Arctic domestication and the meaning of ‘wild’ and ‘tame’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPublished conference contribution


Theories of domestication, and with them, of cultural evolution, are calibrated by a dualistic contrast between the extremes of ‗wild‘ and ‗tame‘ behaviour. These two categories have played an enormous role in defining the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, and of guiding interpretation in fieldwork in both disciplines. In this paper, I will review and analyse statements that the Arctic communities host ‗not-entirely-tame‘ populations of animals – often associated with placing societies on a lower level of culture or of evolution.
Through examples from fieldwork primarily in Arctic Canada and with caribou and dogs, the paper will show how Dene peoples cultivate relationships with species thought to be primarily wild, and thus creating a complex social dynamic which questions this dualistic divide. The paper will demonstrate that the question of ‗tameness‘ is one that is culturally constructed and represents often the expectations that fieldworkers have of normal social relationships with
the environment. By expanding the variety of tameness, the paper will show how the dualistic opposition between ‗wild‘ and ‗tame‘, and thereby ‗nature‘ and ‗culture‘, cannot hold in the Canadian Arctic, and by extension to other parts of the circumpolar North. In its stead the paper will develop models of respectful practice which can be used to organize field materials in both anthropology and archaeology.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntegrating archaeological and ethnographic research
Place of PublicationIrkutsk, Omsk
ISBN (Print)978-58038-0835-0
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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