I have passed my qualifying exams and so am making my essays available on my blog.
In Society against the State (1989), Pierre Clastres argues that a serious failing of Western philosophy and social theory is an inability to conceptualize “power” and “politics” outside the foundational concept of “coercion.” In your answer, address the following questions:
· Do relations of coercion operate in the same way in animal-animal interactions, human-human interactions, and human-animal interactions? If not, what are the differences?
· Are there works on your reading list that offer approaches to conceptualizing or researching power and politics that do not depend upon the idea of coercion? If so, what alternative concepts ground the approaches those works offer?
· Is there anything specific about your central object of study—human-javelina relations in Texas—that makes it an especially suitable site to expand understandings of power and politics within and beyond the discipline of anthropology?
Power and Politics Within and Beyond the Human
Power and politics are central concepts for explicating social relations. Anthropologists and other social scholars use these concepts to explore human social relations across many dimensions, from interpersonal interactions to the structuring of lives and activities through various institutions. While these concepts have proven productive in social research, there is little agreement on what they mean in practice. As such, there is incommensurability when comparing their uses within and across disciplines (Wolf 1990).
In this essay, I will explore various uses of power and politics in social theory and their relevance for understanding more-than-human relations. First, I will discuss ‘coercion’ as it relates to the exercise of power within and beyond human relations. Coercion is often cited as a necessary condition of power and frames much of the anthropological study of power and politics (Clastres 1989). Second, I will expand power beyond coercive action to include other ways power relations are structured and negotiated. Finally, I will discuss how an expanded account of power and politics can provide fruitful avenues for understanding multispecies politics and the dynamics of human-animal relations.
Coercive Power Within and Beyond the Human
As it is often understood, the concept of power refers to power over someone, where one entity can impose their will onto another (Lukes 2004). Weber (1978) defines power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests” (76). As such, “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl 1957: 202-203). Similar uses of power are found widely in social scholarship, including Adams (1975), Giddens (1984), and Foucault (1982). As such, to exert power over another—whether it be an individual or group—requires some form of compliance enforcement, a way to achieve the desired outcome. Attaining acquiescence often takes the form of coercion when there is resistance (Parsons 1963).
Clastres (1989: 11) argues that coercion is the assumed mechanism in Western conceptions by which one exerts power. Coercion is generally understood as attaining specific ends through violence or threats of violence (Anderson 2008). Rich philosophical discourse has arisen around the nature of coercion since Nozick’s (1969) seminal essay on the subject. In Nozick’s formulation, an actor desires some particular outcome and communicates to another the desired outcome and subsequent consequences if the desired behavior is not met (441-445). In this and following accounts of coercion, coercion applies in human cases (Bayles 1972; Lamond 1996; McCloskey 1980). However, coercion has also been described in other-than-human animals (henceforth animals) as well, with research most often focused on coercion in mating contexts, mainly male coercion (Clutton-Brock and Parker 1995; Knott 2009; Muller et al., 2007). Further scholarship has been published on the shared evolutionary functions of sexual coercion among humans and animals (Georgiev et al., 2013; Wrangham and Muller 2009). While studies that reduce coercion to mere evolutionary adaptation are characterized as “just-so stories” that neglect broader historical and social dynamics (Sussman 2002), they do indicate that coercive power extends beyond human bounds.
In this section, I will explore three kinds of relations through which coercive power takes form. First, I will consider how coercive power is enacted among humans. Human relations are culturally and historically constituted, and how institutions shape power relations is of utmost importance for understanding power and coercion in human societies. Second, I will evaluate coercive power in conspecific animal relations. As briefly discussed above, coercive power is common among animals, and it will be necessary to distinguish coercive power among humans and animals. Finally, I will consider coercive power in human-animal relations. Humans are entangled in more-than-human relations through domestication and the multispecies communities to which they belong and thus attending to relational dynamics is critical to inform policy and encounter.
