On the 22nd June, Paul Keil will be giving a (non-pig) paper at School of Oriental and African Studies, London, for the 2nd SOAS Elephant Conference. The talk is titled Scaffolding the Elephant: Becoming domestic and living by the norms of the human world
ABSTRACT: Historically, elephants have been caught from the forest and trained into working relationships, becoming skilled in communicating with mahouts, conducting tasks, and living in a human-governed environment. By this process they are socially transformed, from the status of a “wild” animal to a “domestic” one. This paper will analyse how this status is performed with the complementary support of their human handler, who serves as a form of “cognitive scaffolding”. The mahout can integrate knowledge and cognitive skills that the elephant does not have access to and are necessary to the completion of shared tasks. Conducting labour, the actions of the two individuals are coordinated and interdependent, constituting an integrated, interspecies mahout-elephant team. This scaffolding role extends to everyday contexts. Ethnographic examples demonstrate how the human augments the nonhuman to acceptably live by the anthropocentric norms of society, whether that is navigating space, respecting social boundaries, performing as a god, or recognising symbolic aspects of the environment. By successfully coordinating as part of an interspecies team the elephant becomes and maintains its domestic status.
See full conference program here: