Domestication revisited?

Domestication is by most used as a term for the biologically traceable subordination of animals under human control. But anthropologists have for long argued that there are also social definitions of domestication. Very influential was the one by Tim Ingold (2000), who classified domestication as either characterise between a relation of trust or a relation of domination between humans and animals. A distinguished group of researchers spent two days at a conference in very creative and intellectually demanding talks about this issue.

from left to right: Shiaki Kondo, Shiro Sasaki, David Anderson, Hiroki Takakura, Juha Kantanen, Hugh Beach, Florian Stammler, Aytalina Ivanova, Yuka Oishi, Charles Stepanoff

The event was hosted by Tohoku University in Japan (see here for a programme), and co-organised by Director Hiroki Takakura together with Florian Stammler. In combination, we are happy that we managed to have invited some of the principal contributors of recent debates on domestication from various disciplines. In a way the meeting was partly like a continuation of debates that we had at recent seminars of the Finnish Academy’s Arktiko programme in November 2011, and then at the ArcArk final seminar in Rovaniemi in December 2018.

It was remarkable that all the recent re-considerations by these scholars that became prominent in more recent years agreed on several points and argued for overcoming the dichotomy between trust and domination. So what do David Anderson’s et al (2017) idea of ‘convivial spaces’, Charles Stépanoff’s et al (2017) ‘intermittent coexistences’, Hiroki Takakura’s ‘familiarity between humans and animals’ (2010), Beach and Stammler’s (2006) ‘symbiotic domestication’ and Stammler’s and Takakura’s ‘symbiotic domesticity’ (2010) in common? All of these concepts argue that

  1. domestication is more than subordination, control and domination
  2. there is reciprocity, mutualism and partnership between humans and animals involved in the domestication relationship “symbiotic domesticity” (Stammler & Takakura 2010, Beach and Stammler 2006)
  3. domestication is not just a one-time event at some point in the past with which we can explain the origin of animals, but a continuous process that fluctuates along gradients of “familiarity” (Takakura 2010) and creates these “intermittent coexistences” (Stépanoff et al 2017)
  4. the relationship in domestication is not just between humans and one animal species, but many animal species, which co-habit in these “convivial spaces” (Anderson et al 2017)
  5. we must not forget the influence of the environment when analysing the human-animal relations in domestication processes (all of these authors).

In the discussion it came out really well that now is the time to revisit this theoretical debate in a joint effort. In addition to that, in several presentations, some crucial

The seminar was co-organised by the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies of Tohoku University and Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. ArcArk reviewer Hugh Beach gave a keynote speech. ArcArk coordinators Juha Kantanen (left) and Florian Stammler presented ArcArk results

additions to these commonalities were mentioned.

  1. domestication is a western-centric concept that is worth revisiting with new evidence from the North (Stépanoff and Anderson’s presentations)
  2. maybe we should consider re-drawing the traditional idea of domestic reindeer distribution from south to North to vice-versa: originating from the North and spreading to the South (Takakura’s presentation)
  3. domestication nowadays does not happen any more in isolation of just the husbanders and the animals as agents. All of human-animal relations in the North are today regulated or over-regulated by states using laws (Aytalina Ivanova’s presentation). Sometimes the state drives the husbandry system to a
  4. the relation between humans, animals in domestication involves the environment as an important “third agent (Stammler’s presentation), which should lead us to an ‘ecology of knowledge’ with ‘awareness as sentience’ (Anderson’s presentation).
  5. the categories of domestic and wild can only be proxies for more fine-grained human-animal relationships. Animal husbanders all value the ‘wild in the domestic’, or the autonomy and independence of their domestic animals. Their relations to their animals are characterised by husbandry using a ‘knowledge triangle’ of people of their practices, their animals and their habitat. The human help to the animals for adapting to an Arctic environment includes both assistance and the absence thereof. The latter is important for the animals to retain and keep their autonomy, which is so much value.. As Vladislav Konstantinov said: “we should not spoil the animals with too much care.”

We look forward to interesting discussions that may continue out of this meeting and its conversations.

(Compiled by Florian Stammler, with contributions by Hiroki Takakura, David Anderson, Charles Stepanoff, Hugh Beach, Aytalina Ivanova, Juha Kantanen, Junko Habu, Shiro Sasaki and other participants.)


















2 thoughts on “Domestication revisited?

  1. fstammle

    Professor Takakura shared the links with us that they have on this domestication event in their pages at Tohoku university

    Workshop4 Feb 21-22

    Workshop 4: Northern Modes of Foraging and Domestication as an Interaction among Humans, Animals, and Geography (2018NEA)More details on

    Posted by Tohoku Forum for Creativity on Monday, February 25, 2019

    Plenary session Feb 21

    workshop for young scholar Feb 20

    Workshop for young scholars for Anthropology “Domestication and the North” (2018NEA)More details on

    Posted by Tohoku Forum for Creativity on Sunday, February 24, 2019

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