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Animal traffic : making, remaking and unmaking commodities in global live wildlife trade

By Rosemary-Claire Magdeleine Solange Collard

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Against mass species loss and escalating concern over declining biodiversity, legal and illegal trade in wildlife is booming. Annually, it generates tens of billions of dollars and involves the circulation of billions of live and dead animals worldwide. This dissertation examines one dimension of this economy: flows of live, wild-caught animals – namely exotic pets – into North America. My central questions are: how are wild animals’ lives and bodies transformed into commodities that circulate worldwide and can be bought and owned? How are these commodities remade and even unmade? In answering these questions the dissertation is concerned not only with embodied practices, but also with broader, dominant assumptions about particular figures of the human and the animal, and the relations between them. This dissertation draws on reading across economic geography and sociology, political economy and ecology, and political theory to construct a theoretical approach with three strands: a commodity chain framework, a theory of performativity, and an anti-speciesist position. It weaves this theoretical grounding through multi-sited research carried out from 2010-2013, including participant- and spectator-observation, interviews, and film and photography. In this research, to retain a focus on animals I inserted myself in multispecies contact zones. Specifically, I traced three nodes in global live wildlife trade’s circuits: commodification of animals through capture in biosphere reserves in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize; recommodification (re-legitimation of the animals’ status as commodities) through exchange at exotic animal auctions across the US; and attempted decommodification through rehabilitation at a wildlife centre in Guatemala. This research suggests that commodification and decommodification are not processes of “denaturing” and “renaturing”, respectively. Rather, they are both productions of particular natures. Commodification produces an encounterable, individual and controllable animal life.
Decommodification seeks to do the opposite. Ultimately, I argue that all of these global live wildlife trade processes depend on and perform, or bring into being, a human/animal dualism that positions the human figure as a master subject and the animal as a subordinate object. This dissertation thus amounts to a critique of the exotic pet commodity form. 


Katie Carroll

Date 2013
Pages 227
Publisher University of British Columbia
Department Department of Geography
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
DOI 10.14288/1.0165692
Language English
University University of British Columbia
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Biodiversity
  4. Globalization
  5. International trade
  6. trade
  7. Wild animals
  8. wildlife