The adored and the abhorrent

Nationalism and feral cats in England and Australia

Authored by: Adrian Franklin

Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies

Print publication date:  April  2014
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415521406
eBook ISBN: 9780203101995
Adobe ISBN: 9781136237881


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The possibility of feral animals as a type emerges from a taxonomic imaginary, one with origins in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, in which a relatively fluid, promiscuous, and interconnected natural order gained a greater ontological sense of separable and fixed categories. Through the social construction of distinct, unvarying categories of the natural order, anomalous and improper categories became possible and ‘of interest’. Feral animals are anomalous because of their very nature as outsiders; they serve as warnings, highlight or stand for wider aspects of social anxiety and danger. They are often accounted for as active and disordering entities, whose presence as an external agent is all the more dangerous because it is unbounded by the natural order of things (rules, norms, legitimate categories) that pertain to the world. Such animals gain their potency as sources of danger because they threaten stable and proper categories of the social world. They give the appearance of a natural foundation, legitimacy, and solidity to what are always arbitrary and contestable social norms. The source of distrust, where it exists, can be attributed to changing taxonomies and the rising power of science to change the ontological relationships between humanity and nature. As the environmental social anthropologist Roy Ellen put it:

Effectively all landscapes with which humans routinely interact are therefore cultural: and our environment is every bit as much what is made socially as what is not. […] How strange, then, that in another version of the biological imagination (that of classical evolutionary taxonomy) domesticated animals and non-endemics are, somehow, not the real thing. The complexities of biological reality, enhanced by the insights of modern ecology and genetics, make drawing the boundary between what is cultural and what is natural, almost impossible.

(1996: 14–15)

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