Questions for Discussion 9/16

Hi All,  


I am highlighting a few student responses for the purposes of discussion today and I would definitely include more if there were time because there were so many incredibly good responsesYou did a great job, class! There were way too many good responses to choose, so I just took a few to get things going.  


In the original essay cited by Donna Haraway in When Species Meet, Smuts begins with a story about her communication with her dog, Bahati, and only later relates the story of her time among the baboons in Kenya. “All large-brained social animals, including humans, possess the cognitive and emotional capacities needed to communicate in this way. Interpreting my interaction with Bahati will help clarify what I mean by embodied communication and why I think it is important”(137). In Smuts’ story, Bahati tries to get Smuts to stop working and pay attention to her, and Smuts communicates that she must keep working but that she cares about Bahati and will make time to play later. “Our interaction negotiated these conflicting desires. Ba used gaze, motion, gesture, and touch to draw me into active participation, and we shared a brief interlude of mutual gazing.”  


Meaning in our interactions like these does not reside in the specific behaviors shown, nor does the interaction refer to something “out there” in the world. Rather, meaning is mutually constituted, literally embodied as two individuals’ behaviors (“the parts”) combine to create something new (“the whole”). I use the term embodied communication to refer to interactions whose meaning lies more in such emergent properties than in the lower-level, individual actions of the participants. (137-138) 


I find myself thinking about strangers on my walks in New York, usually to and from the subway, and some of my encounters on the subway itself. Sometimes, in exchanging eye contact with strangers, I feel particularly like an object. The stranger and I exchange looks as though we are fish and each occupy separate aquariums. At other times, a different set of nonverbal cues leads to me feel like a subject in an inter-subjective, if momentary, relation with the stranger. In a later, concluding passage of the same article, Smuts seems to address my experience.  


Understanding and participating in EC is important not only in our relations with non-human animals but also in our relations with other humans. In recent years, scientists studying animal behavior and those studying human development have increasingly used videotaping to examine social interactions in fine detail. As these two groups of researchers share their findings, it becomes increasingly evident that they are studying the same phenomena: ways of communicating that can be described as embodied, creative, co-regulated, mutually contingent, and so on. 


Smuts’ claim includes human and non-human animals, but it seems unusual in comparison with our conventional ways of thinking about nonverbal communication or even verbal-inclusive communication across lines of familiarity and difference both socio-cultural and personal.  



Karen summarizes the selection succinctly: 

The paragraph talks about greeting rituals and how we as humans use them and how animals use them. Greetings are compared to dance and that is a form of communication. We often use non-verbal communication to express the truth, something that is not always done verbally. Smuts used the baboons to describe the greeting process but recognized that almost all interactions with humans or animals have this process. 


Kayla brings up themes that might be relevant, also, for thinking about embodied communication among other human and nonhuman animals, including New Yorkers: 


Smuts claims that through “mutual acknowledgement” of each others presence and intentions the chimpanzees no longer saw her as a threat or disturbance in their every day lifestyles allowing smooth sailing from then on with their relationship. 

In my interpretation, in order to to able to understand the baboons Smuts had to “become with” them to gain a different perspective, in other words adapt to their way of life to in a way become one with them. With time, as Smuts began to adopt to the chimpanzees way she states “…it signaled a profound change from being treated like an object …to being treated as a subject with whom they can communicate” (25). This social acceptance resulted from an understanding by an alteration in her behavior, like her way of walking, talking, and sitting, towards the chimps. Since “becoming with” is already stated (in theory)as adaptation to establish a joint relationship, Smuts achieved this by (in her opinion) allowing the baboons to acknowledge her by her actions which establishes a mutual respect between them, enough to allow her studies to continue. Additionally, Smuts expresses her success claiming ” ..I expressed respect, and by responding in ways I picked up from them, I let the baboons know that my intentions were benign and that I assumed they likewise meant me no harm. Once this was clearly established in both directions, we could relax in each other’s company” (25). Notably, allowing the chimps to still thrive in their own environment undisturbed using distinctive greetings created a change in the relationship with actions that illustrate the truth about their intentions towards each other. 


By considering “mutual acknowledgement” and “adaptation to establish a joint relationship” in a broader context of embodied communication as a basic element of sociality, how are we “becoming with” our fellow travelers in crowded public spaces? If we further consider that many people, human and nonhuman, encounter the same spaces on routines that are regular enough to also encounter fellow regulars to those spaces, how does the answer change? How does mutual acknowledgement, or other forms of interaction, change someone from object to subject 




Daisy makes a really key academic move when she narrows her attention on to Haraway’s use of “closely.” Let’s keep in mind that Smuts has argued that no neutral interaction exists. When she attempts to be an inert object and to observe the baboons from a distance without getting involved with them, without getting noticed by them, and certainly without affecting them—she fails, because there is no non-interaction to have. Her presence, in whatever form she offers, is an interaction. Daisy wonders how social interactions change on the basis of what counts as “close” 

The main line that had caught my eye is on page 26 where it says “However, if the above speculations are correct, closely interacting bodies tend to tell the truth”. This line mainly caught my eye because I don’t think there is a better line that explains the experiment and the relation to Haraway’s topic. In addition, it also led me to ask what effect would it have the species aren’t as closely “interactive”. For example like person A may feel really close to person B but person B doesn’t feel close at all to person A would the same rule apply? 

