Centering Himalayan Stray Dogs: Reframing the Narrative of Non-Human Being Subjectivity and Agency
Our realm of everyday life is constituted by both human and non-human beings. However, social science has generally failed to delve into the ways in which non-human beings participate and actively construct our daily life, especially from their own perspectives. My research explores the ways marginalized groups (in this scenario stray dogs) conduct their daily lives in hegemonic, human-dominant landscapes in the Himalayas. I am interested in examining how mountain dogs assert their agency in complex life situations, and nurture emotional bonds with one another and humans; as well as how humans construct their life-story narratives with the dogs and how they choose to define these types of relatedness (Carsten 2000). My primary field is Annapurna Circuit, and I hope to expand my fieldwork to other Himalayan areas as well.
While the dominant culture defines takes a negative approach to self-definition (defining the human self as not the ‘Other’), whoever is ‘Other’ become less valued. In an anthropocentric view, when animals are thought about, a ‘commonsense’ view of them is adopted—there is an image of the ‘naturalistic’ animal that we associate with certain wild and domesticated species (Lynch 1988). But who are the ‘Others’? Who are the unattended and oversimplified ‘Others’?
Different from stray dog communities in metropolitan areas such as Kathmandu, mountain dogs in Annapurna Circuit seem to have neither gang structures, nor territory. They live either alone or in group of two to three. They stay active and wander among the camps, villages, and mountains during the day and night. For food, they either hunt sheep and other smaller animals or ask for leftovers from tourists and specific camp staffs who they seem to be close to.
Most of the few studies on stray dogs in South Asia, specifically Nepal, are related to community health concerns such as rabies vaccination coverage, education on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), or dog population management programs. These studies are embedded with an anthropocentric perspective that neither concern dogs as equal participants of the world, nor address them as sentient, living beings. According to eco-feminist theory, this objectification is an attitude that turns not only stray dogs, but also human out-groups into ‘Others’. Similar subjugations, such as enslavement, have been justified by the supposed lack of ‘rationality’ and therefore ‘animality’ of the ‘Others’. This subjugation and alienation from what is conscious and sensitive (a process usually called de‘human’ization) always serves the interests of the powerful. (Adams and Donovan 1995)
Using participant observation and intensive interviews for my coming fieldwork in March, I aim to understand each mountain dog by following them throughout the day to investigate their daily lives and significant relationships. I plan to look for the villagers and camp owners who know them the best, and live with them while conducting interviews and observing the ways they interact with the dogs. I am particularly interested in their discourses on how each dog’s emotional lives intertwine with their own emotional lives.
Birke, L. I. A. 1994.Feminism, Animals and Science: the Naming of the Shrew. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Carsten, Janet. 2000. Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship (edited). Cambridge University Press.
Donovan, Josephine, and Carol J. Adams, eds. 1995. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Lynch, Michael. E. 1988. Sacrifice and the transformation of the animal body into a scientific object: Laboratory culture and ritual practice in the neurosciences. Social Studies of Science 18: 265- 289.