The Reintroduction and Reinterpretation of the Wild

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Abstract

This paper is concerned with changing social representations of the ``wild,'' in particular wild animals. We argue that within a contemporary Western context the old agricultural perception of wild animals as adversarial and as a threat to domestication, is being replaced by an essentially urban fascination with certain emblematic wild animals, who are seen to embody symbols of naturalness and freedom. On closer examination that carefully mediatized ``naturalness'' may be but another form of domestication. After an historical overview of the human-animal, domestic-wild construction, an anthropological approach is used to interpret the social representation of wild animals held by different social actors – farmers, hunters, and tourists – within the context of an inhabited National Park, that of the Cévennes in south east France. Within the Park, the domestic and the wild, along with agriculture, hunting, conservation, re-introduced wild animals, and tourists co-habit. It is argued that changes in the representation of ``wildness'' may well be an important indicator ofchanges in the social representation of nature.