The dialectics of reindeer play: The display and disposability of human and non-human animals in a Finnish winter wonderland

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific

Abstract

The marginalization of non-human animals from the realm of critical-management and organization studies, while not total, is well recognised (Labatut, et al. 2016). Where non-human animals have been admitted, the tendency has been to view them in isolation; apart from their human counterparts who generally only appear as agents of their suffering or external redeemers of their plight (Hughes, 2001). In this paper, non-human animals are, at one and the same time, understood as both victims of human repression and ontologically entwined with the repression of a workforce that at first sight both inflicts and profits from their subordination and frequent destruction.
As Gunderson (2014: 285) has argued, prior to the development of critical animal studies no approach can be said to have ‘theorized and problematized society’s troubling relationship with animals more so than critical theory’; referring to the first generation of Frankfurt School thinkers - most notably Adorno and Horkheimer - and their denunciation of enlightenment’s repressive relationship with nature. In this paper, we draw on critical theory’s understanding of the dialectical relationship between nature and culture, non-human animals and human animals, to explore the interdependency of two workforces involved in the provision of experiential consumption in Finnish Lapland. Centred on the city of Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland is a preeminent venue for international Christmas tourism. Recognised by the EU as the home of Santa Claus, the region welcomes visitors from around the world to experience the ‘magic’ of Christmas; and no visit would be complete without a reindeer pulled sleigh ride and the
opportunity to pet one of Santa’s faithful companions. Yet despite the portrayal of these animals as magical beasts, more than 50% of the reindeer population is slaughtered annually, not only for meat but also other body parts that are used for handicraft souvenirs. Indeed, reindeer meat is a culinary experience offered to visitors while hides, bones and antlers are bought as souvenirs: frequently by those who sing Rudolph the Red Noise Reindeer as they board their flights home.
At the same time, equally integral to the visitor experience is the labour of another disposable asset, seasonal workers who are employed as everything from cleaners and guides to, perhaps most pertinently, Santa’s other
magical confidants, his elves. Predominantly young, female and precariously employed, like the reindeer these human animals represent a parallel workforce to the reindeer. While also elevated to the status of symbols of the
season, they too are subjected to a logic of domination and disposability hereby low wages, emotional exploitation and, despite the adulation of the visiting consumer, ultimately contractual termination, defines their limited value as ciphers of a dominated natural order. Thus, in the cold dark environment of Lapland, though superficially warmed by Christmas cheer, we consider the
ways in which the suffering of those reindeer who are cast aside, herded, slaughtered and consumed or, at best, reduced to objects of amusement, can be understood as a dialectical reflection of the reduction of young human
lives to disposable commodities with little opportunity for personal development or recognition of the true value of their skills and labour. Where the condition of each provides the foundation of an industry that, while promising magic and goodwill to all, is built on the objectification, appropriation and shared suffering of its disposable workforce of both human and non-human animals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages229
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019
MoEC publication typeNot Eligible