Anthropological Perspectives on Managing Human-Animal Relations
Submitting InstitutionRoehampton University
Unit of AssessmentAnthropology and Development Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Curatorial and Related Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study details the impact of Marvin's ethnographic
anthropological research into human-animal
relations, which places animals in cultural and historical context. This
work has been
foundational for the establishment of the new field of human-animal
studies and has led to impact
in three distinct areas. Through publications and direct public
engagement, this work has had an
impact on public understanding of the wolf, and on a body working for its
process of research and subsequent dissemination of publications on
foxhunting has provoked
debate and influenced the understanding of foxhunting groups. Finally,
through a collaborative
approach, research on the public exhibition of animals by taxidermists and
in zoos has enhanced
the preservation and creative presentation of cultural heritage.
Marvin is Professor of Human-Animal Studies, and his research is
internationally recognised as
leading new thinking in this field. Since joining Roehampton in 1996, he
has used ethnographic
anthropological fieldwork, supplemented by literary and historical
research, to explore key
questions relating to the interactions between humans and animals in a
broad range of contexts.
Underpinning this case study is a body of work related to cultural
constructions of the wolf; fox
hunting; the presentation of animals in zoos; and taxidermy in museums and
as hunting trophies.
Marvin's wolf research has mainly developed from literary sources, but two
fieldwork trips to
shepherding communities in Albania and in-depth discussions with wolf
experts in Norway and
hunters in Spain have been crucial to the development of his approaches to
conflict. This research has explored how the wolf is culturally
constructed in different societies
and how the wolf has been responded to in terms of these cultural images.
A key argument
developed is that those interested in promoting the
conservation/reintroduction of wolves must pay
attention to the wolf as a creation of culture as much as they pay
attention to its ecology and
Marvin's ethnographic fieldwork with English foxhunting communities began
ten years ago and
continues on a regular basis during the season with Hunts in Surrey and
Shropshire. The aim of
this research has been to explore the cultural and social complexity of
this form of hunting. In
particular, Marvin has focussed on the performative and ritual nature of
hunting. He has also
considered how those who come together for hunting events form a community
beyond the actual
practice of hunting. Both these aspects — hunting as a ritual drama, and
hunting as a key element
of socially significant rural communities — have fed into how the hunting
world seeks to present
itself to the outside world.
For his work on how animals are represented in zoos, Marvin originally
conducted short research
trips to zoos in more than 20 countries. More recently he has developed
his research through visits
to zoos in Bristol and London. Central to this work is a consideration of
how changes in zoo
architecture can be interpreted as representing changing attitudes to the
natural world, how the
exhibition of animals in zoos has responded to concerns about animal
welfare and captivity, and
how visitor experiences of, and attitudes to, animals in zoos are shaped
by popular media
representations of animals.
Marvin's research interests in the experiences of recreational hunters
and the significance of
taxidermised hunting trophies have developed in the context of participant
accompanying deer and wild boar hunters on dozens of hunts in England and
Spain. This research
has been supplemented by interviews with hunters and hunt organisers at
hunting fairs in Spain,
with hunt organisers in South Africa and also by interviews with
taxidermists. The central aim of
this research is an exploration of hunting as a more encompassing activity
or event than the
shooting of animals. In terms of the creation of taxidermised trophies,
Marvin's interest has been in
how hunters wish the animals they have killed to be taxidermised and the
nature of the art and
craft of taxidermists in creating representations of dead animals that
transmit a sense of
`lifefulness'. Intimately connected with this is his view that the
trophies of the hunters with whom he
works do not represent trophies of masculinity but rather are `sites of
memory' that become the
focus of hunters' stories about their connections with, and experiences
of, the natural world. The
related issues of the art and craft of taxidermised animals and the nature
of the narratives that are
generated by them have reframed discussions about the status of taxidermy
museums and other public spaces.
References to the research
Marvin, G (2012) Wolf, Reaktion Press: London.
Marvin, G (2011) Enlivened through memory: hunters and hunting trophies.
Pages 202 - 217, in
The Afterlives of Animals. ed. Alberti, S. University of Virginia
Press: London. REF2.
Marvin, G (2010) Challenging animals: project and process in hunting.
