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125 Photograph originally captioned “William Holding Gator, Madeira Hammock, Florida.” Photograph by Julian Dimock, February 1906; printed by permission of the American Museum of Natural History. 6. ALLIGATOR CONSERVATION, COMMODITIES, AND TACTICS OF SUBVERSION It speaks to the sheer ingenuity of culture that the alligator, such an unlikely creature, has been called upon to meet so many different human needs. The reptiles may weigh hundreds of pounds, can grow to sixteen feet (though about thirteen feet is considered large today), and are certainly cumbersome to transport. Their bodies are elongated and lizard-like. The dermal layer of alligator skin consists of scales, called “scutes,” with bony plates, called “buttons ,” embedded in the skin, all creating a tough armor. Alligator jaws are massively strong vices used to impale and crush prey. Alligators grasp larger prey in their jaws and roll in the water, drowning whatever it is, including on rare occasions people. Suffice it to say, hunting alligators can be both difficult and dangerous. Still, ever since humans and alligators have coexisted, the reptiles’ flesh and skin have been rendered into a dazzling array of products. For the most part these products have been commodities, or items produced for exchange in the capitalist marketplace. To a large degree, the hunter’s landscape is an assemblage organized around the tasks of commodifying alligators. Recent scholarship into nature’s commodification has highlighted the importance of paying attention to the material specificity of nature itself.1 For instance, by the time alligators become belts, boots, or bags, they have become exchangeable equivalents (via the intermediary of money) to similar products produced from cow’s leather. Money, as Noel Castree has noted, “can buy you anything from a carbon credit to a medicinal plant to an alligator.”2 Yet the commodification process involved in turning a living animal into monetized value, as Castree contends, differs substantially depending upon whether the production process begins in the cattle pastures of central Texas 126 Alligator Conservation or the swamps of southern Florida. Although similar in the abstract, each process of commodification has its own logic that orders the socionatural relations of production. Alligators are undomesticated reptiles that live in underground caves, a material reality intrinsic to how they were hunted and prepared for the market. These same material constraints and specificities posed a challenge to the state’s attempts at intervening in the alligator-hide trade. Since the 1930s, alligator hunting has been banned or restricted in many parts of Florida. Various legal barriers to alligator hunting included restrictions on the size and sex of animals legally taken, the imposition of closed hunting seasons and countywide hunting bans, and the creation of protected areas. Hunters tended to ignore or resist these restrictions, making antihunting ordinances and related disciplinary procedures fairly ineffective in stemming the tide of alligator hunting in the Everglades. Simply put, glades families had very few economic alternatives to hunting and so went to great lengths to subvert the law’s territorial claims. The hide market’s global networks of production and distribution supported this oppositional politics. Very few alligator lives were saved by the criminalization of alligator hunting. Instead, these restrictions fundamentally altered glades hunting by transforming customary economic practices into criminal behavior. As Karl Jacoby has shown, the history of U.S. conservation approaches has revolved around the “twin axes” of “law” and “lawlessness.” Regulating and conserving wilderness and emplaced species required the institution of new crimes, notably the “transformation of previously acceptable practices into illegal acts: hunting or fishing redefined as poaching, foraging as trespassing, the setting of fires as arson, and the cutting of trees as timber theft.”3 Explicit in this conservationist approach is the construction of rural folk as reckless criminals incapable of managing local environments for the common good. With the criminalization of alligator hunting, new tactics of subversion became entangled with the refrains of earth, fire, and flesh. Tactics of subversion , as I examine below, ranged from outright violent resistance to radically altered practices of mobility and territoriality. These changes occurred at multiple scales and for different strategic purposes. Yet taken together, they posed a significant challenge to the state’s ability to maintain control over its territory and resources. Although alligator-conservation measures may not Alligator Conservation 127 have had the practical outcome desired, the state’s contradictory vision of nature (particularly alligator nature) is made visible through these laws and practices, as I show in this chapter. ALLIGATOR AS COMMODITIES Although meat and leather goods have...


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