Topic Proposal that Inspired this Class

Here is the conference presentation proposal I submitted to the Rhetorical Society of America.

Transnational Ambivalence and Hospitable Microworlds in the Land of Gross National Happiness

In When Species Meet (2008), Donna Haraway wrote, “If we appreciate the foolishness of human exceptionalism, then we know that becoming is always becoming with–in a contact zone where the outcome, where who is in the world, is at stake”(244). What forms of persuasion and material intervention–ways of rhetorical enworlding through multiple forms of discourse–can we trace among nonhuman as well as human agents? Few figures give shape to the world of multispecies contact as transnationally the free roaming dog in Bhutan. Disliked by wary international tourists and itinerant merchants, and frequently covered by the country’s major newspaper, street dog populations have spiked and coincided with the routes of a paramilitary outgrowth of India’s Border Roads Organization, Project Dantak. Meanwhile, as nationals laud, debate, or disparage the methods of controlling the dog population and the spread of rabies, local monasteries attend to their resident dogs as lowly, but not despised, visitors. In spaces of such hospitality, dogs and humans interact as co-inhabitants, neither friendly nor at odds, embodying the “polite greeting” called for by Haraway in a way that is inadequately contained in Bark magazine editor Twig Mowatt’s statement, “Bhutanese people, who are largely Buddhist, believe that sentient beings should be cared for.” Monastery grounds create what Francisco Varela would have called a “microworld,” a space in which humans and nonhumans enact relations specific to it and its constraints and, simultaneously, where they emerge as “microidentities.” Extending George A. Kennedy’s exploration of nonhuman rhetorical agency (1992), and Diane Davis’ more recent challenge to the division by self-referentiality  between “human” and “animal” (2014) in Philosophy & Rhetoric, I ask: What forms of persuasion does the dog have at hand in and out of the temple grounds, and what might their habits of marking and their epidemiological potency have in common with forms of contamination ritualized in the nonhuman presences that energize local religious practice? Using personal interviews, I share an ongoing accumulation of research on tensions and ambivalences about multispecies, transnational contact and what is locally called “modernization” in Bhutan that builds on Alex Parrish’s discussion of the “biocultural” approach to animal rhetorics in Adaptive Rhetoric (2013). Further, I shed light on the unique constraints of the nation’s development paradigm of Gross National Happiness.” By analyzing editorials, local journalism, public health project profiles, photographs, and the nationally-required reading of a novelised depiction of the street dog, I investigate linguistic and material rhetorical messages on transnational migration, tourism, Buddhist identity, and public health as they feed through discourse on the nation’s canine “wanderers.” 


Author: Alexis


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