DISCUSSING: Tim Ingold on conversations without (human) speech

Tim Ingold held a lecture on humans and animals at the University of Lapland in Finland on Wednesday (March 15th). The lecture was the first of three that he will deliver as a visiting professor, as part of two courses: Northern Cultural Studies and Perception, and Interpretation, and Representation of Environment, coordinated by Professor Jarno Valkonen.

Pauliina and Riitta embarked on a roadtrip up North, discussing horses on the 2½-hour drive there, and ontologies framing animal conversations on the way back (ok, some horse-talk also). This is a brief and highly selected rendering of what Tim delivered (as Pauliina understood it).


‘The North’ for Tim, is a conversation. Or a series of ongoing, open-ended, crisscrossing conversations between animals (including people) and land. North – like any other context – sustains conversations and is continually reborn through these conversations. The historical project of the North is to inhabit, compared for argument’s sake to that of the equally vague ‘West’: to transverse and occupy. Humans and animals are in continuous conversation as they keep inhabiting the North.

In some contexts, to be able to have a conversation is considered purely a human ability, one which denotes ‘personhood’ and is the base of social relations. It follows that other animals are not only excluded from being considered persons, but also that the relations humans have with animals are excluded from being considered as social relations, as forming societies. An ability to have a conversation, as well as what a conversation is, is what Tim unpacks.

Speech is making oneself present in the world. As such it is an ability of every animate being. In fact, it’s an ability or property of any thing in the world. The kinds of conversations that humans and other animals have take form as exchanges of continuous “I am here”: words, barking, chirping, digging, banging, swimming, standing, baking, clawing, slithering, exhaling carbondioxide, biting, being still, smelling, singing, humming. These claims of presence are made in relation to other claims of presence. That is, they are relative to where and when and to/with whom they are made. And they are always ontologically generative: they continuously make and remake the identity of the one claiming “I am here”.

A human is not born as a fixed kind of human being and lead her life as that kind throughout. Any animal, any thing, is becoming itself through continuously making itself, through conversing in relation to others. And so Tim suggests we don’t talk with nouns (human) but verbs (to human, humaning). A dog is dogging, an elk elking, a lion lioning. Not by reproducing an as if a priori ‘kind’ but making and remaking itself (kinding!) by doing things in relation to others. At our house our dogs are dogging in relation to our humaning and the budgies budgeing (birding) – and all of our becomings are relative to each other. In the slums of La Paz (ping Karen Malone) dogging and humaning/childing produce different kinds of being in the world.

A dog is not a dog because it looks like a dog, or belongs to a category ‘dog’. These things don’t account for they way in which an individual being is in the world, the way it is making itself present in the world.

“It is what it is because what it does. And what it does depends on its position in a society”

Societies should not be defined in terms of species (human society, bee society, elk society, beaver society) for single-species societies do not exist. Any society is always and all of the time a multispecies society. Or just ‘society’. Packed with conversations and social relations between its members – all of its memebers, who hold different positions in relation to each other, who make their presence known by doing the kind of things they can do in the given society.

What is the kind of humaning available to you in the position you hold in your society? How does it form in relation to pigging, cowing, dogging, crowing, pigeoning – in relation to other members in your society?


PS. In the photo Tim is explaining the construct of ‘the animal master’. That part just blew straight over my head. Sorry.


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