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Bison, Bears, and Borders: Animals and the Performance of National Communities

By Kristen Lauren Tregar

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According to Benedict Anderson, nations exist as an imagined community, tethered to geographic features but primarily existing in human minds, facilitating the development of human collectives. Throughout these processes, non-human animals have participated in this imagining from its earliest beginnings but have been largely unacknowledged. The labor these creatures do occurs in several spheres, from physical labor and becoming food, to symbolic use, providing a shared image around which human members of a nation may rally. But there is also another key form of work that is critical to understanding national bodies. This labor is performative in nature, operating in an affective space bounded by engagement with human spectators and collaborators, and involves the actual presence of animal bodies. Within this site, animals function in multiple registers- sometimes generating connection and inspiring empathy, sometimes provoking terror and participating in state-sponsored acts of aggression.

The present work considers ways in which animals have contributed performatively to the construction, maintenance, and disruption of national communities. By considering a range of texts, including film and television, myths and stories, internet materials, and works of performance art, I explore the implications of the human-animal relationship with a focus on how it has influenced national imagined communities. Drawing on the theoretical work of scholars including Benedict Anderson, Duncan Bell, Patrick Wolfe, and Karen Barad, and building on the work of scholars in Animal Geography and Animal Performance Studies, I illustrate the ways in which non-human animals have demonstrated sovereignty and have served as active subjects in the construction and maintenance of national communities, as combatants, and as sacrificial beings. The project contains chapters on settler-colonial expansion during the 19th Century that resulted in the near-extinction of the Sioux and bison populations, the differences in the perception of police dogs and horses, an exploration of military animals and empathy, and consideration of how wildlife can disrupt the concept of a geographically-bound national identity.

Date 2020
Pages 191
ISBN/ISSN 9798672189192
Publisher University of California, San Diego
Degree Ph.D.
Language English
University UC San Diego
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Art
  3. Geography
  4. nationalism
  5. open access
  6. Performance studies
  1. open access