HOMO DOMESTICUS: Re-Imagining Domestication and Re-Naming the Human


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Society and ecology seem deeply linked to domestication, which may be the most threatening force acting on earth today, where the human may be its most immediate victim. This theoretical interdisciplinary analysis re-imagines domestication as the condition of housing—the built environment, leading to consider the human species as Homo domesticus.


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HOMO DOMESTICUS: Re-Imagining Domestication and Re-Naming the Human

  1. 1. Homo domesticus: Re-Imagining Domestication and Re-Naming the HumanBy Oscar Carvajal, PhD ABD© All rights reservedSociety and ecology seem deeply linked to domestication, which may be the mostthreatening force acting on earth today, where the human may be its most immediatevictim. This theoretical interdisciplinary analysis re-imagines domestication as thecondition of housing—the built environment, leading to consider the human species asHomo domesticus.Scholars associate the rise of domestication and civilization. Humans were originallyunstable scattered nomads—hunters and foragers.[1] As housing, farming and herdingsprang up during the Palaeolithic-Neolithic transition, civilization emerged and citiesarose.[2] Human life-styles proliferated at the expense of diverse domesticatedorganisms as food stock, work force, social symbols, entertainment, technologicaldevices, field research, companions, decoration and pets.[3]Traditional accounts see domestication as the collective alteration process thatorganisms or biological populations endure under the control of generations of humans. The essential criterion for domestication is the maintenance by humans of a self- perpetuating breeding population of animals isolated genetically from their wild relatives, with resulting behavioural, and usually also phenotypic, changes in the domestic stock.[4]Beyond such anthropocentric views that characterise domestication as a relationbetween humans and other organisms, including animals and plants—the planet ingeneral—a fresh insight into a deeper dimension of domestication involves:Firstly, re-distinguishing between domesticating and taming. Traditionally, the human isseen as the agent of domestication. Scholars believe that domestication culminates theprocess of taming (thought to only affect individuals): a species becomes domesticatedwhen humans tame every one of its members and its generations are borndomesticated. But that humans dominate other species—using criteria like dietadaptability, fast growth rate, breed ability in captivity, disposition, unlikelihood to panic,and submission to hierarchy of dominance—really refers to taming, breeding animalsand cultivating plants.[5] This approach neglects a critical aspect of domestication,namely, the influence of the house—the domesticating agent. The Paleolithic-Neolithictransition was distinct by the built environment, when humans, animals and plantsbecame domesticated. The domesticating action of the house goes further beyond theinitial taming action and intention when humans built the house.Etymologically, “domes-tication” derives from the Latin root word domus—house, home. Housing and domestication relate. Domestication was born with housing. The housesin equanum domestication. John Livingston misleadingly argues that “To domesticatesome non-human being, literally, is to bring it into our house.”[6] It is misleading since
  2. 2. “to bring it” remains taming—humane. Simmilarly, C. E. Ayres argued that the humanspecies should be understood as Homo domesticus based on behaviour. For him, theinstitutions and in large—as Livingston also concludes—culture domesticates thehuman.[7] But instead of a type of taming humanly enforced, domestication is thehouse acting directly.Domestication and tame mutually reinforce conditioning, as the human tames and thehouse domesticates. Whilst the evidence of taming associating humans and wolvesdates to 150,000 year ago, housing emerged in the last 30,000 years.Secondly, domestication conditions beyond tame. Ivan Pavlov by conditioning reflexwith manipulated stimuli implied human use of science, technology and technique tocondition (tame) organisms.[8] Ideology may be the most important cultural tool—hegemonic persuasive superstructure, in Antonio Gramsci‟s terms,[9] or instrument ofsocial reproduction, in Karl Marx‟s view[10]—in general, as a set of ideas or logic ofreasoning. Humans surely devised the house for survival ideologically and asideological medium. However, as Robert Hahn contends, the work of the architectsinfluenced the poetry and prose of Anaximander, hence Greek philosophy.