Human coercive power relations scale from institutional structures to interpersonal interactions. As such, power can be expressed both as a process and situationally. Weber’s (1978) definition acknowledges power as process by treating it as a potentiality. The likelihood of particular outcomes in Weber’s conception implies that, to a degree, outcomes are predetermined based on the prior circumstances of the relation. Institutional structures undoubtedly shape power as class, gender, and other social categories result in uneven distributions of power. Coercive mechanisms are in place that maintain power dynamics. The state serves as an example of monopolized coercive power. For instance, Agamben (1998) argues that the sovereign (i.e., the state) maintains the right to decide who is within (bios) and outside politics (zoē) and is thus killable. The threat of being made zoē, bare life, serves as a means for holding institutional power and attaining compliance. The state thus maintains a monopoly over life and death and represents an ultimate coercive power through what Foucault (1990) terms biopower. However, it is important to note that contemporary states do not solely rely on coercion through threats of death as the regulation of bodies serves as a sufficient means of power. “Such a power has to qualify, measure, appraise, and hierarchize, rather than display itself in its murderous splendor; it does not have to draw the line that separates the enemies of the sovereign from his obedient subjects; it affects distributions around the norm” (Foucault 1990: 144). By controlling norms, the state can thus form the citizenry to its desires; “invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs” and be open to coercion (Foucault 2007: 25).
Power localized in sovereign institutions is exerted through process, with enforcement always a possibility. This form of coercive power conforms to Weber’s definition. However, not all coercive power is located within sovereign institutions in the abstract. Foucault (1982) argues that “power exists only when it is put into action, even if, of course, it is integrated into a disparate field of possibilities” (788). Furthermore, “if we speak of the structures or the mechanisms of power, it is only insofar as we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others” (217). Hence, while power can be understood as being shaped by institutional forces, it is only realized when enacted in social contexts between people or groups of people.
Institutionalized coercive power distinguishes human power from more-than-human power relations. However, coercive power is not a unique characteristic of humans and has been studied in various forms within many species. For example, De Waal (2007) writes of power relations among a captive chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) group in the Netherlands. In this text, De Waal describes how this group of chimpanzees, compelled to live in intimate proximity, negotiates power among its members. Coercive power takes the form of interpersonal domination and alliance building. Males can coerce other males through various kinds of violence such as dominance displays—elaborate performances of strength, direct violence, displacements, and threats. De Waal (2007) argues that coercive power in chimpanzees is evidence for a shared evolutionary history of the behavior. While this is disputed, it is important to note the superficial similarities between human and other-than-human uses of coercion to exert power on others.
The exercise of coercive power is not limited to our closest evolutionary relatives. It is arguably ubiquitous among all social species, even when it is not described as such. Feeding competition (Webster and Hixon 2000: fish), sexual behavior (Wallen et al., 2016: dolphins), and dominance hierarchy maintenance (Andrade-Silva and Nascimento 2015: bees) are examples of opportunities for coercion to occur. Individuals or classes of individuals can impose their will on conspecifics, either through physical violence, threats of violence, or the use of pheromones.
While animals do not institutionalize power, as is the case with humans, social structure shapes the distribution of power and outcomes in coercive interactions. Established dominance hierarchies and sex-specific behavior can influence the likelihood for coercion to succeed. For example, female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) inherit their social rank from their mothers—males typically leave their natal group after sexual maturity—and so have preferential access to resources and space (Missakian 1972). As such, rank is influenced by sex-specific behavior (female philopatry) and group make-up, and thus the ability to coerce conspecifics is both structural and interpersonal.