Consider this question, and also consider how it might be species- and context-specific. Also consider the double meaning of close, which can refer to the “flight distance” of animals or the level of intimacy.  


Jeffrey brought up “instinct” and questions whether “becoming with” is something human and nonhuman animals can enact deliberately: 

The way that the baboons react to an outsider is their survival instinct, their way of communication is also an instinct. Smuts staying actively still must have drew curiosity from the baboons, but the soon grew to adapt/ignore her, seeing that there was no way to avoid her. They were able to relax since their initial interaction because they realized that Smuts meant no harm to them. Despite the baboons having different greeting gestures, they all understood by one another’s greeting gestures. This is later compared to how we see our pets, dogs in this passage, as honest, but they do not speak, instead, we judge it off our view on their actions and common beliefs. I wonder what enables the baboons to communicate with one another, is it something encoded to their genes, seeing that they’re part of the primates branch(I believe), taught, or just survival of the fitness instincts. 


How much of what we consider “instinctual”—or “natural”—is actually habitual? How much can change given different circumstances, contexts, or purposes? On a similar note, does a nonhuman animal interact and relate differently when greeted as a subject?  


Tiana points out the importance of time and mirroring in “becoming with.” After all, Smuts had to see how the baboons greet each other, and had to take the leap of greeting in a similar way in order to show and gain the baboon equivalent of “respect.”: 


The study that was conducted by Barbara Smuts shows how a relationship can change between two different species when one species attempts to adapt to the nature of the other.  Accommodating that species contributes to a gain in mutual respect between yourself and that species. Smuts used her ability to gain understanding to gain knowledge on how to communicate to and with a group that is outside of your own. taking time to learn, understand, and respond correctly to another species allows one to gain the companionship of the species to learn more about the way in which they interact with the world around them. 


Much of what Smuts has shared and analyzed on this point was nonverbal, “embodied” communication. In the context of, say, strangers on a subway, how do humans (and, if you like, nonhumans) develop such rapports nonverbally? Or is this not possible given the time it takes to change from object to subject in the gaze of another social animal?  



Nicole asks a couple of useful questions worth considering 

Especially while collecting data, a “good scientist” should not disrupt however become one to collect the data you need. The point is that every variable needs to be the same to get the most accurate data.  


Doesn’t human interaction have an effect on the animal’s environment? 

Barbara got involved with the environment of the baboons, doesn’t that change the way they do their normal day to day activity? 



According to Smuts the greetings are more like dances than a singular greeting like when we give a person a handshake or a high five. I related this to how humans communicate, we use verbal communication but the majority of the way we communicate is through body language and certain mannerisms but unlike baboons we can lie through verbal communication. Smuts noticed the baboons body language showed whether or not the relationship was friendly or not which can also be used to analyze out body language. We might be able to lie but unconsciously we are giving off signals through body language that we aren’t being truthful. We can lie but our bodies will contradict what we are saying. 


To continue with the analogy of interacting nonverbally in crowded places, among fellow New Yorkers, we need to be creative to think about what it means to be truthful in our embodied communication. What comes to mind here?   




Joshua brings the line of inquiry into the question of predator and prey. Does a change in greeting establish a change in relationship, moving from object (prey) to subject (non-prey)? 


In an excerpt of “When Species Meet”, the journal describes a study of Baboons conducted by Barbara Smuts. Her studies required her getting close to a pack of wild baboons to study and collect data on them. Initially, whenever she approached the baboons she would attempt to “be invisible”, trying to blend into the surroundings and ignoring all cues directed at her by the baboons as if she was not there. Aware and disturbed by her presence the monkeys would flee her, impeding her data collection. She then tried to act like the baboons, to blend with them, instead of being “invisible”. She adopted the stances for walking and sitting, and responded to their cues as they would. Initially, the monkeys gave her dirty looks when she approached, forcing Barbara to back away, however slowly she gained their trust, and the monkeys allowed her to study them. 

This interaction shows that to get along it is sometimes necessary to adapt to other cultures, even animal ones, to learn how they convey emotions, and gain their trust. For me this begs the question “if all animals, even predatory ones, could recognize to other animals social queues, could they reasonably get along with each other?” 




Works Cited 

Smuts, Barbara. “Embodied communication in non-human animals.” Human Development in the Twenty-First Century. [I have not properly cited this source and must edit this citation] 


Author: Alexis


Leave a Reply