Questions to frame our discussion this week

First of all, this post is disjointed and it’s by design—because I’m the discussion leader this week, I tried to phrase as much as I possibly could in the form of a question. What I couldn’t implement into a question I tacked onto the beginning.


I found Bulliet’s ideas about predation and its role in domesticity very interesting, but not particularly revolutionary. What I did enjoy were his references to benefits of domestication; namely going back to our Endangered Species conversation in which there are nonmaterial benefits to be had for domesticating a species.

One thing that did bother me (But not enough to write 1000 words about) was the way Bulliet handled ancient peoples. I think it’s very easy to peer into the looking glass and see ancient civilizations as overly simplistic, even though there are quite a few fields that they knew more about than the average person living today like, for instance, astrology and astronomy. In other words, I feel as though Bulliet discounts how much they really about the world they lived in. He contests that it’s impossible for an ancient civilization to see the immediate benefits in milking cows. Maybe it’s true that they had no idea how nutritious milk is—but is it also fair to say that they were incapable of milking cattle or seeing the use in it? I will come back to this shortly.

With my miscellaneous musings aside, here are some questions to frame our discussion on Tuesday. I seriously doubt that we’ll get to everything—I write down all of the questions that I ask myself during the readings. I’ll pick the ones I think are most important and pose them to you when we meet, but in the meantime feel free to approach any of them for comments.


  1. Was domestication accidental or intentional? Is there such a thing as a universal process of domestication, or are there many paths that lead to the same place? Is the intent behind domestication even something we can theorize about without being inside the heads of our ancestors? To that end, is intent as important, more important, or less important than the end result?
  2. In the first part of our HHH reading, Bulliet clashes with Jared Diamond in regards to whether or not species who have yet to be domesticated can, in fact, be domesticated. Diamond argues that a lack of economic motive prevents these species, such as Bison and Moose (Mooses? Meese?), from being widely domesticated. He also goes on to say that these undomesticated species have inherent qualities that prevent them from being susceptible to the process. How much truth is there to Diamond’s claims? Bulliet counters by citing several hypotheticals and studies. Did he convince you that Diamond is wrong?
  3. Mostly a fun question, but Bulliet has some interesting ideas about the role of predation in perceived docility. For him, animals that live in a predator-free environment become less excitable over time, and this can give the impression that such animals are tame. Do you think that the squirrels on Virginia Tech’s campus fall into this category?
  4. Though Bulliet only mentions it in passing, I thought it was interesting enough to pose again here; Are humans a domesticated species? Personally, I have no idea but I think it’d be fun to talk about.
  5. Bulliet spends a long time talking about primary and secondary motives for domestication. What do you think about that? What possible reason could early peoples have had for taking care of animals that they could not milk or shear for wool, even though today that is their established “purpose”?

My personal opinion is that Bulliet over-thinks the issue and in doing so underestimates both the ability of ancient peoples to find uses for animals and the temperament of the animals in question—I don’t think it would have taken as long as Bulliet suggests for an animal to become comfortable enough around humans to let them shear or milk it, especially if the animal were raised by humans from birth. That doesn’t even necessitate domestication, only taming. And surely even ancient peoples could have realized the benefits of, for instance, shearing sheep for their wool. Is that really as big of a logical leap as Bulliet seems to think.


6. After a brief overview of other people’s posts, I noticed an interest in the part of the reading about sacrifices. Though that chapter did not pique my interest as much as it did the interests of others, I think it’s worth discussing. What is the relationship between domestication and animal/human sacrifices?

7. We got into this a little bit last week with the idea of stewardship, but it was raised again in the Ingold article. Do humans and animals exist in different worlds? He discusses humans and nature as almost a master-slave relationship, in which humans dominate nature. Is this quality, as Ingold seems to imply through his references of Darwin’s time in the Tierra Del Fuego, acquired by us over time or is it somehow inherent?

8. What do you think about Ingold’s idea that the relationship between one of hunter and prey is one of trust? The first time I read it, it struck me as a little too romantic and while I think that a lot can be said regarding the idea that our relationship with animals today is one of domination (Look at the meat industry), I’m just not convinced that there is all that much to the “Trust” side of his essay. Though he describes it as a relationship between hunter and prey, it seems more to me like he’s describing a unilateral relationship between people and nature.



I hope my questions were on the mark more often than not. There’s so much material for this week so it’s a little daunting to frame by oneself.


Until Tuesday,



2 thoughts on “Questions to frame our discussion this week

  1. Domestication can be seen as happening both intentionally and accidentally. Probably with what first started out as accidental mutual contact between human and (insert species), humans may have developed a tendency to keep contacting these animals and thus sparking intentional domestication. That argument is going to be going on for a long time, and it’s always a fun one to talk about with educated people.
    About the squirrels: yes. Yes they do. A squirrels tendency is to not spook in the presence of a human. This doesn’t go without saying that most will run when trying to come into intense contact, but they will allow you to feed it, and in some rare cases, pet it, like a friend was telling me about.

  2. I think all the points you touched on in this blog are really good topics for discussion. I especially love the squirrel question because that was where my mind went as I read through that portion of Bulliet’s work. I think that is a great example of Bulliet’s argument at work. There is really nothing for the squirrels to fear anywhere around campus and as a result they have definitely become more “tame.” I have had squirrels come right up to where I was eating outside that just sat right next to me waiting for something to eat without the slightest bit of fear.
    In addition, I like that you brought up the debate between Bulliet and Diamond. I think that both arguments have portions that make a lot of sense but at the same time there are quite a few assumptions made by each which make it difficult to completely agree with either. In the end, it seems likely to me that there is some sort of overlap between both theories or possibly each is at play, just in different areas. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say on this topic tomorrow.

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