Reordering the Natural World: Humans and Animals in the City


252 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8361-7
DDC 304.2'7




Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is Director of Research and Natural Lands at the Royal
Botanical Gardens.


A doctoral candidate in social anthropology at York University, Sabloff
purports to be reporting ethnographic fieldwork on animal–human
relations in Toronto. However, the 46 interviews conducted more than a
decade ago have survived as, at most, anecdotes in an essay that is well
admitted “to be suggestive, not definitive.” The opposition of
nature and city is introduced with a discussion of such aspects as
biophilia, pets, and abuse.

Material in the first section, “Constructing the Natural Order,”
treats the nature–culture divide, systems of classification, and the
alleged shortcomings of sociobiology. As is anthropologically
appropriate, items such as emic concepts, totemism, and interspecific
subjectivity make appearances.

In the second section, “Human–Animal Relations in the City,”
these relations are discussed in different social domains in terms of
kinship metaphors, underlying emotions, processes such as downplaying
the animality of pets, and events such as dog shows. Animal activists
are sympathetically seen as attempting a reordering of relations in
order to remove contradictions. In the third section, “Naming the
Other in Western Culture,” “missing metaphors” are sought from
such sources as deep ecology, ecofeminism, and “the detritus of

It is astonishing to see opinions on anthropological data being
expressed when not a table or chart of hypothesis-testing information
has been presented. References to, and photographs of, animal statuary
in Toronto do not compensate. Superficial flaws include factual errors
(e.g., re Canada geese, pp. 30 and 168), while the linguistically rich
(but cognitively empty?) text is larded with special-usage concepts and
social criticism. The extensive referencing omits some expected items
yet extends to Buber and Rilke. The book bears witness that not all
intellectual voyaging is a contribution to the discipline. Recommended
for readers wishing a tour of the damage of post-modernism in social


Sabloff, Annabelle., “Reordering the Natural World: Humans and Animals in the City,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,