The argument of whether recreational hunting is justified in the modern era is a controversial issue, with pros and cons being espoused by both sides of the argument. Through applying a sociological theory that looks to analyse the interaction and relationship between the environment and the people who inhabit it, it will be argued that the position one takes on hunting is a reflection of their ecological habitus on the macro-level and the desire to satisfy emotional needs on the individual level. By first outlining the historical context of hunting within in New Zealand, as well as defining the basic concepts of ecological habitus, it will be demonstrated that hunting attitudes are influenced by identification with a national ‘kiwi’ identity, one’s environmental location and type of capital possessed. Furthermore, it will be shown that those who choose to hunt can be categorised into three general groups, with all displaying similar underlying themes. In applying the theoretical ideas of ecological habitus and feminist psychoanalytical theory, a more complex understanding is gained on the various external and internal influences that direct people’s behaviours and belief systems around hunting. Relational processes between people and their environments, alongside repressed emotional states, are also shown to play an integral part in the decision to hunt.
When New Zealand was settled by migrants in the nineteenth-century, there was a lack of mammals to hunt and live upon (Brooking, 2002, p.172). As the country became more colonised the settlers started to introduce various species, such as fish, poultry, and large game to allow a form of subsistence hunting to emerge. With the acclimatisation of the introduced species into New Zealand’s ecosystem at an accelerated rate, the definition began to change for animals, such as possums, rabbits, and deer, going from game animals to that of pests. The consequence of this was twofold: Namely, the distinction between foreign and native species was emphasised and state legislation was enacted to manage these foreign animals, particularly ones that threatened native species, as well as flora and fauna (Holden, 2009, p.1).
The significance of this historical period was that public perception on the value of certain species changed and hunting went from being primarily a subsistence activity, to that of a promoted recreational and environmental one. For example, animals such as deer went from being a nutritious hunting prospect to a pest that “negatively impact[s] New Zealand’s native forests” (“Deer: Animal pests,” 2012). With the increase of urbanisation and a concurrent specialisation in hunting practices, the need to hunt for one’s food gradually declined, and the practice of hunting now reflects a preference in lifestyle, rather than a necessity (Brooking, 2002, p. 171-173). In essence, the socioecological habitat had changed in New Zealand and this had brought about different attitudes and practices in relation to hunting.
According to Kasper (2009, p. 321), applying the concept of ecological habitus helps to place attention towards the relational processes between people and the places they inhabit, how they identify themselves in relation to this habitat, and their behaviours towards their environmental setting. This process is in the form of a “durable, yet changeable” set of environmental attitudes and active decisions, whether made on a conscious or unconscious level, which are shaped, and shape one’s perceptions towards socioecological matters (Kasper, 2009, p. 316-317). Applying the concept of ecological habitus is a useful way of envisaging how ecologically relevant conditions affect individuals’ socioecological choices, particular in the case of their actions, or practices, towards environmental issues such as hunting.
The theoretical underpinnings of ecological habitus are formed on Bourdieu’s principles of habitus, field, and capital, which look to explain identity formation in people (Power, 1999). Habitus is described as the subconscious process, originating throughout the early years of life, whereby individuals acquire identity, character, and personality. The key influence in establishing a habitus is the existing social system that an individual is born into. Fields are used to reflect the multidimensional spaces that individuals occupy within a society, including the various power relations in that society (Harker et al, 1990, pp. 1-8). The position of an individual in a field will affect their outlook on life, certain behaviours and actions. For instance, the way in which two different groups, such as farmers and hunters, interact with each other, is relative to the fields that they inhabit. The position one takes in a field plays a large part in determining their outlook on their surroundings.
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- Lee Hooper (Author), 2011, Rethinking Recreational Hunting in New Zealand, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/233135