Human-Animal Relations in Pastoralism

By Beach, Hugh; Stammler, Florian | Nomadic Peoples, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Human-Animal Relations in Pastoralism


Beach, Hugh, Stammler, Florian, Nomadic Peoples


Humans and Reindeer on the Move, this special issue of Nomadic Peoples, carries a challenging intent of purpose. It aims to give a state-of-the-art. comparative perspective of reindeer management spread around the circumpolar rim. Reindeer-related livelihoods encompass the topic in such diverse and multiple ways that movement becomes not only the overarching 'glue' of this special issue; it also invites us, together with the authors, to contribute theoretically to our understanding of the move. The title 'Humans and Reindeer on the Move' stands therefore for a theoretical framework in several dimensions. Movement of humans and reindeer is understood by the authors of this volume in multiple ways including the literal sense, namely migrations of pastoral nomads with reindeer, but also as the constant move between engaging with wild and domestic reindeer. Movement is also the transition from a Soviet planned economy to a market-oriented one, which finds expression in the movement of goods and gifts within various spheres of exchange. Finally, we can attempt to clarify the importance and essence of movement in pastoralists' minds, as compared with categories of mobility created by non-pastoralists. All these multiple facets are covered by the contributors to this volume, while we focus in this introduction on the move between what we will call symbiotic domestication in human-reindeer relations, and rationalisation leading to full resource use at the cost of intimate human-animal relations.

The contributions, all thoroughly grounded in fieldwork data. were carefully chosen to provide such a broad regional distribution. However. more than this. our reason for focus on reindeer-based economies and livelihoods was precisely to highlight important variables of significance in the study of pastoralism in general. We maintain that the human-reindeer relationship, or rather its various changeable relationships, pinpoint determinants of principle in the development and practice of all forms of pastoralism (and other human-animal-based partnerships or modes of exploitation). These principles might not be apparent through the study of reindeer systems of livelihood alone, but they certainly shine forth prominently there, because of the unique spread over wild, feral, and domestic conditions of the species Rangifer tarandus, and the many associations these different populations have with humans--it might well be that some of these Rangifer populations are exploited as objects of the hunt and others of domestic herding by the same people at the same time (see, for example, Ventsel, this volume). The reindeer-human connection thus brings together a remarkable laboratory for the study of key determinants in many of the most important human-animal interrelations, and, to our way thinking, explodes common analytical typologies.

Dovetailing with the above theoretical aspiration for this special issue is the intent to provide a much-needed update into circumpolar reindeer affairs. With the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, especially, the multitude of reindeer-based livelihoods and cultures has become open to anthropological study like never before. Increasingly over the last decades, northern 'reindeer peoples' have mobilised themselves according to all manner of nationally variable criteria of indigeneity and international protective conventions. Of further significance is the dramatic rise of encroachment of wild reindeer in Eurasia and caribou in North America on domestic reindeer operations that led to significant decreases in the populations of the latter, again challenging reindeer herders' capacity to respond flexibly to rapidly changing natural and social environments. Therefore, several of the contributions in this volume (Ventsel, Gray, Finstad et al., Anderson) deal with the clash and sometimes the integration of reindeer hunting and herding. Besides occasioning the demand for empirical update, all of these concrete historical developments provide, through their variation, the basis for the theoretical speculations presented here. …

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