Happy Birthday, Brody
It’s now about one year since we adopted Brody, a golden retriever. Not quite an anniversary, not quite a birthday, but worth reflecting upon. It continues to be an interesting journey and learning process, but most relevant to this blog perhaps is how fascinating it is to observe and interact with a creature who operates without any social norms or cultural rules, whereas we do and say almost nothing without hearkening back to those same constraints.
I find myself constantly observing him and remarking to myself with surprise or bemusement how he can do something that I want desperately to attach human meaning to. His body language, his lack of body language, his sighs and facial expressions, what and where he licks or sniffs, his reactions to stimuli (other dogs, strangers, cats, alpacas, trucks, food, water), on and on – all are driven by a completely different set of motivations, yet like most dog owners, I do nothing but project upon him.
It’s a reminder to me as an ethnographer that so much of what we do ourselves, or what I observe in others, is constructed through the rules of our culture.
(and sure, there are millions of PhD theses about nature vs. nurture, about sociobiology, about culture-in-animals, no doubt, but really, I hope you take my point for what it is).