Author: Lynda Birke

Abstract

This paper examines the rise of what is popularly called "natural horsemanship" (NH), as a definitive cultural change within the horse industry. Practitioners are often evangelical about their methods, portraying NH as a radical departure from traditional methods. In doing so, they create a clear demarcation from the practices and beliefs of the conventional horse-world. Only NH, advocates argue, properly understands the horse. Dissenters, however, contest the benefits to horses as well as the reliance in NH on disputed concepts of the natural. Advocates, furthermore, sought to rename technologies associated with riding while simultaneously condemning technologies used in conventional training (such as whips). These contested differences create boundaries and enact social inclusion and exclusion, which the paper explores. For horses, the impact of NH is ambiguous: Depending on practitioners, effects could be good or bad. However, for the people involved, NH presents a radical change—which they see as offering markedly better ways of relating to horses and a more inclusive social milieu.

In: Society & Animals
Author: Lynda Birke

Abstract

This paper explores how horses are represented in the discourses of "natural horsemanship" (NH), an approach to training and handling horses that advocates see as better (kinder, more gentle) than traditional methods. In speaking about their horses, NH enthusiasts move between two registers: On one hand, they use a quasi-scientific narrative, relying on terms and ideas drawn from ethology, to explain the instinctive behavior of horses. Within this mode of narrative, the horse is "other" and must be understood through the human learning to communicate and through appropriate training. On the other hand, NH enthusiasts—like many horse owners—seek to emphasize partnership. In this type of discourse, people portray their horses as almost human. The tensions between these two ways of talking about horses reflect contradictory ideas about control versus freedom in relating to horses, especially as related to emotions expressed by caregivers (owners) about their relationships with horses.

In: Society & Animals
In: Society & Animals
In: Society & Animals
In: Society & Animals
Author: Lynda Birke

Abstract

This paper explores the many meanings attached to the designation,"the rodent in the laboratory" (rat or mouse). Generations of selective breeding have created these rodents. They now differ markedly from their wild progenitors, nonhuman animals associated with carrying all kinds of diseases.Through selective breeding, they have moved from the rats of the sewers to become standardized laboratory tools and (metaphorically) saviors of humans in the fight against disease. This paper sketches two intertwined strands of metaphors associated with laboratory rodents.The first focuses on the idea of medical/scientific progress; in this context, the paper looks at laboratory rodents often depicted (in advertising for laboratory products) as epitomizing medical triumph or serving as helpers or saviors. The second strand concerns the ambiguous status of the laboratory rodent who is both an animal (bites) and not an animal (data).The paper argues that, partly because of these ambiguous and multiple meanings, the rodent in the laboratory is doubly "othered"—first in the way that animals so often are made other to ourselves and then other in the relationship of the animal in the laboratory to other animals.

In: Society & Animals
In: Society & Animals
Investigating Human-Animal Relationships
Editors: Lynda Birke and Jo Hockenhull
Many people feel strong bonds with nonhuman animals, and these relationships are central to much emerging scholarship in human-animal studies. Yet to study relationships is not straightforward; research often focuses on how humans affect animals or vice versa rather than on the relationships themselves. Partly, this is a consequence of the history of disciplinary divisions, particularly between natural and social sciences. In this book, contributors from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds reflect on the methodological challenges they face, and how they go about studying relationships between people and animals. The book provides fascinating insights into how research on human-animal relationships can rise to the challenges of interdisciplinarity, and help us to understand the animals with whom we bond.
Authors: Lynda Birke and Jo Hockenhull

Many living with companion animals hope for “good relationships” based on trust, mutuality, and cooperation. Relationships develop from mutual actions, yet research often overlooks nonhumans as mindful actors within relationships. This is a study of horse/human dyads, using multimethod approaches intended to include horses as participants. We ask: can “good relationships” be observed, especially when the pair know each other well? We studied familiar/unfamiliar pairs, negotiating simple obstacles, to explore qualities of cooperation between pairs. Interviews with human participants elicited perceptions of horses’ “personalities” and reactions. We analyzed video recordings of interactions and also showed them to external observers. We identified differences in attention, tension and coordination: familiar pairs were more coordinated, mutually attentive, and less tense, and they showed less resistance. That is, some relationships displayed discernible qualities of “working together.” We cannot know nonhuman animals’ experiences, but knowing how they behave says something about their agency within interspecies relationships.

In: Society & Animals
Authors: Lynda Birke and Jane Smith

Abstract

In this paper, we analyze the ways in which the use of animals is described in the "Methods" sections of scientific papers. We focus particularly on aspects of the language of scientific narrative and what it conveys to the reader about the animals. Scientific writing, for example, tends to omit details of how the animals are cared for. Perhaps more importantly, it is constructed in ways that tend to minimize what is happening to the animal; thus, animal death is obscured by euphemisms, omission, or circumlocutions. What is done to animals is, moreover, often subordinate in the text to the details of experimental procedures and apparatus. We consider how such writing supports a particular kind of image of the "animal" in science, and also creates an impression that what happens to animals is somehow devoid of human agency. This impression, we argue, contributes to the way science is perceived by a wider public.

In: Society & Animals