New Article

There’s a long history in the social sciences of keeping humans separate from animals. Humans do things with other humans and this is what social scientists study. Meanwhile animals only do things with other animals and these are the concern of biologists and such-like who need binoculars to see their subjects. If fact sociology text books still make distinctions between humans and animals suggesting that animals only act according to instinct while humans are thoughtful and reflective. This is a hangover from the time of French philosopher Descartes who gazed over a barnyard fence at a cow contentedly chewing its cud and decided that animals must be organic machines with no thoughts and no feelings. Now, anyone familiar with hyenas (and all Hararis) will tell you how that ‘effete dabbler’ was somewhat mistaken, if not deluded.1

Hyenas are little persons. In fact, they’re not that little; quite a few hyenas in Harar weigh more than me. They operate in a hyena social world which includes negotiating relations with a bunch of other hyenas. There’s always stuff going on in the hyena community, whether its clan wars, romancing, avoiding enemies, making friends, watching others’ relations, or just playing games. And in Harar, their social relations spill over into the human world, while the human world spills over into the hyena world. So much so that a social scientist attached to the old dogma would be well advised to look outside of Harar for an exclusively human society.

I’ve written as much in an article that’s just come out in Social Science Information. Sorry, I can’t post the article here because the publishers would lose out if it was free on the internet but I can pretty much give you the gist of what I say: I describe the events of a poisoning incident in which a poisoned Aboker hyena was inadvertently taken by Yusuf to the Sofi feeding place to be cared for. The Sofi hyenas took exception to this intrusion, killed the hyena and three days later: clan war. What I say in the article is how the layout of the town contributes to the way that hyenas maintain territories. In which case the town’s history includes hyena histories. What’s more, during the poisoning incident and clan war, the actions of the hyenas influenced the actions of the people which in turn influenced the actions of the hyenas so that the whole episode was a mish-mash of hyena-human social, historical, ecological relations.


1.      This term comes from Paul Shepard. It’s made in reference to any enlightenment philosopher but it’s obviously directed at Decartes


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