Best laid plans and Jane Goodall

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!  So true, Robert Burns!   Due to a protracted illness after returning from Northern Ireland (which I’m still recovering from), I’ve had little time to make good on my promise to delve into the work of Jane Goodall and other primatologists. I can briefly say here that Goodall was criticised early on for her anthropomorphism (naming the chimps, descriptions that used language meant at the time only for humans – see my previous post on this subject) and for setting up feeding stations, which it had been thought led to increased aggression in the local populations of chimps (so that she was distorting their behaviour).  On the first point, however, Goodall’s findings on chimpanzees and culture did gain widespread acknowledgement, with publications in Nature, for instance.  In her article, “Tool-using and aimed throwing in a community of free-living chimps” (Nature, 1964, March 28, 201:1264-6), Goodall seems careful not to refer by name to any of the chimpanzees she describes and she leaves out what could be considered anthropomorphic language, aside from referring to a youngster as a “child” on one occasion.  The evidence presented changed the way that these primates were viewed and resulted in reconsideration of what it means to be human in the Western context; Japanese primatologists were already quite open to the idea of culture in other animals (Kinji Imanishi, for instance).  We can see, in Goodall’s popular writing, that she maintained an outlet for anecdotes that could, for her, more fully capture what she was witnessing in the field – behaviour that was very much like that of human beings and should not have been called anthropomorphic.  Criticisms of feeding stations have been challenged most forcefully by Michael Wilson and Richard Wrangham (see their article “Intergroup Relations in Chimpanzees“).  But I would say that Wrangham goes too far, and so would others, with his latest study – based on what appears to be minimal evidence (considering the number of years of research included in the study) , he concludes that chimps are naturally or inherently violent and this has implications regarding human behaviour (naturalising war).  This New York Times article presents the study and some rebuttals to it. That’s all I have time for at the moment.  In future I will use the posts to review Anthrozoology readings that relate to primates in some way, while also interspersing these with posts that follow up more specifically on the anthropomorphism theme, as promised – this approach may also be more interesting and varied for readers.  Hopefully I will be back to weekly posts soon.  Also do please keep checking the animal cruelty pages, which will be added to slowly. I’ll leave you with this Jane Goodall clip on “beingness”:


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