Locating Sentience: Human-animal Discourse of Soiot Herder-hunters and Buriat Lamas

Alexander Oehler

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review


This paper draws on ethnographic and archival data concerning human-animal relations in southern Siberia, collected between 2012-2014, and covering a period of roughly two centuries (ca.1814-2014). Working in the context of indigenous Soiot herder-hunters of the Eastern Saian Mountains on the Siberian-Mongolian border, the author examines local perceptions of other-than-human animals under the influence of Buddhist and later Socialist colonial projects. Plasticity in local notions of animal sentience is of particular interest in this context. To draw out lived perceptions of these relations, the paper calls on ethnographic observation and historic accounts of interactions with wild and domestic animals (e.g. yak, wolves, dogs, and reindeer). The paper concludes that, while many present-day Soiot herder-hunters continue to adhere to beliefs passed on to them by their elders,'traditional' understandings must be seen in the context of cosmological syncretism and extensive cultural overlap in the region. Human-animal practices (from hunting to herding) are thus found to be affected by situational moralities with roots in shamanic, buddhist and socialist atheist perspectives. As such, the paper offers a view on perceptions of sentience and meat consumption in the 21st century and how these are interlinked with rivalling ideologies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2015
EventCreatures & the Ethics of Consumption SSCE Postgraduate Conference - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 16 Mar 201517 Mar 2015


ConferenceCreatures & the Ethics of Consumption SSCE Postgraduate Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Animal sentience
  • shamanism
  • Buddhism
  • Soiots
  • Southern Siberia
  • religious syncretism


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