Accepted Paper:

A difference in kind: horses as animate culture  


Katherine Kanne (Northwestern University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines horses as animate, in contrast to material, culture in order to develop more useful anthropological theory. It explores the discursive nature of horse/human interactions to highlight the mutual constitution of humans, animals, and plants through time and cross-culturally.

Paper long abstract:

Utilizing a rigorous cross-cultural ethnographic and archaeological study, this paper asserts that horses are more than subjects or objects. Horses are animate (/ˈænəmɪt/) culture - living organisms that are affected by and actively affect human behaviors, social relations, and practice. Thus, the horse/human relationship is discursive, even when people (and scholars) resist such notions. Horses are agentive social beings with lives of their own. People engage with horses by learning their language or in spite of it. Horses, in a species and individually specific manner, shape humans and their actions. Humans in turn are hobbled to the nature of horses and their physical needs if they wish to employ or exploit them. Given these parameters, people are still able to transform horses in various ways in pursuit of their goals. Animate culture is as intimately linked to what people need materially and how horses enable this as it is to human social, political, economic relationships. Horses then animate (/ˈanəˌmāt/) culture - vivify human ways of thinking about and living in the world. With these concepts, horses are explored as animate culture to develop anthropological and archaeological theory useful for the study of the past and modern entanglements of humans, animals, and plants.

Panel P14
Understanding humans understanding horses: constructed and co-created cultures