chapter  6
35 Pages

Society, ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ – human relations with animals

This chapter examines how sociologists and other social scientists have viewed the relationship between human society and non-human animals. The last three chapters have been organized around various themes in environment-society relations. Chapter 3 is concerned with politics, Chapters 4 and 5 with space, place and social inequality. The theme addressed in this chapter will be ‘species’. Why then, animals, particularly mammals, and not plants? First, our relations with higher mammals are different from those with plants and landscapes, and the latter has been addressed, to some degree, in Chapter 4. Second, the questions raised by the issue enable us to draw on the insights from the sociology of ‘everyday life’, as well as giving us an example to illustrate some lively sociological disputes. The issues of Chapters 3-6 are not, of course, entirely distinct. Human relations with animals differ vastly crossculturally and historically, and animals have a different material and symbolic existence in agricultural and industrial spheres of economic production and in urban and rural spaces. Human-animal relations is a political issue and animal rights is itself a distinct strand of green social

movement activity. Issues upon which animal welfare organizations have campaigned involve colonial, postcolonial and globalizing processes: the whaling industry, the trade in ivory, fur and feathers, the ‘preservation’ of wilderness and habitat, for example.