The post-disaster transformation of interspecies dependencies: From talkative buffalo to desemiotized cows on the slope of Mt. Merapi
Keywords:human–non-human animal relations, post-disaster social change, modernization, political ecology, anthropological zoosemiotics, semiotic fitting
This paper suggests how natural disasters may serve as the final propulsion for changes already taking place within a society. While focusing on shifts in human–non-human animal relations, this text also discusses their embedding in broader transformations of human–environment relations and the underlying economic and cultural change. It carves out interspecific dependencies that constitute an agro-ecosystem and follows their demise as the agricultural species are switched to market economic production in a post-disaster context. It thereby suggests that the human-facilitated semiotic fitting of the agricultural species is replaced by human-imposed fitting in which the species composition is largely determined by the market prices. At the same time, the paper draws attention to the cessation and transformation of human–non-human communication as a marker, but also an experiential corollary, of modernization and market economy. As a case study, it focuses on the 2010 Mt. Merapi eruption in Indonesia and its aftermath in the villages on its slope. The study analyses how the shift from using plough buffalo to utilizing market economic cattle farming reflects not just an economic, but also an affective and semiotic change stemming from a shift in the intensity and kind of human–animal relations.