Accepted Paper:

Naturalism, Animism and Disney Movies: A comparative approach on natural ontologies and representation of animals  


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.

Panel P003
Representing and Depicting Animals