Domestic, Postdomestic, Post-postdomestic?

Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is an interesting take on human-animal relationships that divides human history into four stages: Separation, Predomesticity, Domesticity, and Postdomesticity. He argues that separation is the period in history when humans first differentiated themselves from animals, leading to predomesticity. This period is simplified as the time when humans primary lifestyle consisted of hunting and gathering. Predomesticity turns into domesticity with the “Neolithic revolution,” which is essentially just a term the describes humans domesticating certain plants and animals. Finally this period of domestication, consisting of daily contact between humans and animals, evolves into postdomesticity, during which humans and animals are separated both physically and psychologically. Interestingly enough, postdomesticity seems to be most similar to the predomestic stage by Bulliet’s definition, suggesting a sort of cycle in human-animal relations.

In the first chapter, Bulliet presents some…. unique examples of the progression from domesticity to postdomesticity in his discussions of sex and blood. He ties in a variety of topics from bestiality and pornography to animal slaughter and gory movies, which at first glance seem to be very unlikely candidates for emphasizing the change of humans from a domestic society to a postdomestic one. However, he manages to show how in almost all of his examples that humans have changed from a society that was very hands on and involved in the many facets of life to one that is more disengaged and focused on fantasy. Whether it is our shift from boxing to wrestling or our removal from the slaughter of farm animals for food, humans have exhibited this change. The question that arises is what do these changes mean for humans-animal relations, especially pertaining to domestication.

Bulliet continues in the next few chapters to go into detail about the development and origins of each of the stages he created to cover the progression of human-animal relations over our entire existence as a species. As a result of this huge span of time he covers, the major issue that Bulliet runs into with this work is that the majority of the arguments that he makes are based almost solely on conjecture and educated guesswork. There is no way of truly knowing what early humans were thinking millions of years ago, and no way to pinpoint the specific dates when these changes that Bulliet claims define each stage actually occurred. However, the opinions in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers are very strong despite the lack of any real factual basis. This leaves the door open for debate as to whether his opinions, although well founded, are accurate.

In respect to our discussion on Tuesday afternoon, here are a series of questions that are posed directly by Bulliet or extrapolated from the ideas that he presents in the first chapters of this book. These are some starting points for everyone to consider before we get together on Tuesday.

  • What are the major drawbacks or benefits that arise from children’s later exposure to  sex and blood? In the domestic era, a majority children grew up seeing animals lives firsthand from mating and birth to slaughter. In more recent history, children are   far more sheltered from these things for better or for worse. How does this effect the lives of these children as they grow up and develop into adulthood?
  • Many of the issues that Bulliet discusses in relation to the shift from domesticity to postdomesticity revolve around the movement of humans from direct, “real,” experiences to more withdrawn fantasy. How does this idea affect peoples views today?  Is this the cause of the major movements like vegetarianism and animal rights, or are these things completely separate? Is this a reversion back to the separation era that Bulliet describes?
  • The progression in the stages that Bulliet describes started out with very slow, ambiguous change from one to the next; however, the shift from domesticity to post domesticity occurred relatively quickly in the grand scheme of things. Is postdomesticity just another stage in Bulliet’s theory? Is there a post-postdomestic era to come? What will it entail? Will it be similar to predomesticity or domesticity or entirely new? How soon will it happen?
  • There were some very strong parallels drawn throughout the first four chapters, including the comparison of animal treatment and the meatpacking industry to the Holocaust as well as the animal rights issue to slavery and civil rights. Are these comparisons accurate? Are they acceptable?
  • The cornerstone of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is the separation between humans and animals. How separate are they? Has the degree of separation stayed relatively static or is it ever-changing? Does Bulliet accurately depict the separation of humans and animals throughout history?

These are just a few questions to consider and get the discussion going but I think there are a lot of other great ideas to debate. I look forward to Tuesday and cannot wait to hear everyone’s opinions on Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers.

4 thoughts on “Domestic, Postdomestic, Post-postdomestic?

  1. I found Bulliet’s discussion of the shift from “real” experiences to fantasies somewhat problematic. If I understand his argument correctly, he says since people see less slaughter on farms, a “real” experience of violence, they are more inclined towards violent movies, a fantasy of violence. I would say watching a violent film is not that different from watching a an animal be slaughtered in terms of being exposed to violence. Perhaps doing the actual slaughtering is a different matter, but Bulliet seemed mostly concerned with a child’s first exposure to violence, which I would imagine would not be actually doing the slaughtering. In both cases the violence is observed by a removed audience. The violent film is only less “real” because at the end of the day no one is actually hurt. Visually the two experiences seem very similar to me. I suppose the main idea of my rambling is that seeing a violent film and seeing an animal slaughtered seem similar in terms of forming a child’s views on violence. I have a hard time seeing why watching animals be slaughtered desensitizes a person towards violence while watching a violent film is a product of a need to fantasize about violence. The two experiences seem similar to me. I could be way off-base with this idea though, having never seen an animal slaughtered.

  2. I agree that the violence of actual slaughter and the representation of violence in film are similar. I think Bulliet’s insight derives from the distinction between the everyday, ordinary violence of slaughter that marked what he calls the “domestic” age and the allure-fantasy and fear about violence that “post-domestic” societies display in their obsession with violence in films. Think Freud and repression…This is going to be a good discussion.

  3. His unique depictions of domestic to a post domestic world was quite fascinating though if you think about it! It’s definitely true, too. Kids 50 years ago were exposed to the blood and violent scenes of killing an animal to obtain its meat. Nowadays, pre-packaged meat is everywhere. And tell you what, it’s a life saver. I couldn’t imagine watching a cow die, or a pig get slaughtered, and eat the meat from it. Hell, I get a weird feeling in my stomach every time a see a chicken truck drive by. But the thing is, that separation people have nowadays from the actual killing of the animals is the reason that we still consume so much meat. I bet you one thing, take the slaughterhouse to the grocery store, and meat products would see an inevitable drop in sales.

  4. I am absolutely bothered by the parallel between the meat packing industry and the Holocaust. It would be laughable if it weren’t so horrible. The meat packing industry is a response to growing population needs that happens to involve cruelty to animals. The problem is a just one, the solution is not. Whereas the Holocaust is an unjust problem and an unjust solution. In response to your first point, I’m not sure. I think there’s a lot to be said about the exposure to sex and violence children get from external media that counters that idea. Surely in a domestic age children are exposed to the killing of and sex between animals, but how different, really, is that sort of thing from games like Call of Duty? Is violence violence? For the record, I don’t think violent videogames are an epidemic in our society, I just wish to point out that maybe the differences between domestic and postdomestic are really differences in the source of the exposure rather than the exposure itself: whether you’re getting it from media or watching it firsthand.

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