The Corral and the Slaughterhouse: Knowledge, tradition and the modernization of indigenous reindeer slaughtering practice in the Norwegian Arctic


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University of Cambridge


This dissertation is a contribution to the ethnography of contemporary indigenous reindeer pastoralism in Norway: specifically, to the study of the neglected fields of reindeer killing and slaughtering practice. Its central contention is that in recent decades, the proliferation of human powers vested in the conduct of reindeer slaughter has created new conditions for practice, placing the identities of reindeer and herders at stake in new and still only dimly conceptualized ways. By exploring these, the dissertation aims to broaden existing debates concerning the so-called modernization of pastoral practice in Norway, drawing attention to some of its neglected aspects and inscribing them in a new register. Two principal strands inform the theoretical framework: one, approaches to the social study of knowledge that emphasise its practical, non-verbal and material aspects; and two, Foucauldian concepts of biopower as these may – or may not – be applicable to the human management of animal life.Individual chapters examine, in turn: the local politics of space on the Varanger peninsula, focusing particularly on links between the spatial management and the killing of reindeer; the practices and social relations of slaughter as it is conducted at the round-up corral; the social effects of the introduction of slaughterhouses, and of the regime of which they form a part; controversies surrounding specific slaughtering techniques and instruments, particularly the curved knife; and the politics of animal welfare discourse and practices in their application to reindeer herding. Finally, using the figure of animal sacrifice as a guiding trope, the concluding chapter attempts to situate some key aspects of the modernization of reindeer slaughter in relation to the operation of broader sacrificial economies that regulate the destruction of life at aggregate or populational levels.



Reindeer, pastoralism, slaughter, abattoir, human-animal relations, biopolitics, circumpolar ethnography, Arctic, indigenous