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Agency as Interspecies, Collective and Embedded Endeavour: Ponies and People in Northern England 1916–1950

Wadham, H ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9980-4409 (2021) Agency as Interspecies, Collective and Embedded Endeavour: Ponies and People in Northern England 1916–1950. Journal of Historical Sociology, 34 (4). pp. 550-572. ISSN 0952-1909

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Abstract

Animals are increasingly acknowledged as historical agents. There are calls for more critical approaches that explore how this agency—often shared with humans—is embedded within wider relations of power. This paper responds by employing Critical Theory, particularly the ideas of Jurgen Habermas, to explore how interspecies agency is shaped and constrained by its broader socioeconomic context. Empirical illustrations are drawn from the experiences of Dales ponies and people in the early twentieth century, who found themselves navigating the growing commodification of their shared lifeworld. The findings suggest the outcome of this process of “colonisation” was not inevitable. Rather, just as the demise of the ponies seemed unstoppable, their shared communicative relations re-emerged powerfully during the harsh winter of 1947. The paper asks what this means for our understanding of the apparently irrevocable decline of horsepower and how we might better understand horses’ own experiences of such events and processes.

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