Catching the Rat: Understanding Multiple and Contradictory Human-Rat Relations as Situated Practices

In: Society & Animals
Koen Beumer Department of Technology and Society Studies, Maastricht University Maastricht The Netherlands

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Humans and rats relate to each other in a variety of ways. Consider the different ways that humans relate to rats in the sewer, the laboratory, and the living room: depending on the location of the encounter, human-rat relations can be characterized as hostile, instrumental, or friendly. Rather than searching for a single human-animal relation, this article suggests that the multiple and contradictory relations between humans and nonhuman animals deserve an explanation. The article argues that the multiplicity of human-animal relations can be better understood by approaching them as situated practices: as practical and precarious accomplishments that take place in specific settings. This approach is applied to the relation between humans and fancy rats. By studying how humans in particular settings come to befriend the same animal that is simultaneously despised and feared as dirty and treacherous when encountered elsewhere, the article shows how these relationships emerge as enactments of situated practices.

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