Saturday, 22 April 2017

Harraway's "When Species meet", part 4.

In the final section of the first chapter of "When Species Meet" (2007), Haraway draws an important observation about the fact that we are in the midst of a "reinvented Pastoral-tourist economy", which is having a great impact on the general populace of the West, and their sense of appreciation of what they think to be "wild, open and unspoilt natural places". While this in itself is significant as a step forward towards people having respect for such places, it should be noted that the landscape, particularly in Britain, has changed multiple times over the last millennia due to man's continued and varied agricultural activities. (For example see the book the making of the English landscape, (1955) by W.G. Hoskins). So we can hardly call this, an unspoilt natural place, but perhaps that is a moot point.

What I'm trying to get at here though, is that Haraway recognises a resurgence, especially in Europe and the United States, people want to get outside and enjoy what they believe to be open countryside and "nature". The story that Haraway explains this through comes from a small brochure that was sent to her from a friend during a hiking tour of the French Alps. The brochure alerted walkers that they may encounter "the local guard dogs, large white dogs whose task it is to guard the flocks." In a way, what is being reached for here is to encourage tourists to politely respect the jobs of those working dogs and "for hikers to be on their best countryside behaviour." I love this idea of being polite, it conjures up a kind of rapport that is unspoken between the tourists and these huge white guard dogs, who might be thinking a completely opposite attitude towards the human gawping tourists. Hence their likely angry barks, which is what I have always encountered from dogs whenever I have inadvertently stepped into their zone of territory. To me, what Haraway is doing again, is projecting a human behaviour towards another animal (i.e. dogs), with an expectation that they might respond perhaps in a likely human way.
This anthropomorphic treatment of other species surely has to be thoroughly challenged. We need to investigate other ways of establishing a rapport with companion species that fits with their worldview, and not our own?
 In fairness to Haraway, she does point this out in her final sentence as what she calls "a prosaic detail: the exercise of good manners makes the competent working animals those whom the people need to learn to recognise." The footnote to this explains it all correctly, however. "Apparently friendly and curious behaviour from wild wolves directed people is most likely to be an exploration of a possible lupine lunch rather than an affectionate cross-species romp." So in fairness to Haraway, she is well aware that real life is not a case of romantic naturalism, that really about eating and being eaten.

The next chapter entitled "Value Added Dogs and Lively Capital", explores the relationship between modern capitalism and workers rights (based on the values originally proposed by Karl Marx), and the potential rights of other living breathing sentient beings (and here, for Haraway, read mostly dogs). Marx's notions of use value, versus exchange value, come into play here, which ultimately turn into exploitation. Humans have been exploiting each other well before we emerged as a separate species. Likewise, animals exploit each other too. Again I struggled with Haraway's points of trying to tie the works of Karl Marx and the exploitation of labour together with our more historical habits of exploiting animals. Ultimately, I do recognise and understand her drive to expand on the fact that early 21st-century "capitalist techno-culture" is providing an environment where we as humans "might deepen our abilities to understand value added encounters."

In summary, I think that Haraway is commenting on our current culture is in the midst of a change in attitudes. To me, this seems an obvious discourse rather, as we are always in the middle of history in my view, not at the end. We are constantly in flux and in the middle of change at any point in history, and while it is important to record and observe cultural attitudes and narratives, I feel there is always a need for a more holistic recognition that we are merely in the midst of time. Attitudes change, and it is important for all disciplines, anthropology, biology et cetera (the sciences), to work in tandem with the arts, in helping to shape cultural attitudes.

I'm glad to say that it is more or less at this point (p 82), that Haraway starts to talk in a slightly different tone, that is to say, "Caring." This is more now focus on how do we share "suffering". This is a subtle move away from the anthropomorphism that the first couple of chapters seem to engage with. Haraway is not talking about some kind of heroic copying of pain and suffering, but instead to "do the work of paying attention and making sure that suffering is minimal, (necessary?), And consequential. In this sense, my exploration of JA Baker's writing in his book "the Peregrine" (1967) seems a perfect point to finish on, that it is clear that Baker is indeed trying to position himself in the responsible and caring way of sharing the suffering of his subject Peregrines.


Haraway, D. (2008) When Species Meet, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, US.

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