Accepted paper:

The elephant as a holographic condensation of social change in Sri Lanka


Wim Van Daele (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

I argue how for the rural inhabitants of Sri Lanka the elephant constitutes a holographic condensation of issues of development, inter-species competition, and ultimately excessive desire as components of social change.

Paper long abstract:

Nearly each conversation in rural Kiribathgama in Sri Lanka mentions elephants: whether they have again raided a paddy field, destroyed a house, or even killed someone. The fear for elephants also constrains the free movement of villagers during the evenings. Hence, elephants are viewed very negatively since they compete with villagers for both space and food. Villagers express in these conversations a sense of escalation and blame a nearby large-scale development project to exacerbate things. Besides that, they agree that decreased respect for elephants due to social change detrimentally affects these animals well-being and their relation to human beings. Yet, villagers attribute these different explanations for the human-elephant conflict to a deeper common root cause: greed. Both elephants and human beings are seen as smart and greedy, both in everyday parlance and in mythology. Both have a history of a Fall into a degenerate state owing to their excessive desires that subjects both to the suffering from their 'burning stomachs' and greed. This greed explains the tough competition that has emerged between the species and the more direct explanations that villagers give for this. As such, the elephant becomes connected with these heterogeneous components that it condenses into its being as a hologram or three-dimensional miniature of these issues, several of which pertain to processes of social change.

panel P50
Social animals and us: anthropomorphism and animal utopias