Two separate parts from The Animal Question in Anthropology: A Commentary by Barbara Noske are presented here to stress the point that acknowledgement of human-animal continuity does not necessarily lead to biological reductionism.   Barbara Noske. The author has a master's degree in cultural anthropology and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Amsterdam. Further discussion of the issues raised in this comment are found in her book, Humans and other animals: Beyond the boundaries of anthropology, London: Pluto Press, 1989.
     
Anthropologists commonly define their discipline, anthropology, as the study of anthropos (humankind) and think it perfectly natural to pay little or no attention to the nonhuman realm of animalkind. Of course, animals do figure in anthropological studies but they do so mainly as raw material for human acts and human thought. Anthropology has a long tradition of studying the ways in which human groups and cultures deal with and conceive of their natural environment, including other species. Such studies usually confine themselves to humans in their capacities as agents and subjects who act upon and think about animals.   Consequently, animals tend to be portrayed as passive objects that are dealt with and thought and felt about. Far from being considered agents or subjects in their own right, the animals themselves are virtually overlooked by anthropologists. They and their relations with humans tend to be considered unworthy of anthropological interest. Most anthropologists would think it perfectly natural to pay little or no attention to the way things look, smell, feel, taste or sound to the animals involved. Consequently, questions pertaining to animal welfare in the West or in the Third World rarely figure in anthropological thought.
     
     

Does the current image of animals really convey all there is to animals? Having rejected the caricatures reductionists have made of humans, why take their animal caricatures at face value?
To acknowledge human-animal continuity is not necessarily to indulge in biological reductionism (Noske, 1989). Another obstacle to the recognition of human-animal continuity is the fear among biologists of being accused of anthropomorphism, the attribution of exclusively human characteristics to animals. For their part, social scientists have been jealously guarding what they see as the human domain and so tend to applaud the biologists' fear of anthropomorphism. What is currently denounced as anthropomorphism are those characterizations which social scientists are keen to reserve for humans. In their critique of biological determinism social scientists point an accusing finger at anyone who credits animals with personhood. But again, how can one know how animals differ from or are similar to humans if one declines to ask the same questions about the two?
There are some courageous animal scientists who do say that animals are more human-like and less object-like than their own science will have us believe. However, they will often say such things off the record or rather apologetically. This is understandable since they are committing a sacrilege both from the perspective of the animal sciences and from that of the human sciences. Those scientists who have actually studied animals as participant observers, the common anthropological approach to human societies, reveal a tension in their writings between the accepted biological codes and their own experiences with animal personhood. Jane Goodall who is working with chimpanzees, Dian Fossey who lived and died among mountain gorillas, the Douglas-Hamilton couple and Cynthia Moss who are living and working among elephants, all write about touching experiences with animal personhood. Their science cannot handle these forms of animal reality and tends to belittle or ignore them. The animal sciences are simply not equipped to deal with those characteristics in animals which according to the social sciences make humans human.
Faced with the shortcomings of their own tradition a number of dissatisfied animal scientists, such as Donna Haraway and Donald Griffin, have called for a tentative anthropological approach to animals. What attracts them in anthropology and particularly in its method of participant observation is its intersubjective, nonreductionist way of acquiring knowledge, a method contrasting strongly with the subject-object approach applied by animal scientists in their laboratories. Anthropologists treat the Other with respect and are wary of ethnocentrism. Even though the Other cannot be fully known nor understood, anthropologists have been trained to tread upon this unknowable ground with respect rather than with disdain.
But all this pertains only to the human Other. It is curious that scientists who have learned to beware of the dangers of ethnocentrism so easily lapse into another kind of centrism ­ anthropocentrism. We are sadly stuck with two seemingly unrelated images: one of humankind and one of animalkind conveyed by two totally separate brands of science, the one typifying humans as social subjects, the other typifying animals as biological objects. The newly emerging discipline of human-animal relations will find this a formidable obstacle to overcome.