Pages 143 - 159, in Nature
and Culture. Eds. Pilgrim, S & Pretty, J. Earthscan Books:
Marvin, G (2010) Wolves in sheep's and other clothing. Pages 59 - 78, in
Animals, Humans, and the Study of History. Ed. Brantz, D. University
of Virginia Press: London.
Marvin, G (2008) L'Animal de zoo: un role entre sauvage et domestique. Techniques
& Culture 50,
Marvin, G (2007) English foxhunting: a prohibited practice.
International Journal of Cultural
Property 14, 339-360. DOI:10.1017/S0940739107070221
Marvin, G (2006) Wild killing: contesting the animal in hunting. Pages
10-29, in Killing Animals. Ed.
The Animal Studies Group. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and
Marvin, G (2003) A passionate pursuit: foxhunting as performance. Sociological
Review 52, 46 - 60.
Marvin, G (2000) The problem of foxes; legitimate and illegitimate
killing in the English countryside.
Pages 189-211 in Natural Enemies: People — Wildlife Conflicts in
Anthropological Perspective. Ed.
Knight, J. Routledge: London.
Details of the impact
Marvin's anthropological perspectives on human-animal relations have
informed his engagement
with key research users over a sustained period. Through communication of
research insights to
these individuals and institutions, he has enhanced socio-cultural
understanding of human-animal
relations in a variety of contexts and with a broad range of associated
Increasing public understanding of the wolf
Fieldwork with shepherds in Albania formed the ethnographic basis of
Marvin's academic piece
`Wolves in Sheep's and Other Clothing'. This, and other fieldwork,
particularly with hunters in
Europe, was incorporated in Marvin's more wide-ranging book on humans and
wolves, Wolf (see
below, this section). Research into human-animal interactions through the
prism of the wolf has
demonstrated that perceptions of the animal were specific to a range of
social, cultural and
historical factors that have changed over time. In particular, the focus
of Marvin's interest is the
concern that people express for a dangerous predator that intrudes into
(particularly in terms of livestock predation) and is seen as a potential
predator on humans.
In order to promote this research to as broad an audience as possible,
Marvin has since 2009
given a range of public lectures at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust (UKWCT)
during their annual
Wolf Awareness Weeks, and has written a number of high-profile
For example, he contributed an article entitled `Wolves: now at our door'
to The Guardian (27 July
2011) on this theme, which prompted debate (343 online comments) about the
wolves, and animals of prey more broadly, into Britain. In January 2012,
Marvin published Wolf
(London: Reaktion Books), a text based on original research aimed at a
wide public audience,
exploring scientific understanding and cultural perceptions of this
animal. The reach of the book is
indicated by sales figures to 31 July 2013 of over 3000.This research has
contributed to wider
public discourse and understanding around wolves, as evidenced by critical
newspapers (The Guardian, Globe and Mail [Toronto]), specialist
magazines (BBC Wildlife
Magazine, Wolf Print) and the blogosphere. In particular, frequent
recognition of the socio-cultural
contexts in which the wolf is understood attests to the impact of the
research, for example: "...it is
clear from this exquisitely researched and carefully structured book
that our perception of Canis
lupus is a complex one . . . it probes much deeper and into a
fascinating well of ideas, namely how
cultural beliefs shape our opinions and emotions when it comes to this
particular carnivore" (from
Wolf Print, magazine of the UKWCT).
Marvin undertook research at the UKWCT for the section of the book
exploring themes of re-valuing
wolves. Following publication of Wolf he was invited by Tsa Palmer
(Director of the Trust)
to become an Advisor to the UKWCT. In this capacity, he has also donated
the library he acquired
through the research to the Education Department of the UKWCT. The UKWCT
is now able to
offer access to this resource to a wide range of school, college and
university students, as well as
other interested parties.
Influencing understanding and provoking debate amongst foxhunting
Marvin's research on cultural aspects both of foxhunting, and of the
hunting of animals more
generally, has also had significant impact. Throughout the research
process, Marvin has had
access to a number of foxhunting communities in the UK. As well as these
groups being engaged
through research, a number of the resultant book chapters and journal
articles have been
circulated prior to key strategy and policy meetings, and have provoked
and contributed to debate.
