In the Journals

Coming of Age in Meerkat Manor

The latest issue of American Ethnologist includes a very interesting article on the relationships between meerkats (a type of diminutive social mongoose inhabiting southern Africa) and the biologists who study them as part of the Kalahari Meerkat Project.  While the biologists’ project has been in place since the early 1990s, more recently these particular meerkats have also become the stars of the widely successful television series, Meerkat Manor.  In his article ““I fell in love with Carlos the meerkat”: Engagement and detachment in human–animal relationsMatei Candea explores this entanglement of science, entertainment and sociality in light of the recently burgeoning scholarship on human-animal relationships.

Here’s his abstract:

Relationship, connection, and engagement have emerged as key values in recent studies of human–animal relations. In this article, I call for a reexamination of the productive aspects of detachment. I trace ethnographically the management of everyday relations between biologists and the Kalahari meerkats they study, and I follow the animals’ transformation as subjects of knowledge and engagement when they become the stars of an internationally popular, televised animal soap opera. I argue that treating detachment and engagement as polar opposites is unhelpful both in this ethnographic case and, more broadly, in anthropological discussions of ethics and knowledge making.

Read: Matei Candea. 2010. “I fell in love with Carlos the meerkat”: Engagement and detachment in human–animal relations. American Ethnologist, 37(2):241-258.

Photo: Discovery Channel