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Reordering the Natural World

Reordering the Natural World: Humans and Animals in the City

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Reordering the Natural World
    Book Description:

    Sabloff argues that the everyday practices of contemporary capitalist society reinforce our alienation from the rest of nature and reflects on how anthropology has contributed to the prevailing Western perception of a divide between nature and culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7922-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-1)
  5. Prologue: The Pasture in the Metropolis
    (pp. 3-4)

    You will find it in the depths of the financial district of Toronto, at the bottom of a narrow steel canyon of high-rise buildings: a cow pasture. A small herd of cattle lies stolid and imperturbable in a rectangle of grass amid incessant weekday buzz, electric metropolitan night, and weekend silence that falls suddenly, uncannily, in such places. Incongruous in that alien space, yet weightily and reassuringly present, the cattle rest unmoving, as if cast in bronze. As, indeed, they are.

    Slightly larger than life-size, fully formed, muscle and bone clearly visible beneath bronze skin, the seven cows in Canadian...

  6. Introduction: Nature and the City
    (pp. 5-16)

    We begin with a paradox: ′Nature is where I go to when I want to get away from the city.′ I heard many variations on this statement in the course of my fieldwork. Urban life is inimical to nature, people would say sadly, or angrily, or with resignation. Yet nature, almost universally defined by my respondents as nonhuman living beings, is in fact everywhere woven into the fabric of the city. Cities teem with animal and vegetable presence. Rivers, creeks, and major bird migratory flyways trace their paths below ground and overhead. Wildflowers flourish between long-disused railroad ties. Family and...

  7. PART ONE: Constructing the Natural Order

    • Chapter One Nature as a Cultural System
      (pp. 19-33)

      In one of their genesis stories the Iatmul people of New Guinea, so Gregory Bateson tells us, relate how order comes to be in the world. In a conundrum familiar in the West, the Iatmul need to know how water was separated from dry land. They say that in the beginning the crocodile Kavwokmali paddled in the water with its front and hind legs, thus keeping the mud from the bottom stirred up and suspended in the water. The culture hero Kevembuangga killed Kavwokmali with his spear, and as a result the mud settled and dry land appeared. In the...

    • Chapter Two Anthropology and the Natural World
      (pp. 34-50)

      Despite the durability of the nature-culture divide in everyday and scholarly life, anthropological interest in human interactions with the rest of nature has always been lively. This is not surprising since, to most if not all the native peoples anthropologists have studied, the natural world was perceived, as among the Koyukon of subarctic Alaska, to be integral to their own and could not be separated out from their cultural life as an autonomous entity. Ethnographies therefore abound with exquisite descriptions of the relations of humans to other life forms. Ecological and economic anthropology in particular have focused on human-habitat relations...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. PART TWO: Human-Animal Relations in the City

    • Chapter Three Reproducing the Natural Order: The Domestic Domain
      (pp. 53-84)

      In a busy shopping mall, a crowd gathered around the entrance to a pet store. The attraction was a small beige puppy in the arms of a store clerk. People craned their necks to see, asked questions, jostled each other good-naturedly while trying to get close enough to touch the animal. The clerk told us that the dog would not get much bigger as an adult. With its high, domed forehead, long cocker spaniel-like ears, large liquid brown eyes, and an expression much like a contented infant resting in its mother′s arms, I couldn′t resist the aesthetic and emotional pull...

    • Chapter Four Manufacturing the Natural Order: The Factory Domain
      (pp. 85-111)

      In the shopping-mall scene that opened the last chapter, the clerkpuppy duo′s task was not meant merely to elicit emotion from passersby. Their task, as the clerk told me, was to attract customers into the store. The ′entranceway scene′ is a deliberate marketing ploy enlisting the animal in attracting human shoppers to buy the store′s products, the animal itself among them. In other such instances, store managers place cages of young puppies, kittens, ferrets, or rabbits just outside the shop to perform the same duty. They also rely on the colour and movement of tropical birds placed in storefront windows....

    • Chapter Five Reordering the Natural World: The Civic Domain and the Invention of History
      (pp. 112-136)

      In a newspaper interview animal-rights activist Ingrid Newkirk, of the Washington-based organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), remarked that as members of Western society, ′[t]he two halves of our brains are not connected.′ We wonder at the beauty and integrity of wildlife, she noted, we love our pets, and yet we raise animals for food, slaughter them, and experiment on them under often horrific conditions – sometimes the very same species that we love and admire. Causing untold unnecessary suffering, she concluded, we ourselves suffer from ′ethical epilepsy.′¹

      We have seen that the prevailing order in human-animal...

  9. PART THREE: Naming the Other in Western Culture

    • Chapter Six Missing Metaphors
      (pp. 139-161)

      The animal-rights movement has declared its agenda to be a radical one: nothing less than a basic reordering of human-animal relations. All animal-rights activists urge that Western society acknowledge its biophilic sentiments. Most advocate a path of bio- or ecocentrism, supporting the adoption of practices based on a view of human life as one with all other animals in the biosphere. And yet the primary metaphors Westerners have appropriated for their relations with other animals, including the citizenship metaphor chosen by the animal-rights movement itself, continue to place humanity in a dominant role. These organizing metaphors persist in fostering the...

    • Chapter Seven Anthropology as Natural History
      (pp. 162-191)

      Must it remain inevitable that the spirits flee the islands when the anthropologists arrive? Are we in the West forever barred from discerning relations and kinships apparent to people in other societies through their different ways of knowing? The underlying question, for me, is whether it is possible for Western civilization to overcome this ideology of unbridgeable separation between body and soul we seem to live by. If the passage from nature to culture has been anthropology′s central problem up until now, given our current recognition of environmental crisis and our consequent urgent need to understand human relation to habitat,...

  10. Epilogue: A Dream in a City Park
    (pp. 193-194)

    It is summer in Toronto′s High Park. Looking for a place to spread your blanket, you notice a choice spot ahead. Approaching, you see a couple stretched full-length on the ground, embracing. At least, that′s what you think it is at first: a couple lying together, as many have done and will do over the years in the twilight summer grass, perhaps listening to an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play, catching words sailing upwind. When you come closer, the figures get bigger, and change character.

    It is a sculpture made of rough, pebbly concrete and steel bands, less clearly...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 195-226)
  12. References
    (pp. 227-238)
  13. Index
    (pp. 239-252)