Topic: Game-Players, Commodities and Pests: The Changing Roles of Animals in Hunting
Keywords: Hunting; Leisure; Recreation; Commodification; Labour
In historical times, the sport hunter was elevated in status above the utilitarian meat hunter. Today, there has been a reversal of this dialectic. Hunters everywhere increasingly justify their pastime no longer in terms of subsistence, but as constituting therapeutic wildlife management: culling for the ecosystem, to end suffering of animals, to protect human economic interests, and to prevent an excess of traffic-injured wildlife. In their rhetoric, hunting is a labor akin to a public service and hunters are stewards “without whom things will plum to hell” (Dizard 1999).
Elsewhere, hunting is valued as leisure precisely because it provides an escape from the stressors of everyday life, labor and duty. The leisure perspective is critical toward hunting as labor, suggesting hunters become ‘servants of the state’, which takes the passion and freedom out of the sport, turning hunters into the garbage collectors of society, tending to e.g. cumbersome wild boar culling.
In this paper, we contend leisure and labor conflict in contemporary hunting in a way that impacts animal welfare. Leisure and labor are also intertwined in hunting, which challenges theoretical concepts of ‘serious leisure’. Using hunters’ reflections on social media, we illustrate hunters’ concerns about where and when hunting tips the balance too far in either direction. We relate this to processes of commodification, the sportization of hunting and changing rural-urban dynamics in hunter demographics. Studying social media enables us to examine not only what it said, and in an uninhibited way using a forum as an enclave, but reveals an intertextual dimension of hunters’ arguing with one another. Here we see that leisure vs. labor is a tension that is expressed within hunters, between hunters, between hunting forms and different animals, and between hunting arrangements, in addition to hunters’ meta-reflections on these tensions.
At the heart of hunting as leisure or labor sit animals as the materiality. Hunting for labor or hunting for leisure implies different ethical schemes for animal welfare. Whether animals are treated as commodities whose entertainment and chase can be bought, dispassionately as surplus units of production to be harvested, or as fellow game-players in a sport, compels different duties to game. Concretely, we see the labor vs leisure tension disrupt the moral economy of game (how hunters value and perceive wildlife), destabilizing traditional roles for animals. This study informs the core of our research project, namely changing human-wildlife relations in hunting.
Dizard, J.E. (1999) Going wild: Hunting, animal rights, and the contested meaning of nature, (Amherst, MA: University of Massachussetts Press )