Upcoming seminars and conference papers in Bochum and Paris – November 2019

Virginie Vaté and Giovanna Capponi will be presenting their work on human-boars conflicts in France and in Italy this upcoming November.

The first appointment is at the RUSTlab Lectures series, at the  University of Bochum (a special thank you to PhD candidate Markus Rudolfi for the invitation), where they will give a talk presenting the scope and aims of the Bewildering Boar Project, as well as some theoretical and methodological insights that emerged from their recent fieldworks.

Title: Cinghiali and sangliers: Controversies around humans and boars in France and Italy
Venue: Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), Bochum (Germany)
RUSTlab, Universitätsstraße 104, 2nd floor, room 201/202
Date: 7th of November 2019, 4.00 pm – 6.00 pm

The second paper will be given as part of the conference Animals in Ethnography: Methods and Ethical Positionings, which will take place at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris on the 21st and 22nd of November 2019. See the call for papers at this link  – CfP Animals in Ethnography 2019 –  and find the abstract below.

Title: Making the boar visible: Comparing methods of multi-species ethnographies on human-wild boar relations in Europe and chicken/reindeer sacrifice in Brazil and Siberia
Venue: Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris (France)
Date: 21st-22nd of November 2019

The TANDEM/Bewildering Boar project (http://www.cefres.cz/fr/7747; https://boar.hypotheses.org/) explores how the wild boar (Sus scrofa) features in human lives, and, vice versa, how humans play a role in boar lives. More broadly, it provides a study of how human-boars interactions have shaped and are still shaping socio-environmental contexts. Particular attention is paid to the multiple controversies swirling around wild boars. Indeed, having experienced unprecedented growth over the last decades, Eurasian wild pigs appear regularly in public discourse, as humans see them as the cause of multiple “problems” (C. Mounet 2008). These include extensive damages to crops, car accidents, and encroachment into suburban and urban areas, where boars have become familiar (but unwanted) “residents,” for example in cities such as Barcelona and Berlin. Boars are also seen (in particular by forest rangers) as a threat to biodiversity, contributing to the eradication of other species, such as ground-nesting birds. Finally, boars are known reservoirs for a number of bacteria, parasites and viruses (Meng, Lindsay & Sriranganathan 2009). The recent outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Eastern Europe and, last autumn, in Belgium at the border with France is one of the main reasons why wild boars have made the headlines over the last two years: the ASF that the boars may carry is seen as a terrible threat to the pig industry. For all of these reasons, boars clearly belong in the category of “divisive animals” (“animal de la discorde”, Manceron et Roué 2009).
While wild boars are omnipresent in discourse, it is not easy for anthropologists in the field to observe their interactions with humans. Boars tend to be nocturnal, particularly if they are disturbed by humans (Etienne 2016), and they are encountered, usually, in unexpected circumstances (with the exception of hunting, but, even in this case, there is no guarantee that boars will be where hunters expect them to be). What the anthropologist can see is traces of the presence of the boars: footsteps in the mud, earth dug up by boars’ snouts, crop damage, excrement, paths the animals use regularly, places where they scratch their back, etc. For this reason, the anthropologist’s knowledge of the life of the boar and of human-boar interactions is mostly informed by human discourse. If the anthropologist is not a hunter himself/herself, the contact with the body of the animal is usually limited to his/her consumption of meat and pâtés – which is no longer an exceptional privilege, since one can buy these in many shops today. For the authors opening a new field research on the topic of human-boar relations in Europe (Capponi in Italy, Vaté in France) this is an unprecedented experience.
Indeed, the authors had exactly the opposite experience during their previous research on animal sacrifice (chicken in Afro-Brazilian rituals for Capponi, reindeer sacrifice among the Chukchi in Siberia for Vaté). In these contexts, the very presence of the animal is at the heart of the ritual. People revolve around the animal, engaging in elaborate practices, turning the dead body into a spiritually meaningful actor. Whereas practices and gestures are abundant and multifaceted in sacrificial rituals, discourse is largely absent. Anthropologists studying rituals often encountered methodological problems in interpreting its symbols and meanings, which are not necessarily consensual and which may change over time, being constantly invested of new connotations that are rarely addressed as such (Lewis 1980). While the animal was always present as a participant in the rituals we studied in Brazil and Chukotka, it was not the subject of extensive verbal commentary, remaining practically invisible in discourse.
Given these varying circumstances, the anthropologists face a methodological conundrum: the sacrificial chicken or reindeer is visible in the ritual but invisible in the interlocutors’ words; while the wild boar is omnipresent in the debates but almost invisible in the landscape. This paper aims to promote a discussion about the methodological issues raised by the comparison of these two types of multi-species ethnographies. What kind of information about human-animal relations do these contrasting situations of visibility/invisibility provide? What are the strategies that anthropologists employ in order to make the animal visible, either in the words of their interlocutors or in descriptions of actual encounters? Can a set of methods be defined for a multi-species ethnography, taking into account all the different possibilities of human-animal interaction?


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