Engaging with a hunter’s world of materials

In this essay, I am interested especially in those urban middle-class hunters for whom enjoying nature is central to their hunting practice. In Germany – as in most countries – this urban middle-class is often characterized as being alienated from ‘nature’ but longing to re-connect with nature, with more ‘raw’ and ‘wilder’ practices that might help to counter the negatively conceived effects of ‘civilized’, regulated city life and the uneventful monotony of indoor office work (Kirchhoff et al. 2012). Hunting, for many, holds the promise of returning practitioners to nature by providing unusual, new outdoor ‘experiences’, thus turning ‘urban bodies’ into ‘bodies of nature’ (Macnaghten and Urry 2001).

Hunting as a cultural practice is a way of being alive to the world (Ingold 2011). It organizes the way hunters perceive, move and engage with the environment. Hence we may ask if hunting organizes ‘hunting experiences’ in a way that makes it possible for people to re-connect with and feel less alienated from nature. We may answer this question by investigating how hunting practices provide certain kinds of sensory experiences and material engagements. In particular, we may look at how the hunter’s body partakes of the material world and the tactility that is involved in handling materials which are ready to hand during the performance of relevant tasks. One such task is field dressing of animal bodies (called Aufbrechen in the German specialist language of hunters), i.e. the material transformations that come with the unbinding forces of killing and death. What are the materials, the material world of hunting, as revealed through field dressing? How do hunters engage with and thus transform these materials? What kinds of tactility are given in the handling of substances and surfaces? Can these questions shed light on the relationship of urban hunters to what they call nature?

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Notes from the Forest: Engaging with a hunter’s world of materials