Humans and animals each express power through structural and interpersonal dynamics. However, the distinguishing factor between humans and other animals is the institutionalization of power. Institutions are “a complex of positions, roles, norms and values lodged in particular types of social structures and organizing relatively stable patterns of human activity with respect to fundamental problems in producing life-sustaining resources, in reproducing individuals, and in sustaining viable societal structures within a given environment” (Turner 1997: 6). Thus, social institutions reflect social structures by organizing ideology and reinforcing and reproducing it through policy, practice, and norms. Power is thus also organized by institutions, and institutions serve to distribute cultural capital—the knowledge that a person accumulates and its material and institutional recognition (Bourdieu 2018). Institutions legitimize the accumulation of capital and thus the power that it confers. As Foucault (1990) argues, knowledge is an exercise of power, and power is a function of knowledge. As such, these two phenomena cannot be understood independently, and thus Foucault suggests power-knowledge as a better account of the relationship between the two. Moreover, institutions reproduce power structures, and coercive power can manifest as a consequence of the unequal distribution of power.
While coercive power is certainly structured among other-that-human animals, the structures—and thus the power—do not become institutionalized as we understand it. We do not typically accept that animals participate in complex symbolic forms (Kohn 2013; Meijer 2019) required for institutions to organize and function (Parsons 1963). However, institutions play essential roles in human-animal relations, and thus animals play important roles within the power dynamics that permeate social institutions. For instance, domestication has played a pivotal role in integrating animals into various human institutions. Animals are part of family institutions as companions (Haraway 2013), the economy as commodities (Collard and Dempsey 2013), and science as research subjects and collaborators (DeMello 2021).
These institutions serve as avenues through which humans exercise coercive power over other animals. As companions, animals lose much of their freedom. Dogs, for instance, are told when to go to the bathroom, where they can go, and whether they can reproduce (Bekoff and Pierce 2017). These ends are achieved through coercion as dogs are spayed/neutered, led by a leash, and punished for not complying with their human companions. The commodification of animals denies their freedoms while also reducing them to mere objects or “bare life” (Agamben 1998). In zoos, they are put on display for consumption by zoo-goers, and their reproduction is efficiently managed to ensure a particular level of genetic diversity (Pierce and Bekoff 2018). If their genetic material is deemed “redundant,” then zoos perform “management euthanasia” to kill “surplus animals” (Pierce and Bekoff: 46). Similar treatment is expressed in livestock where animals are either killed for meat or are exploited for products they produce (e.g., milk, eggs). As is true with zoos, animals lack the right to make reproductive decisions. In cases where mating is not permitted, humans artificially inseminate animals to ensure future commodities (meat or eggs) (Cudworth 2015; Gillespie 2014).
In all of these cases, coercion plays an intricate role in maintaining human power over animals. This power dynamic is institutionalized through the conceptions of the relationship between humans and other animals (Derrida 2008). By homogenizing other-than-human animals together and setting them apart from humans, power and violence can be exerted in ways that transform animals into “bare life” or “that which is killable” (Agamben 1998; Kirksey and Helmreich 2010). As such, the degree to which animals can be coerced and by which means differs substantially from exercises of power directed towards human as animals are not granted similar considerations as bios: political actors (Agamben 1998).
Apart from institutional dynamics of power that differentiate human coercive power from other-than-human forms, there is a degree of scalability permitted by institutional power inaccessible to other beings. Institutions across societies articulate globally, and coercive power has shifted resources and wealth away from the Global South (Suwandi, Jonna, and Foster 2019). The scale of the exercise of power is beyond the scope of other than human animals, and even in cases where they differ in degree rather than kinds, animals cannot exert power across such a scale. Centralized power in the form of the state or other polity further distinguishes human power from other forms.
The discussion of coercive power to this point has been unilineal, following from Weber’s definition and the broader discussion of coercion. According to this conception, dominant individuals or groups impose their will on others. As I have discussed it so far, power has been hierarchical; the powerful impose their will upon another. However, Foucault (1980) troubles this linear, top-down understanding of power. Rather than being merely unidirectional, coercion can occur within commensurate cohorts (e.g., colleagues, peers, social class) or be bidirectional. As such, power imbalances can be emergent in moments of interaction, even if institutional forces shape them.
