Cultural Geography Workgroup

Return of the wolves

Of wolves, dogs and humans - interspecies co-shaping of reality in the contact zone

M. Sc. Sebastian Ehret

 

The return of wolves in Germany is a widely discussed issue in the recent public debate. Since wolves resettled in Eastern parts of Saxony in 2000 and later expanded to other regions in Germany, they have triggered both negative and positive emotions from the inhabitants of these regions and different stakeholders. Two aspects come into play when one tries to explain these responses: the centuries-old cultural representations of the wolf and their actual physical presence.

It is precisely the tension between these two aspects that makes the return of wolves a promising topic in cultural geography. Especially the emerging field of animal geographies is concerned with animals‘ social and cultural representation as well as with post-humanistic and other non-representational aspects of animals‘ agency and its influence on human-animal relations.

This project follows the premise that the rules and structures of an interspecies co-existence are constituted by both wolves and humans alike. Co-existence emerges from direct and indirect encounters, mutual habituation as well as responding and reacting to one another. Furthermore, the rules and structures of interspecies co-existence are far from being static and fixed, but are highly dynamic and contested. This co-shaping of reality is fundamentally spatial. According to Donna Haraway (2008), the spaces and places where species meet can be referred to as contact zones.

Empirically the research project focuses on dog owners and their dogs living in current wolf territories in the region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany. Although humans and dogs have shared a common space with wolves in their daily walks for nearly 20 years now, there are hardy ever direct encounters between wolves, dogs and humans. However, due to their extraordinary perceptual capability dogs are able to sense and indicate the presence of wolves to their fellow humans. Therefore, dogs take an active and crutial part in the interspecies co-shaping of reality in the contact zones of Lusatia.

As a whole, this research project wants to shed light on the complexities and interrelations of current human-dog-wolf relations. In doing so, it aims to contribute to a better and more nuanced understanding of often highly emotional debates on the return of wolves in Germany.

.Gustave Dorés Rotkäppchen

 

 

Gustave Doré (1867): illustration to Charles Perrault's Le Petit Chaperon rouge
(source: gallica.bnf.fr)