New research insights into foxhunting as intangible cultural heritage, and
the effects of the Hunting
Act of 2004on rural communities, have contributed to these individuals and
groups placing their
own hunting practices and traditions in a different socio-cultural
context. For example, Captain
Brian Fanshawe, a senior member of the Council of Hunting Associations,
has drawn on Marvin's
research, particularly on the "perception of the living human to animal
relationship that exists
between huntsman, hound and the quarry and, second, to his vision of the
community aspect of
hunt followers `belonging' to their local hunt" which has changed
his own views "on how foxhunting
might be conceived and perceived by others". As a result, Marvin was
invited to discussions on the
group's policy strategies, as his analysis of foxhunting as a ritual
community event that is openly
accountable, and the nature of the relationships that constitute its
parts, were viewed to have been
particularly pertinent and helpful in explaining hunting to the public,
media and politicians.
Stephen Lambert, Chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the
controlling authority of
UK foxhunting, has confirmed the broader influence of this work, stating
that "...my colleagues
have made use of this work in discussions and in their writings".
Similarly, James Barrington, a
prominent animal welfare consultant in parliament, has drawn extensively
on Marvin's research in
political briefings and lobbying. Following the circulation of Marvin's
research at meetings of the
Masters of Foxhounds Association and the Countryside Alliance, his
insights were incorporated
into campaign material produced by the Countryside Alliance in seeking the
repeal of the hunting
ban in 2011(http://www.countryside-alliance.org.uk/ca/file/Case_for_Repeal_2011.pdf).
Preservation and creative presentation of cultural heritage
The third element of Marvin's impact relates to his research into the
public exhibition of animals by
taxidermists and in zoos; this has led to significant changes in the
preservation and creative
presentation of cultural heritage.
Since 2010, Marvin has acted in an advisory position as a trustee of the
Powell-Cotton Museum at
Quex Park in Kent. He has drawn on his research on the cultural status of
taxidermised animals to
advise on several aspects of the museum's collections, in particular on
significance and the cultural understanding of taxidermy in different
contexts. This has had a direct
impact on the management of the collection, as indicated by Karen Botha,
the director of the
museum: "his knowledge has influenced my approach to the management of
our collection". It has
also "transformed [the] team's awareness of how taxidermy is perceived
in various communities".
Ultimately, this work has influenced the organisation's understanding of
the relevance and
importance of its collection. This understanding has, in turn, had a
significant impact on the
museum, and has led to the creation and appointment of two new posts in
2011 — a specialist
taxidermist to maintain the collection and a new collections manager.
More recently Marvin's research has been utilised in creative contexts.
In April 2013, he was
approached by Andy Hall, the producer for the BBC documentary series Timeshift.
He was aware
of Marvin's publications on zoo animals and approached him to contribute
to the programme in
May 2013. This consultation directly informed the content and form of the
documentary in terms of
changing perceptions of zoo animals and the cultural significance of zoos.
The documentary was
broadcast on BBC Four in November 2013.
Similarly, Marvin was approached by Bill Mitchell, the artistic director
of the international theatre
company WildWorks, to consult on the production of their performance CHIMERA
in spring 2013.
This arose after members of WildWorks had drawn insights from Marvin's Wolf
transformations, in particular that of the werewolf. Following initial
consultation, Marvin provided
detailed feedback, informed by his own research, to develop and refine the
project, and the
company's understanding and approach to human-animal interactions more
broadly. This also
included advice based on Marvin's knowledge of the processes and
performance of hunting, which
fed directly into the production, and is contributing to the ongoing
development of WildWorks'
practice beyond July 2013. Significantly, the theatre company is now
presenting cultural heritage in
a more accurate manner following this consultation, and to a wide public
Sources to corroborate the impact
2) BBC Wildlife magazine
3)Wolf Print (magazine of the UK Wolf Conservation
4) Chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.
5) Senior Member of Council of Hunting Associations.
6) Animal Welfare Consultant, Countryside Alliance.
8) Director of Powell-Cotton Museum at Quex Park.
9) Artistic Director, WildWorks.
10) A Day at the Zoo, Timeshift, series 13. BBC Four, 20th