[11]The house impacts beyond ideology. For instance, caved humans devised protection,not necessarily to self-confine into the much reduced built shelter, but many graduallyended up its permanent residents. Humans may have initially thought of housing tosurvive and to carry on ideas, but it became influent of ideology and culture beyondhuman imagination.Housing informs anatomy and cognition. Unconscious motives mould behaviour(neurosis), claimed Sigmund Freud.[12] Likewise, genetic factors and environmentshape behaviour through either association or reinforcement, claimed John Watson, thefounder of the behaviourist school.[13] Like computing artificial intelligence, once thesystem stores manipulated information, the now conditioned organism eventuallyprompts to mutate. Genetic scientists see that the organism‟s makeup relates to theinformation stored via genetic material. As managed record influences generationalchange, mutation essentially obeys to change in genetic data.[14] Hence phenotypeand genotype mutually modify under domestication. Housing conditions matter andmind. Such domestication informs the conscious and the unconscious, instincts,genetics, motives, believes, behaviour and anatomy. In this way, domestication affectsorganisms as existing entities at their very ontological level and essence of being,beyond ideology.Domestication forces evolutionary change. Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace,[15] andPatrick Matthew[16] challenged creationism—the belief that God created and sustainsthe world—and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck‟s theory of use and disuse (known asLamarckism or Lamarckian inheritance)[17] and spoke of evolution by natural selection. Darwin and Wallace argued that change in organisms occur as they adapt to theirenvironments. Gregor Mendel‟s gene theory completed the synthesis, whichamalgamates the notions of the common descent, the origin of novel traits in a lineage,
  3. 3. and the mechanisms that cause some traits to persist while others to perish.[18] Thesynthesis mainly refers to reproduction with modification. Ultimately, the individualorganism and the environment of organisms mutually modify. Domestication andtaming collaborate to condition and cause modification, taming as human action,domestication as the action of the house. Domestication continues to act as adeterminant evolutionary force.Thirdly, the house functions as epitome or prototype of constructions. Domesticationrefers to the influence of the built environment—in the broad sense—includingmonuments, bridges, roads, dams, satellites, space stations, in general, settlements. By fulfilling similar functions and standing with similar structures, the built environmentreplicates the influence of the house. The built environment at large extends andperpetuates the condition of the house.Fourthly, the built environment domesticates the human. Peter Wilson contrastssedentary and nomadic ethnographies and argues that humans became domesticatedin small Neolithic towns. He names the small town life: domesticated human life. Domesticated society relies to a great extent on the house as both a dominant cultural symbol and a central relaying point and context for social organization and activity.[19]Wilson considers the villager domesticated, but nomad and urban humans as notdomesticated. However, humans continue rooted in the small Neolithic town and arestill influenced by the built environment. For instance, to own a house may be thegreatest quest throughout the entire life of an average modern human. The humanremains a domesticated species, hence should be understood as Homo domesticus.Fifthly, domestication denotes the condition of the built environment, whether organismsare inside or outside it. Without bringing it “into,” as Livingston suggests, the builtenvironment initiates the process of domesticating organisms directly, being inside oroutside, and not just with a derived impression from human agency.Most traditions, deeming constructions as inert things—since their comparativelyapparent stillness and motionless feature—regard buildings as lifeless andunderestimate their lively and surreal influence, disregarding their organic livingproperties. Buildings are made up of micro-living organisms, living cells, livingcompounds. Buildings use air and oxygen, and breathe, as each one of their cells do. They follow living patterns of emergence, development, and decay. Constructions areborn, grow up, fall in ruins, and die. They transfer energy and expand, and process anddispose waste. Once it comes into being, whether actually or potentially, the living builtenvironment influences organisms on its own—actively and by means of reference—with a life of its own.Buildings shield and care. They surround, nurture and shape. They connect anddivide. Above its apparent benefits, the built environment not only transforms the social
