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Animal maiming, intimacy and the politics of shared life: the bestial and the beastly in eighteenth and early nineteenth century England

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 15:27 authored by Carl GriffinCarl Griffin
The everyday lives of many farm workers in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England were intricately and often intimately bound with the lives of animals, the ebb and flow of human life being inseparable from that of animal life. Farmyards, fields, folds as well as barns and stables were all spaces where animals transcended being the mere instruments of capital to instead being obvious co-constituents of the rhythms of existence. Living and working in such close proximity meant that the ‘species barrier’ was crossed and intimacies developed in everyday agricultural practices. Still, the relationship was based upon, if not reducible to, the workings of capital: the animal enrolled as a form of embodied capital, the labourer engaged by the farmer to act upon the animal. And in such relationships intimacies are mirrored by violences: the keeping captive, slaughter, and – occasionally – abuse. In this formative period in which the discourses and policies that continue to inform animal welfare were first formulated, the declining economic and material fortunes of farm workers when juxtaposed to farm animals’ fortune as increasingly ‘cosseted capital’ gave a particular charge to these abuses. Farm animals, and especially horses and cattle, so it is shown, were subjected to a series of violences. Many cases of animal maiming parodied tenderness in their brutality, whilst other attacks on the sexual organs of animals represented complex statements about the ways in which agrarian capitalism regulated all culture. Analysing the changing relationship between humans and animals therefore also helps us to better understand how capitalism mediates – and is mediated by – the non-human as well as the human, and how it defines cultural relations.


Publication status

  • Published


Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers


0020 2754







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  • Geography Publications

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