Consequently, the unidirectional conception of power centers the coercer while reducing the coercee to a passive object. This approach neglects the relational aspects of power in which the coercee acts and responds in turn to the coercer’s actions. Even while complying with the wishes of the coercer, coercees may still find ways to subvert the power of the coercer, thus complicating the relation (Mahmood 2001; Scott 1990). This kind of resistance is invisible when theorizing power in the abstract. Animals also resist power structures imposed by humans, sometimes in ways that are not immediately apprehendable (Meijer 2019). They show up where they are not wanted, look away while being experimented on, and escape confinement.
The focus on coercion limits theorization of power to power-over and prohibits conceptualizing it in other terms. Coercive power is necessarily power-over. However, there are other ways to conceive of power that include but also move beyond coercion. For example, Wolf (1990) distinguished between four kinds of power: power-to—a capacity to act, power-over in interpersonal relations: to impose one’s will, tactical power: power that shapes parts of the environments of other actors, and power that structures the possibilities of action within a particular context (222-223). Wolf accounts for coercive power and power that is not interpersonal. However, he fails to account for other forms of interpersonal power relations. In the next section, I will discuss some potential avenues for exploring non-coercive, interpersonal power.
Power and Politics Beyond Coercion
The focus of the essay to this point has been on coercive power. Coercive power is necessarily colored with violence or threats thereof. However, Arendt (1970) argues that “power and violence are opposites; where one rules absolutely, the other is absent” (242). Violence undermines power and subverts other, non-coercive forms of power. Clastres (1989) questions the over-reliance on coercive power as the dominant form in which power is exercised. Instead of coercion, other approaches can be taken to enact and settle power. Influence, negotiation, trust, and affect are essential concepts in understanding non-coercive forms of power. These forms of power and the negotiation of power through politics are crucial for exploring power and politics within and beyond the human.
The unidirectional form of power discussed previously in this essay obscures relational forms where power is diffuse. Power is enacted when competing interests come into conflict (Gaus 2018). Coercive power is the imposition of the will of a dominant entity onto others and is conceptualized as a “zero-sum” game (Parsons 1963: 253-257). Viewing power as a finite resource implies that any gain in power by one is a loss in power by another. Coercion is thus a natural outgrowth of the zero-sum assumption. However, as Foucault argues, “power is everywhere, not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere” (93). Thus, power can be exercised from all directions in practice and is not constrained to some finite quantity. As such, it is not limited to the unilineal, top-down expression assumed by zero-sum conceptions.
If power can be understood in other terms, additional forms of power can be brought to light. Coercion is thus only one exercise of power, and other forms that rely less on violence should also be considered. Doing so is vital for understanding broader sets of power relations and participating in a politics that meets a plurality of interests. Furthermore, relinquishing the totalitarian view of power in which the active coercer has power over the passive coerced elucidates the intimacy that arises in relations, even when there is unequal power and unequal obligations (Dave 2014). Doing so allows participants to witness—“to see in a manner that is present” and be “implicated and culpable” (Dave 2014: 440). As such, power is much more relational, and obligations extend beyond the will of whoever might be considered dominant.
Furthermore, non-coercive power requires recognizing others, not as foils for one’s intentions but as agents in the production of possibilities. Power thus cannot be merely despotic, and violence cannot be the primary tool for its exercise. Arendt (2007) describes politics as an active form of community participation, whereby all matters of interest to the community are deliberated, and participants can exercise their agentive power. As such, politics is the means through which power is negotiated. This usage of “politics” is most generative in discussing power and politics beyond coercion. The definition of politics follows from Arendt’s conception of power and violence discussed above as opposing forces. Furthermore, it situates politics and power within relational dynamics of communities where participants debate competing interests. Following Arendt’s conception of power and politics, I will discuss key concepts in the theorization of non-coercive power.
Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011) describe two models for understanding non-coercive power by domesticated animal agents in political participation: ‘sheer presence’ and ‘negotiation’ models. Building on work by disability advocates, the sheer presence model states that the mere presence of actors alters the political process. Politics in this form relies on a continual relationship of trust between participants. For example, Donaldson and Kymlicka describe a scenario where a North American, unfamiliar with seeing companion animals in public apart from designated areas and on leashes, travels to France and witnesses humans and their animal companions in public in less restrictive circumstances. This experience alters the North American’s sentiment on the subject (114). Donaldson and Kymlicka argue that it is not human advocacy that has stimulated this change, but the animals themselves have self-advocated by demonstrating that their broader integration in public life has not led to a “collapse of civilization” (114). The ‘sheer presence’ model illustrates a way in which political participants can influence outcomes and exert power without necessarily holding a position of power or actively engaging in political action.
The ‘negotiation’ model is a more active form of participation and emphasizes the dialectic nature of power relations as participants co-shape one another’s lives (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011). For instance, animal companions negotiate the boundaries of the social norms within their household through their actions and responses, such as the food they eat, their schedule, or where they sleep. Companion animals are thus able to exercise power and affect outcomes while not imposing their will on their human companions. Human companions must respond in turn while not necessarily acceding. The negotiation model focuses on immediate inputs and outputs. Silvers and Francis (2005) emphasize the sustained relationality of power and politics that is not limited to a one-time negotiation.
Hence, Silvers and Francis (2005) advocate for a ‘trust’ model of political participation whereby participants shape larger systems of cooperation through actively developing trusting relationships. This model “emphasizes that cooperation-facilitating conditions develop over time, as social activity evolves to exemplify principles of cooperation that strengthen and systematize people’s natural proclivities to depend on each other” (Silvers and Francis 2005: 67). Power in this model is distributed among those in the relationship, understanding that participants will be judicious in their use of power. Coercion undermines the effectiveness of this form of politics by denying agency and centralizing power. Furthermore, the violence inherent in coercion makes developing a trusting relationship difficult, if not impossible.
The ‘trust’ model relies on affect as a means for decentralizing power. Latimer and Miele (2013) describe affect “in terms of ’attachment’ on the one hand and being ‘moved’ on the other (7-8). Through the development of intimacy and attachment, participants can be compelled to “move.” Furthermore, affect undoes “the notion of a singular or sovereign subject” (Blackman and Cromby 2007: 5 qtd. in Latimer and Miele 2013: 8). Without a central subject, power is thus diffuse and cannot be instituted unilaterally. Care, reciprocation, and obligation are intimately entwined with trust. Furthermore, trust is both created by and produces affect.
Dave (2014) illustrates the force of affect in stimulating political action by arguing that intimacy and witnessing can move witnesses to act by both troubling and reaffirming one’s sense of self. Dave discusses animal advocates in India who are moved by the animal suffering that they witness. By attending to others and responding in turn, outcomes are co-produced by participants. Dave argues that affect is produced in moments of being-with: togetherness in moments where suffering is shared between human and animal. Dave tells of a dying cow and their human caretaker. Erika—the human caretaker—explains the need to be with the cow as they die. Erika explains that simply being-with, regardless of what one says or does, is what matters most and, in doing so, “the social boundaries between humans fall apart” (448). The cow, in their suffering, flattens hierarchy by transcending power structures by equally compelling all to face “the boundary between life and death” (448). The moments of being-with lead to becoming-with, whereby participants are changed through their affective associations. Consequently, in the production of affect, participants are compelled to act in accordance with the interests of other parties in mind. By attending to the attitudes resulting from intimate contact, whether in moments of brief encounter or ongoing association, we can better understand the mediation of diverse interests by the participants.
