Foxes: Friends or Foes?
As an animal lover and farmer's daughter, I'm not unused to watching cubs frolicking in the fields or sauntering around the garden. In those instances, they had seemed beautiful and friendly characters, contrary to the concerns of the farming community for the threat posed to their livelihoods. In 'Foxes Unearthed', Lucy Jones starts to outline how the symbolic ambiguity of foxes discerns our complex relationships with wild animals. I'll tease out some of the conflicting representations which constructs the fox within a hierarchy of animals.
In the book, Lucy Jones tells anecdotes which illustrate how individuals changed their attitudes after an encounter with a fox. For example, as an animal photographer or good samaritan nursing one back to health. The common theme across these cases is the close relationship forged with a particular fox. Accordingly, from time spent together, the quirks of a personality and an emotional connection are recognised. These experiences contradict the aloofness of foxes as a species and are closer to the 'civilizing process' (Elias, 1994) that pets are subject to by training or grooming, in attempt to mobilise them from (animal) nature to (human) culture. This distinction between animal categories is based on un/controllability, as shown by the demonisation of foxes after the devastation caused to a chicken coop.
A threat to order
The classification of 'wild' animals, such as the fox, alludes to an uncontained presence that is outside of human control. The fear of the other is realised when in close contact with a stranger. As foxes may be deemed a symbol of the countryside, they tend to be stigmatised as 'matter out of place' (Douglas, 1966) in urban environments. Perhaps you've conjured up the image of a scavenger of refuse. Our disgust stems from the association with dirt and disease. Similarly to pigeons or rats (Jerolmack, 2008), foxes have a reputation as pests. Foxes may threaten the social order of the city, and for the sake of hygiene or safety, this leads to their exclusion. But, the processes involved in problematising animals refers not only to hierarchies between human and animals but also between animals.
The management of foxes is often favoured by farmers. Similarly, the badger cull in the UK is premised on protecting livestock from the circulation of Bovine TB. The need to maintain sustainable beef and dairy businesses is achieved at the expense of badgers or foxes which are not classed as commodities in food production. So, livestock are prioritised over wild animals for their 'usefulness'. Cassidy (2012) reports that media coverage relating to the culling had depersonalised badgers in contrast to the heroic portrayals in children's literature which would accord greater ethical duty. Wild animals are often afforded less importance due to the prioritisation of human interests which determines the moral value of a particular animal in a particular circumstance.
Cassidy, A. (2012). Vermin, Victims and Disease: UK Framings of Badgers in and Beyond the Bovine TB Controversy. Sociologica Ruralis, 52 (2), pp. 192 - 214.
Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Elias, N. (1994). The Civilising Process. Oxford: Blackwell.
Jerolmack, C. (2008). How Pigeons Became Rats: The Cultural-Spatial Logic of Problem Animals. Social Problems, 55 (1), pp. 72 - 94.