W for Work: Why do we say that cows don't do anything?
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177 W foR WoRk Why do we say that cows don’t do anything? Do animals work? The sociologist Jocelyne Porcher, who specializes in animal farming, has made this question the object of her research. She began by asking farmers whether it makes any sense for them to think that their animals collaborate and work with them. The proposition is not an easy one—neither for us, nor for many of the farmers. The same response pours out: no, it is only people who work, not beasts. Of course, it can be conceded that assistance dogs do, as do horses and oxen that pull loads, and a few others associated with professions: police and rescue dogs, minesweeping rats, messenger pigeons, and various other collaborators. The proposition, however, is acknowledged as barely applicable to farm animals. And yet, throughout the investigations that preceded her research, Porcher heard many stories and anecdotes that led her to think that animals actively collaborate in the work of their farmers, that they do things, that they take initiative in a deliberate way. This led her to consider that work is neither visible nor easily thinkable. It is said without being said, seen without being seen.1 If a proposition is not easy, it often means that the answer to the question raised by the proposition changes something. This is precisely what guides this sociologist: if we accept the proposition, it must change something. This question is not posed in her sociological practice “for the sake of knowledge”; it is a pragmatic decision, a question for which the answer has consequences (] versions). Rare are the sociologists and anthropologists, she remarks, who have imagined that animals work. The anthropologist Richard Tapper seems to be one of the few to have done so. He considers the evolution of relations between humans and animals as having followed a similar history to those of production between humans themselves. In hunting societies, the relations between humans and 178 w for work animals would be communitarian since the animals are part of the same world as the humans. The first forms of domestication would be akin to forms of slavery. Pastoralism would, according to him, reflect contractual forms of feudalism. With industrial systems, the relation is modeled after modes of production and capitalist relations.2 This hypothesis, though welcome, will be rejected by Porcher. It has the merit, to be sure, of opening up the idea that animals work, but at the same time it confines the relations to a singular schema, that of exploitation . Therefore, she writes, “it is impossible to think of a different development.” For what Tapper’s reconstruction puts into play is the question of what we inherit. To inherit is not a passive verb, it is a task, a pragmatic act. Heritage is built and is always transformed retroactively. It makes us capable, or not, of something other than simply continuing; it demands that we be capable of responding to, and answering for, that which we inherit. We accomplish a heritage, which means the same thing as saying that we accomplish it through the act of inheriting. In English the term remember [se souvenir] can take account of this work, work that is more than just memory: “to remember” and “to re-member” [recomposer].3 To create stories, to make history, is to reconstruct, to fabulate, in a way that opens other possibilities for the past in the present and the future. What can a narrative—that allows the relations uniting farmers and their animals to be thought—change? To start, it would change the relation to animals and the relation to farmers. “To think the question of work,” Porcher writes, “obliges one to consider animals as other than victims or natural and cultural idiots that need to be liberated despite themselves.” The allusion is clear. She addresses herself to liberationists, to those who, she says, want “to liberate the world of animals,” understood here as “ridding the world of animals.” This critique indicates the particular stance that Porcher adopts in her work: that of always thinking about humans and animals, farmers and their beasts, together. To no longer consider animals as victims is to think of a relation as capable of being other than an exploitative one; at the same time, it is to think a relation in which animals, because they are not natural or cultural idiots, actively implicate themselves, give, exchange, receive, and because it is not exploitative, farmers give, receive, exchange, and grow...


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