The concepts explored in this section—influence, negotiation, trust, affect—provide alternative foundations beyond coercion for examining power/politics within multispecies encounters. As with influence, negotiation, and trust, coercion undermines the efficacy of the exercise of non-coercive power. Each concept is central to the expression of power in cases where the relationship is of central concern and power is not monopolized and exercised unilaterally. Definitions of power that privilege coercion over other mechanisms through which power can be practiced neglect the other social dynamics shaping social lives. Furthermore, the focus on coercion limits other possible conceptions of power and thus inhibits theorizing other ways in which power can be distributed and exercised. Extending the view of power and politics beyond traditional political theory to include Indigenous politics (Hämäläinen 2010; Larsen and Johnson 2017; Tallbear 2011), disability studies (Oliver 1990; Silvers and Francis 2005), animal studies (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011; Meijer 2019), and Queer Theory (Povinelli 2006; Warner 1993) will significantly expand our understanding and attentiveness to various other ways that politics and power are practiced.
The study of power in politics in human-animal relations is becoming more common in recent times. Much of this work has come from philosophy (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011; Meijer 2019; Pepper 2021) and geography (Gillespie and Collard 2015). Anthropology has also contributed to this literature (DeMello 2016; Govindrajan 2018). However, much of the work in anthropology—apart from the examples above—centers on human politics about animals and not politics practiced with animals. Explicating the intimate politics of human-javelina relations is central to my research.
My research project aims to explore the dynamics of human-javelina relations in Texas across four instantiations: long-term relationships between property owners and javelinas with whom they have frequent contact; wildlife scientists and javelinas that are present in their research, tourists and brief encounters with javelinas; and hunters and javelinas as their prey. These are sites in which intimate politics occurs. These politics are shaped by external factors, including human policy, histories of colonialism, and perception produced by javelinas and feral hogs as lively interlopers. By investigating this set of relations, I hope to uncover ways that humans and javelinas negotiate shared landscapes. This research will contribute to anthropological literature by moving beyond a coercive framework of power and exploring other ways that multispecies assemblages participate in diverse politics in a variety of settings.
Coercive power certainly figures into human-javelina relations. For example, the state of Texas sets bag limits on the number of javelinas that can be killed by a hunter (two javelinas per year), and violations of this policy result in fines ($25-$10,000), revocation of hunting license, forfeiture of hunting gear, and potential jail time (Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, Section 65.44). Historically, javelinas were killed in great numbers for their hides for leather goods (Weisman 2020). Their protection as a game species allows the state to regulate their killing and shape potential human-javelina encounters. State policy thus controls human behavior through threats to punish violators.
Javelinas also exercise coercive power through threat demonstrations (e.g., threat yawns, charges, huff clacks) and sometimes attack people or their companion animals. Javelinas perform threat behaviors when they feel anxious or threatened to assert themselves. If the warning is not heeded, javelinas typically flee. However, there are reports of humans and their companion animals being attacked (see Alanis 2019; Wahl 2020). Although humans are often conceptualized as dominant to other animals, this is an example of a way in which other-than-human animals can exercise their power within an encounter.
While coercive power is exercised in multispecies relations, much of the power dynamics present in human-animal relations are non-coercive. Broadly theorizing power allows us to elucidate power beyond purely coercive means and explore the possibility of multispecies politics. As discussed above, Arendt’s (2007) conception of politics involves negotiation across difference within a community and, as such, makes conceptualizing politics beyond the human possible. Attending to how influence, negotiation, trust, and affect shape multispecies power relations and make politics possible permits a hopeful future where many kinds of beings can live convivially. Haraway (2016) argues that our future and the futures of all beings are deeply intertwined. Therefore, Haraway suggests, we must find ways to do so together to survive on a damaged planet. Doing so requires both an acceptance and refusal of power; to accept other beings into positions of power while refusing categorical power that situates humans as the arbiter of potential outcomes.
I have chosen javelinas as my subject for exploring more-than-human power and politics because javelinas provide a unique entry point into the study of multispecies relations. Peccaries, including the javelina, are important other-than-human beings for many Indigenous Amazonian peoples. As such, they figure into many of the ethnographies conducted in the region. However, they have not received similar attention in North America despite being widespread in the American southwest. Furthermore, they are an iconic species that reflects much of the Texas landscape and ethos. Javelinas are tenacious and resilient and thus have found a home across many ecosystems of the state; they contend with human activity, the presence of feral hogs, and changing environments. Therefore, they illustrate the potential for transformative relationships and thus create new possibilities for living in a more-than-human world. Exploring these dynamics requires incorporating concepts that permit a rich account of multispecies power relations. Influence, negotiation, trust, and affect are used alongside coercion in the mediation of power and are thus generative concepts in the explication of such relations.
