Animals and Modernity: Changing Human-Animal Relations, 1949--98

Article excerpt

Historical trends and contemporary patterns in human--animal relations have been widely studied over the last 20 years. Accounts span sociobiological claims that old patterns from humanity's prehistoric past are resurfacing now that religious and scientific institutions are no longer marked by policies of apartheid (e.g. Wilson, 1984, 1993), and historical claims that new relationships with animals were established in the early modern period (e.g. Thomas, 1983). They include ecofeminist arguments (e.g. Noske, 1997; Salleh, 1997), calls for reform in veterinary practice (e.g. Fox, 1988), critiques of farming (e.g. Johnson, 1991), research into the therapeutic effects of companionate relations with animals (e.g. Nielson and Delude, 1994), and defences of animal rights (e.g. Singer, 1995). More sociological accounts include a feminist literature (e.g. Haraway, 1991; Adams, 1994), the adaptation of sociobiological arguments (e.g. Bulbeck, 1999), widespread discussion in science and technology studies (e.g. Callon, 1986; Lynch, 1988; Michael and Birke, 1994), socio-historical study of `animal rights' (e.g. Tester, 1992), an emerging `sociology of nature' (e.g. Benton, 1993; Eder, 1996; Macnaghten and Urry, 1998), interactionist analyses of human--animal relations in veterinary hospitals, animal shelters and primate laboratories (e.g. Arluke and Sanders, 1996) and humanist and phenomenological anthropologies (e.g. Ingold, 1988, 1995; Noske, 1997). The animality of humans is increasingly stressed in mainstream sociology (e.g. Maryanski and Turner, 1992; Runciman, 2000). Franklin (1999) is a recent contributor to that political, practical and analytical diversity. In this article we describe an empirical test of his argument that changing patterns in human-animal relations are effects of the shift to post- or late modernity in the latter half of the 20th century.

In 1999 we carried out a content-analysis of the Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury, over the critical period 1949-98. Based in Hobart, The Mercury serves both the city itself and its rural hinterland, and has the largest and most metropolitan readership of any newspaper in Tasmania. Average household incomes in the area are high by comparison with all but the inner city areas of Sydney and Melbourne, around eight percent of the population are university educated, and there is a high proportion of middle-class public service workers. Since this readership is typical of metropolitan Australia, the results of our analysis should be generalizable. There is an advantage, too, where the readership is atypical in this way. The theories of late modernity which Franklin uses are particularly associated with shifts in the global economy, while several studies have shown that relations between humans and animals have changed more in the city than in the country (e.g. Hills, 1993). Since Tasmania displays little of the `new economy', since it has a relatively high number of rural inhabitants and since it depends disproportionately on primary industry, it then provides a tough test for Franklin's argument.

In the first section of this article, we review the best-known content-analysis in the field of human--animal relations, Kellert's (1985) study of attitudes towards animals in the US. Finding it limited by a lack of social theory, we next introduce Franklin's argument, derive from it a set of testable expectations, and outline our version of content-analysis. We then describe our study, and present our results through a combination of graphs and correspondence analysis. Overall, we were able to demonstrate both a series of predicted trends and critical changes within the predicted time frames. Since some of our data, however, do not correspond neatly with the predicted patterns, they suggest that Franklin's theory requires partial revision.

Content-analysis and under-theorized description

Sociobiologists have been prominent in the study of human--animal relations. …