Domestication and Home

First, an apology.  I apologize for the lateness of my blog post.  I mistakenly thought that this week we were working on our projects and had a break from blogging.  I’m glad I found this to be untrue in time to write a blog post at all, but I apologize for being late with it.

That being said, I found the Brantz reading to be incredibly interesting.  First off was the bit of language.  Domestication comes from the Latin word for home, “domus.”  Having never made that particular connection, I found this to be interesting and slightly problematic.  Domestication is the human desire to turn wild animals into animals that we could keep in our homes.  Francis Galton thought that early domestication came from the human desire to keep pets.  This was interesting to me because pets, domesticates we actually do keep in our homes, are very different from other domesticates.  As Brantz points out, we do not eat them or turn them into products, and even go so far as to turn them into individuals by giving them names and such.

So, my question becomes, why does the word domestication come from the word for “home” when most domesticates are not kept in our homes?  It seems to me that other readings have argued successfully that early humans did not domesticate animals to keep them as pets, but for food.  Why then is the word used for the process so tied to the idea of the home?  Could it be just a general idea of living with humans in general?  Most dictionaries I looked in for the definition of “domestication” simply offer two definitions.  One is to make something suitable for the home and the other is to make an animal or plant accustomed to a human environment or be useful to humans.  This proved to be unsatisfying because it did not really answer my question.  This connection with the home seems to important to me.

I thought maybe the word “domestication” originated in the 18th or 19th century and was somehow tied to the emerging bourgeois values that Brantz talked about.  Everything I could find, however, pointed to the word domestication being used before that in the 17th century, which lessens the likelihood of this possibility and left me still wondering.  I’m tempted to become a linguist to figure this out.

The rest of Brantz’s work was interesting as well, I was intrigued by the place of pets in society as a moral force because it is held over to today.  It is still common to get a dog or cat to teach a kid responsibility.  We may have come off the rigid morality of Victorian England, but apparently we still teach responsibility the same way.

Like a few others, I was also pleasantly surprised by the readability of Darwin.  I expected him to be stuffy and inaccessible, but that is of course not the case.  In the Introduction we read, Darwin talked about domestication and how humans can affect it but are ultimately still unable to fully control nature.  The idea of control and power seems so central to domestication, but how much control do humans really have in the process.  I’m curious to see what everyone else thinks about this.

4 thoughts on “Domestication and Home

  1. I think you’re on to something there about domestication connected to our “homes.” I think that the word was derived from that because this process of domestication IS basically bringing the animals HOME, closer to humans, etc. Bringing these animals in, and forcing them to bend to the whims of humans, this all isn’t very “homey” for me, but I would agree that the act of providing for and caring for the animals may have been where this “homey” term of domestication arises.

  2. I agree that many, if not all our readings discuss different reasons for domestication that don’t include the want for pets. Perhaps domestication comes from the word home because when domestication first appeared, human settlements involved much more cooperation than they do now. In early towns that first demonstrated farming and domestication, a sense of group mentality must have been remained from hunting-gathering times. Early techniques were crude and also required the cooperation of a whole town in order to be successful. What I am getting at is home back then did not compose of an individual self-sustaining house of one family. As we know, early domestication required many people to achieve and maintain, so perhaps back then a home was thought of as the entire community because without the efforts of everyone, survival would not have been possible. So in this sense a group of animals in a fence directly attached to a town could be considered animals in a ‘home’.

  3. This thread has lots of potential! Remember that our notion of “domestic”, with its Latin roots comes with lots of cultural and historical baggage tied to an agricultural (and settled) past. The first “domestic” relationships developed among pastoral people whose “homes” moved with them.

  4. To aid to your confusion of why domestication means home. You must consider that plants were also domesticated. By domesticating both plants and animals, peoples were able to acquire more permanent settlements (or homes). I believe Jared Diamond’s article “Evolution, consequences and future of plant and animal domestication,” would help to better answer your question.

Comments are closed.