  4. 4. and ecological environments topographically, it crams, consumes and pollutes. Buildings require attention and maintenance for living standard. Once conceived andcoming into being, the built environment takes its own personality and presses its owncondition beyond human enterprise. It actively transforms its larger environment oforganisms. No doubt, humans initially built shelters for protection from the elements,not necessarily wanting to hide from the firmament at night. But high-rise buildingsblock the sunshine permanently. Diverse organisms linger underneath constructionsdeprived from the sun, the wind and the rain. They interfere, even conceal humansfrom the stars and the sky. The built environment prevents natural scents andpanoramas from reaching the human.Human birth rates increased with domestication, as well.[20] Also, of course, humansdo not want to augment death rates during so-called natural disasters by collapsingconstructions. Buildings split kith and kin, and disturb habitats, forcing many more likeconditions upon domestic living creatures. The built environment has inspired thecreation of domestic human conglomerates, institutions, traditions and cultures. Andthe most influential built environment of all may be the city.Sixthly, architecture lies at the heart of the building enterprise and culture. Hahncontends, logocentrism is to philosophy (search for truth) like arché (origin, self-consciousness, and homogeneity, the limits of rationality) is to tecture.[21] Architecturalforms, John Hendrix explains, present epistemological structures, scientific andphilosophical beliefs, and artistic theories—the core of cultural expression and context. They shift as cultural contexts shift and express emphasis through individualpsychologies and subjective experiences. Architecture manifests the domesticatedorder. Wild may refer to disorder and chaos in the domestic society. Thusphantasmagoric or fantastic forms, fragmentations and deformations enact the chaotic. Psychasthenia, the inability to resolve knowingly irrational uncertainties and neuroses, would then result from the loss of the self-identification of the subject as a particular point in space in distinction from its surroundings…the evocation of chaos and disorder in the unconscious…and the wild and unbounded in a revolt against the tyranny of the material world and reason, and the metaphysical extremes of the sublime and grotesque.[22]Beyond ideology, architecture buries the individual and establishes order, maintainingdisorder or the wild in check. For Hendrix, architecture as nurtured by forms distorts. Forms incant (alter and heighten emotion), repeating and disorienting to createsensation instead of reflecting and reaffirming rational signifying structures. Innersensations combine with rhythmical measure to create mystical and incantatoryenvironments, suggesting unordinary knowledge. Negating the subject makes rationalknowledge impossible. Forms—obscuring rather than illuminating—entrap architecture,informing, better, misinforming human knowledge. It is plain human arrogance topretend that humans control and drive the influence of the built environment.Finally, domestication started in a nomadic context and was formally established via
  5. 5. sedentary living. Ruth Tringham points toward stating it indicating that “humansthemselves become domesticated through learning to live with each other in confinedspaces (architecture).” The Neolithic is a time when people began to settle down and construct and live in dwellings, which would last not only throughout the year but also for many years, perhaps many generations... change that archaeologists call „sedentism...‟[23]Tringham‟s helpful approach, however, deserves qualification. “Sedentism” does notcorrespond to domestication, but to settling. More distinctively, architecture denotesbuilt or framed rather than “confined” space. Resembling traditional accounts,Tringham‟s view implies two conditions for human domestication, namely, humanagency by “learning to live with each other” and “in confined spaces (architecture).” Butprevious to the emergence of built shelters, humans settled and learned to inhabit, witheach other, confined spaces—caves—and that did not make them domesticated.Nomadic tribes became domesticated as built shelters emerged, first temporarily (whilecontinuing nomadic lifestyles), then permanently (becoming sedentary). The firsthuman centers of population were unsettled or transitory nomadic conglomerates in thePalaeolithic. They evolved into long-lasting settlements in the Neolithic. Moredistinctively than transiting from unsettled to settled societies, in terms of domestication,humans were retrieving from natural environments to inhabit built environments.While domestication emerged among nomads, the condition of buildings wasestablished firmly among settled peoples. Nevertheless, judging by the degree oftoday‟s built environment, domestication now conditions sedentary and nomadicpeoples alike. The built environment stapled its indelible mark on earth. Domesticationis very recent but