The co-presence of javelinas and feral hogs (Sus scrofa) create ambiguity as they are often confused with one another (see Dawson 2018). Thus, the presence of feral hogs influences human perception of javelinas. Consequently, ecological damage caused by feral hogs is sometimes attributed to javelinas. The negative sentiment is thus shared between hogs and javelinas due to environmental damage, and when landowners kill feral hogs to address property damage, javelinas may also experience this treatment. Furthermore, indirect feeding competing occurs between feral hogs and javelinas, reducing potential resources available for javelina groups (Rollins 1999). Feral hogs are much larger (50lbs versus >200lbs) and have a greater fecundity, and so can out-compete javelinas in locations where they overlap (which is most of Texas) (Hellgren et al., 1995; Taylor et al., 1998). This form of power corresponds to Wolf’s (1990) notion of power as the ability to shape parts of the environments of other actors (222-223). Additionally, Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011) argue that power can be exercised merely by the presence of an actor and the presence of feral hogs in javelinas ranges illustrates this dynamic. I want to explore the ways that humans, javelinas, and other beings influence the lives of others.
Humans and javelinas are parts of broader multispecies assemblages and therefore must negotiate shared spaces. Following Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011), Meijer (2019) argues that animals make their intentions known. However, it is not always the case that interspecies participants are able to interpret those intentions accurately. Furthermore, “other animals act politically whether humans choose to recognize it or not” (Meijer 2019: 129). Exploring how javelinas communicate their intentions to other beings in moments of encounter will provide insight into how these moments and spaces are generally negotiated across the identified research sites.
Trust and affect may play a significant role in understanding how multispecies relations are mediated at some of the sites of interest in my project. Latimer and Miele (2013) emphasize trust as a critical feature in doing politics, especially across difference. Developing trusting relationships with other animals with whom one has contact allows space to be shared without necessarily segregating participants. I have observed a group of javelinas over the past year on private property in the Texas Hill country. The property owner and javelinas have cultivated a relationship over the last four years (more intensely in the last year) and are willing to bring newborn javelinas to the house while visiting the pond and deer feeder, even with the presence of the property owner and his companion animal. The property owner and I interpret their willingness to bring the babies to the house as an act of trust.
Through the development of a trusting relationship, the javelinas and property owner are able to negotiate their encounters, and each has a sense of what the other is trying to communicate and respond accordingly. Mutual affect was developed through repeated contact and coming to understand one another. The property owner states that he feels a sense of obligation towards the javelinas and so maintains the property in such a way as to make their lives easier. He also reported that as a young male javelina was being expelled from the group over the course of more than a month, he would visit the house alone, seek comfort near the property owner when he was the target of agonism, and even come to a call. The dynamics described at the private property adheres to Arendt’s (2007) understanding of politics as each participant can communicate their desires and shape outcomes without resulting to coercive action.
Approaching power in a broad sense—not merely through coercion and violence—as one of many aspects of multispecies relations across my fieldsites will help me better understand how encounters are co-produced by lively actors and shaped by historical and structural forces. While I will primarily focus on human-javelina relations, overall themes elucidated by the study may translate to a degree across assemblages. Thinking generally about how participants within multispecies assemblages negotiate space and being and by ethnographically attending to relational dynamics may motivate new attitudes towards human-animal encounters and resist modernist notions of human superiority (Latour 2012). The resulting effects might include policy implications, shifts in approaches to conservations/tourism, and the unfolding of everyday encounter. Furthermore, re-conceptualizing power has implications for new theoretical and methodological developments within and beyond anthropology. By situating coercive power among other forms of power, more characteristics of all sorts of relationships can be understood.
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