Two global species and their age-old foe: The semiotic eth(n)ology of wolves, sheep and people
Among the core notions I introduce in my recently submitted doctoral dissertation Umwelt transition and Uexküllian phenomenology: An ecosemiotic analysis of Norwegian wolf management is that of a global species (see Tønnessen 2010). In short, by establishing a global ‘colonial organism’ our species has installed an ecological empire, organised with Homo sapiens placed highest in the hierarchy and with crop species, pets, and livestock enjoying positions of privilege. The sheep, the third most significant creature in my case study on Norwegian wolf management beyond wolves and people (given a conflict-oriented focus on livestock predation), partakes in our ecological empire in a quite central position, as one of the top five livestock species globally. The wolf, on the other hand, does not fit in with the modern idea we have had until recently of how we want nature to be (unlike the dog, for which the wolf is an ancestor). Sheep: companion; wolf: foe.
The two global species implied in the title of this presentation, then, are our own subspecies of the human kind (Homo sapiens sapiens), and the sheep (Ovis aries). The wolf (Canis lupus), once the most widely distributed large mammal on Earth, is no global species, but it has given rise to the dog, which is. In Sweden, Man’s “best friend” is arguably the prime animal with which the wolf is conceived of as being in conflict with, and in Norway the dog-wolf problem is perceived as second in importance only to the sheep-wolf problem. In the course of this presentation I will portray the symbolic construction of the Big Bad Wolf in contemporary Norway. Wolves and sheep have historically often been juxtaposed, especially in the context of the Bible. In cultural terms, hardly any animals are as loaded with symbolic value as the wolf and the sheep. And the shared importance is no coincidence, since the symbolism of the two animals has frequently developed in explicit opposition to each other.
Morten Tønnessen 2010. The global species. New formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics culture/theory/politics 69 (Special Issue guest-edited by Ashley Dawson, Imperial Ecologies): 98-110. Featured as additional content in Encyclopaedia Britannica (www.britannica.com).