powerfully threatening. Greatly contributing to mass extinction andunprecedented suffering via weaponry, pollution and global warming, the city embodiesthe leading domestic intervention on society and ecology.In summary, some 200,000 years ago, the single surviving anatomically hominidspecies—the modern human—appeared in Africa and Asia, evolving some 30,000years ago in the Near East into Homo domesticus. Modern humans continue to adaptto the built environment in phenotypic and genotypic terms. They mutate, consciouslyexpending energy and resources responding to the demands of constructions, whetherconceiving, designing, building, maintaining, demolishing, rebuilding, and adjusting tothem, and unconsciously, getting along with them.Because human life—including imagination—is domesticated, in fact, since humanshave become so dependent and addicted to domestication, the very human existencewould be in peril without the built environment, something truly unimaginable only a fewcenturies ago.In conclusion, the Palaeolithic-Neolithic transition refers distinctively to the emergence
  6. 6. of the build environment—in the broad sense—the age of domestication, the conditionof housing. Since modern humans continue to live under the condition of thearchitectural built environment, the human species should be considered Homodomesticus. The reach of the built environment shaping the human and the way of lifeon earth seems disturbingly challenging, rendering domestication an unavoidable issuewhen addressing social and ecological concerns.[1] Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (Princeton UniversityPress, 1947).[2] Harvey Weiss, ed., The Origins of Cities in Dry-farming Syria and Mesopotamia inthe Third Millennium B.C. (Guilford, Conn.: Four Quarters Pub. Co., 1986).[3] Pam J. Crabtree and Kathleen Ryan, eds., Animal Use and Culture Change(Philadelphia: MASCA, The University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,University of Pennsylvania, 1991).[4] David R. Harris, “Domesticatory Relationships of People, Plants and Animals” inRedefining Nature: Ecology, Culture and Domestication, eds. Roy Ellen and KatsuyoshiFukui (Oxford: Berg, 1996), 454.[5] Jared Mason Diamond is, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies(New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).[6] John A. Livingston, Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication(Toronto: Key Porter Books Limited, 1994), 15.[7] C. E. Ayres, “Instinct and Capacity --II: Homo Domesticus,” in Journal of Philosophy18, no.1 (1921): 600-6.[8] Ivan P. Pavlov, Conditioned Reflexes (London: Routledge and Kegan, 1927).[9] Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince, and Other Writings (New York, InternationalPublishers, 1968).[10] Karl Marx, Capital; A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, [1st German ed.1867], Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, trans. from 3rd ed., Frederick Engels, ed., S.Sonnenschein, 1889.[11] Robert Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects: The Contributions of Egyptian andGreek Architectural Technologies to the Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany: StateUniversity of New York Press, 2001).[12] Sigmund Freud, The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis (Berlin: S. Karger,
  7. 7. 1910).[13] John Watson, Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (New York: H.Holt, 1914).[14] Wen Zhu and Stephen Freeland, “The Standard Genetic Code Enhances AdaptiveEvolution of Proteins,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 239, no. 1 (7 March 2006): 63-70.[15] Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, On the Tendency of Varieties [to DepartIndefinitely From the Original Type] and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Speciesby Natural Means of Selection [communicated by Sir Charles Lyell and J. D. Hooker;read July 1st 1858] (London: Linnean Society of London, 1858).[16] Patrick Matthew, On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (Edinburgh, A. Black;Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, London, 1831).[17] Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de Lamarck, Philosophie Zoologique, ou,Exposition des Considérations Relative à LHistoire Naturelle des Animaux (Paris: ChezDentu [et] L‟Auteur, 1809).[18] Gregor Johann Mendel, Versuche Uber Pflanzenhybriden [Experiments inHybridisation] (Westminster: Royal Horticultural Society, 1901).[19] Peter J. Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species (New Haven andLondon: Yale University Press, 1988), 4.[20] Weiss, Ibid.[21] Hahn, Ibid.[22] John Hendrix, Architectural Forms and Philosophical Structure (New York: PeterLang, 2003), 174.[23] Ruth Tringham, Unit Title: Life in the Neolithic 1 - Living in Houses (N.A.), [online],available: http://www.mactia.berkeley.edu/aop/modules/Neo1_module_web.htm [2005,December 18].