Oral Presentation Session - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Cosponsored by: Culture and Agriculture
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Biologies
Secondary Theme: Technology
Breeds and breeding present several opportunities to advance cultural analysis. The work of directed sexual reproduction involves a variety of cross-species dynamics that unfold across a range of analytical levels—genetic, biological, social, political/economic, and historical. Breeds may certainly be characterized as “constructs,” but that approach has limited purchase across these levels of analysis, particularly the physiological domains. This panel features ethnographic perspective on an array of species, each of which prompt revisions of long-standing anthropological accounts of domestication, wildness, and the centrality of human intention. First, we find dynamism and agency in biosocial life forms that unsettle formulations opposing nature and culture, human and nonhuman. Second, our papers showcase ongoing, future-oriented practices; domestication is not a one-time event in the distant past, and attributions of wildness are often open-ended. Third, we collectively approach questions about the tenacity of eugenic thought and practice, widely evident in the “positive” efforts of breeding for purity or selective, often valuable characteristics. But fundamentally, breeds as life forms present an intriguing ethnographic challenge—these entities are at once sentient beings, populations (in a biopolitical regard), and crafted variants of a larger species. This panel showcases innovative methodologies that anthropologists are actively developing to broach these newly recognized ethnographic challenges, bringing theory into practice through tangible interactions with other species. When we engage these beings in the field—whether in labs, on farms, in performance rings, behind fences, or released to fend for themselves in “the wild”—we confront the challenge of analyzing individual and collective living beings as much as human ideologies, market forces, politics and history they embody.
Our first two papers concern horses in Europe. Hartigan examines efforts in Portugal and Spain to render distinct breeds from one common population of locally debased horses. Brown focuses on Connemara ponies and the recent shift in breeding practice from relying upon the well-trained eye to insisting instead on manipulating genetic material. These papers both approach the performative aspects of breed in which horses are aesthetically compared to other show animals. Our next two papers consider culinary aspects of breeding. Garcia studies the Peruvian gastronomic revolution featuring cuys or guinea pigs; she dwells ethnographically on unnerving analogies drawn by breeders with human reproductive practice linked to gendered racial ideologies. Fearnley, working in China, examines the aftermath of industrial breeding programs for poultry, whereby smallholder farmers are re-positioning the absence of directed breeding practices—“rural traditional mixed breeds,” as one described it—as a high-quality feature of “local” poultry destined for high-end markets. Our last two papers analyze how techniques of domestication are applied to pests, mosquitoes and flies, in the interests of improving public health. Bennet focuses on efforts to turn reproductive behaviors of Aedes aegypti against itself, rendering populations “self-limiting” through tactics of genetic intervention. Zhang observes experimental laboratory practices to transform the Black Soldier Fly into a waste management infrastructure in Guanzhou. In both cases, breeding techniques are directed toward transforming “wild” species into performing valuable labor in urban settings.