Author:Luca Lo Scavo (Leiden University)
Paper short abstract:
"I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me" stated Terence in the ancient Rome. What is human and how a naturalist and animist ontology can contribute to define nature and interspecies relations? How do Disney movies shape animal classification and representation?
Paper long abstract:
This paper provides an account of naturalist and animist ontologies in relation to the categorisation
and classification of what is human and what is animal. Naturalist cosmology implies shared
physicalities among humans and animals (shared biological structure) but different interiorities:
humans possess culture and morality, while animals do not. However, animism and perspectivism argue
for the opposite: shared interiorities, different physicalities. Being "human" or "animal" is only a matter
of "perspective" and one's subjective point of view. Therefore, by considering the case of cultural
representation of animals in Disney animated movies, I critically analyse the relation with naturalist
and animist ontologies. A superficial approach may confuse Disney animal representation with an
animist ontology, due to anthropomorphic and morally-aware animals. However, a closer inspection
grounded in Western-European historical literature will highlight the limits of such understanding.
Nevertheless, Disney representation of animals and animal-human relations - Disney effect, has crucial
implications in how new generations represent, think and reproduce their identity and their pets'
identity. Far from depicting a straightforward naturalist categorisation of animals, Disney movies
employ story-telling devices - like anthropomorphisation, in representing animal characters, that blur
the distinction between reality and imagination. Ethnographic findings from kindergarten children
question a clearcut naturalist classification of human and animal identities and relations and unearth
anthropological insights about the broader theme of environmental practices and relations.
Representing and Depicting Animals