Accepted paper:

Livestock species as companion species: revisiting the place of the ‘good to think’ and the ‘good to eat’ in the anthropological imagination


Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

The contemporary treatment of animals categorised as ‘livestock’ in the UK owes much to post-Enlightenment systems of classification. Cows, pigs and sheep are good to eat, but are not deemed appropriate companion animals. This paper seeks to challenge such a speciesist distinction.

Paper long abstract:

While anthropologists have long been concerned with the use of other animals as metaphors for human action, contemporary discussions have moved beyond Levi-Strauss' over-cited maxim that they are good to think, recognising that the other-than-human animals involved in social relationships with humans are also active subjects in their own right. Donna Haraway for example has written extensively about human bonds with those she terms ‘companion species'. However, Haraway has been criticised for failing to consider the predicament of other social animals with whom humans co-exist, most notably the those classified as ‘livestock’. The category ‘livestock’ allows post-Enlightenment humans to distance themselves from other living beings. Such separation enables immoral actions to be overlooked but also makes it difficult for positive and close associations to be made. There has been much anthropological interest in livestock as they feature as staples in the diets, religious activities and economies of human societies the world over. Pigs for example appear in the ethnographic record as sacrificial offerings, symbols of disenfranchised female labour, classificatory anomalies and units of production. In the contemporary UK there is a growing trend for keeping pigs as pets. Like dogs, pigs are highly intelligent, social animals with a complex emotional repertoire yet unlike traditional companion animals, pigs are subjected to extensive legal restrictions. Drawing on ethnographic examples where humans live companionably with animals classified as livestock, this paper will question the value of ‘species’ and ‘livestock’ as classificatory categories, and consider the implications of current speciesist legislation.

panel P50
Social animals and us: anthropomorphism and animal utopias