Animal Studies Bibliography

Nash, Jeffrey E. 1989. What's in a face? The social character of the English bulldog. Qualitative Sociology 12(4): 357-370.

Although sociologists do not usually study animals, anthropologists often study human-animals relationships to uncover fundamental meanings of cultural life (357). Relationships with animals provide an window to the human relationship to nature and how that relationship is negotiated in everyday life. Tuan (1984) argues that humans dominate nature before they can establish affectionate bonds with it (357). The English Bulldog is an interesting example of the human manipulation of nature and the meaning of nature in everyday life. The Bulldog has exaggerated physical features and an aggressive appearance with a pacific demeanor. It is not a popular pet but is famous from its presence in movies, ads and logos, and as a team mascot. The Bulldog has been bred to fill a particular social meaning. They were originally huge, aggressive animals used in bullbaiting, in which bets were placed on how which dog would fight the longest and how many dogs it would take to kill the bull. Breeders of the dogs looked for fighting traits, not appearance, in selecting dogs to breed. When the English Parliament banned bullbaiting in 1835, breeders wanted to preserve the breed, but since the dogs no longer needed to be aggressive, they changed their breeding practices, resulting in the exaggerated biology of the modern Bulldog. The Bulldog is the most socially managed (360) and created of any dog breed, particularly since its main traits are recessive. The Bulldog is a cultural product to which people impute character based on social categories of meaning (361). The meaning people assign to a dog determines what relationship they should have to it--by assigning the biological animal a social character, people decide how to interact with it. Bulldogs are understood through three categories: show dogs (those that meet standards of desirable traits, which change over time through competition, and are trained to follow competition behavior in passivity during grooming and inspection, proper stance and walk, etc.); celebrity dogs (those known through appearance in movies, etc.; not usually good Bulldogs in the show trait sense, but exaggerated Bulldogs); and pet dogs (keyed as a family member and with biological nature framed as character). To key a Bulldog as a pet, people must frame the dogs' biological weak health, substantial health care and grooming needs, and low intelligence as likable traits and the dog as worthy of all that time and attention. Pet dogs elicit the greatest affection from owners. Owners of show dogs often keep them at an emotional distance, like farm animals, but may also attach their sense of self to the success of and character of their dogs [like Helmer's findings regarding horse workers]. Many Bulldog owners buy Bulldog paraphernalia (key chains, etc.) to further support the breed. According the Leach (1964), oppositional concepts like man-woman or human-animal contain ambiguous center categories which are the subject of taboo or humor. The pet category is most like humans, the show dog category is furthest from humans, and the celebrity dog is the middle category. Owners describe their Bulldogs based on three categories, all of which reveal the tensions of opposed meanings (366): appearance, disposition, and sexuality. Within each type of dog and category of meaning (e.g. pet dogs and appearance), the Bulldog can be either in frame (here, cute) or out of frame (here, ugly). Thus in each category, the meaning of the dog is ambiguous. This is especially true in the case of sexuality, which poses the greatest threat to human control of animals (and therefore of nature). Animals' sexual behavior changes the way people look at animals and is often controlled by castration or spaying. Thus the appearance the Bulldog has been created with is ambiguous--both attractive and repellent, aggressive-looking but passive in disposition. A pet, because it demands much care, is a constant reminder of human-nature issues. The Bulldog is both nature (as an animal) and society (as a produced animal and with its imputed social role and character). This ambiguity offers on opportunity for people to shape nature (368), to set their own boundaries for the culture-nature relationship by choosing what meaning to assign the Bulldog. Because animals only come in close contact with us once carefully domesticated, the Bulldog teaches us on a daily basis that natural nature is useless, but transformed into our form of choice, it is desirable.



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