1753-0377 (Online) Journal homepage:
Human-Animal Relationships: Symbol and Culture
Andrew N. Rowan
To cite this article: Andrew N. Rowan (1995) Human-Animal Relationships: Symbol and Culture,
Anthrozoös, 8:2, 67-68
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Published online: 27 Apr 2015.
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Download by: [Florida State University]
Date: 25 October 2017, At: 07:48
uch of the material that
appears in Anthrozoös deals
with companion animals and
their potential beneficial
effects on humans. Thirteen of the twenty
commentary and research articles in volume 7 dealt very specifically with humancompanion animal interactions while
another four dealt with human-wildlife
interactions and attitudes. The symbolic
and cultural roles that animals play in
human existence are addressed much less
frequently by those submitting manuscripts
to Anthrozoös, despite the extraordinary
richness of such human-animal relationships. A recent conference held at the
New School for Social Research (April 68, 1995) and a review of the proceedings
of a 1993 conference in the Netherlands
on apes, humans and apemen (see Book
Reviews in this issue) illustrate what we are
missing by restricting our attention to the
relatively narrow field of human-companion animal interactions.
The Netherlands meeting dealt with
the various ways in which the ape-human
divide has been addressed since the 16th
century. It includes the way non-human
primates were dealt with in the evolution
of biological classification schemes and
the ways in which ape-human similarities
and differences were emphasized or
downplayed.There is an interesting chapter on a plan at the end of the nineteenth
century to create a missing link by
impregnating chimpanzees with human
sperm (or vice-versa). The plan, not surprisingly, ran into considerable opposition from organized religion. There are
contributions on attitudes to chimpanzees
in Africa and the differences between
Japanese and western views of monkeys.
For example, while western cultures usu-
Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 07:48 25 October 2017
ally emphasize human rationality in distinguishing between humans and apes,
the Japanese tend to use human emotionality (the capacity to laugh and cry) as
the distinctive difference.
The New School conference ranged
much further afield but many of the same
themes cropped up. For example, the
first session dealt with the way humans
classify the natural world and speaker
Juliet Clutton-Brock discussed both
Aristotelian and Linnaen approaches to
classification. While Clutton-Brock
approached the topic from a relatively traditional perspective, the other two speakers, philosopher and dog trainer Vicki
Hearne and poet and English scholar
John Hollander, brought a much wider
variety of disciplinary perspectives to their
examination of animal “categories”.
Hearne stressed the differences between
the third-person “I-It” knowledge of animals displayed by the scientist versus the
“I-Thou” knowledge of animals displayed
by the good trainer. Hollander began with
an analysis of biblical references of animals (there are only two animals in the
Bible who speak - the serpent in the
Garden of Eden and Balaam’s ass) and
then progressed through Milton to identify
three possible categories of animals —
the purely mythical, the natural, and the
natural that are used as symbols and allegories.
The next session at the New School
conference was titled “histories” and
encompassed a similarly wide array of
treatments. While Harriet Ritvo explored
historical features of the “border troubles” in the shifting of lines between
humans and animals (Linnaeus placed
the orangutan in the genus Homo), neuroscientist Stephen Glickman explored
the biology and reputation of the spotted
hyena and argued strongly that, while the
spotted hyena has been identified as a
cowardly, scavenging trans-sexual
ANTHROZOÖS, Vol. VIII, No. 2 - 1995
Downloaded by [Florida State University] at 07:48 25 October 2017
throughout history, its reputation is
entirely undeserved. He hopes that the
matrilineal society of the hyena will not
be maligned in the future but acknowledged that Disney would be unlikely to
make a film titled The Hyena King anytime soon! Finally, Jerrold Tannenbaum,
lawyer and philosopher, explored the
jurisprudential roots of animal law and
what it means for animals to be described
as chattel or property in English and
American legal systems.
The fifth session, entitled “sameness
and difference”, included talks by philosopher Daniel Dennett, behavioral scientist
Duane Rumbaugh and philosopher Colin
McGinn. Dennett aroused the ire of the
audience with his challenge to animal
activists to be more careful in analyzing
animal consciousness, sentience and the
moral implications of those claims. He
argues that there is too much mixing of
observation and analysis with wishful
thinking and a one-sided analysis of the
evidence. This was followed by
Rumbaugh’s description of the capabilities of Kanzi, the bonobo chimpanzee
who can understand several hundred
words of human speech, providing an
extraordinary example of the fruits of
careful research into the linguistic and
mental abilities of other animals. McGinn
rounded off the session with a careful
analysis of what psychological characteristics would cause us (and justify our decision) to take moral claims on behalf of
animals seriously.
The sixth session (“everyday life”)
included two very rich talks, in symbol
and culture, on bestial myths by religious
scholar Wendy Doniger and on hunting
imagery by anthropologist Matt Cartmill.
Doniger swept effortlessly across theology, anthropology and cultural history to
discuss the role of human-animal sexual
interaction (e.g. Leda and the swan) in
mythology and culture. She noted the
importance of the wounded or mutilated
foot (e.g. Achilles’ heel, Chiron’s foot) in
a variety of myths, especially those including horses. The foot, she noted, is the
ANTHROZOÖS, Vol. VIII, No. 2 - 1995
point of contact with the earth and thus
can symbolize mortal aspects of our existence. Cartmill was just as magisterial in
his analysis of hunting and started with an
examination of More’s Utopia in which
hunting is presented as the lowest and
vilest of trades.He noted that anti-hunting
sentiments in the Middle Ages were found
mainly in hunting manuals.
In addition to the conference, several
New York museums (the Asia Society, the
Jewish Museum, the Morgan Library, and
the Museum for African Art) also participated via exhibits or events. For example,
the Asia Society opened an exhibit on the
Monkey in Asian societies that runs from
May to September, 1995. The Morgan
Library has developed an exhibit for the
same period looking at animals as symbols
in medieval illuminated manuscripts. The
Museum for African Art has developed an
exhibit on animals in African art that
includes a series of storytellers relating animal stories from different African cultures,
while the Jewish Museum is holding a
series of talks on animals in Jewish life and
The conference proceedings are to
appear in the New School journal Social
Forces but I am drawing attention to the
conference now to preach the importance of expanding our perspective on
human-animal relations beyond modernday companion animals and their health
benefits. This represents only the tip of
the iceberg of what constitutes the field.
While few if any of us have the ability or
knowledge to explore these issues in the
breadth described above, it is important
that we keep ourselves open to such
inter-disciplinary analyses. As long as I
am editor of Anthrozoös, I will welcome
manuscripts on animals as symbols and
metaphor in culture and history.
Andrew N. Rowan
Tufts Center for Animals and Public
200 Westboro Rd
N. Grafton, MA 01536
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