Lynda Birke, Tora Holmberg, and Kirilly Thompson
Stories of Animal Passports: Tracing Disease, Movements, and Identities
The passport chooses to tell its story about you. Is that story one of your own making? Can it ever be? (Kumar ix)
... no place is produced by a singular vision of how it is or might be. In short, places are co-constituted in processes of overlapping and entangled ‘storying’ in which different participants may have very different ideas about where we have come from and where we are going. (van Dooren & Rose 2)
Like us, some kinds of animals require passports to enable coming and going across national borders. Passports tell all kinds of multispecies stories, in which humans and nonhumans are entangled in myriad ways. But what is the meaning of passports — human or nonhuman? What kind of symbolic, legal, material, relational identity and not least control and disciplinary work do they “do”? One of the authors (LB) pondered these questions at Calais docks, in France, while regarding the six passports on the her lap — two for each species, human, dog, horse. To re-enter the U.K required scrutiny of these documents to ensure all were bona fide residents of that country. But while all three species had passports, defining some sort of identities and belonging, there are important differences. So, we might ask: what role do passports play, not only in producing identities, but also in relation to human-animal relationships across times, places and national borders? Whilst the stories told by human passports have been considered (e.g., Kumar; Lloyd), what stories do animal passports tell?
Before entering the docks, officials demand sight of human passports; faces must turn to the window so that photographs can be matched. A different scenario involves dog passports: forms must be filled in, vaccination details and microchip barcode read and checked. The horses’ passports are checked before departure, but seldom on return. By contrast, their exit from the UK requires Export Licenses, and — for passage to some countries — health papers signed by a vet. Different species, different documents, different meanings, yet ostensibly similar purposes - to identify individuals and permit passage.1
Arguably, passports serve a deep symbolic and transformational function. As anthropologists have shown, transitions across important boundaries require rituals or processes, to reduce risks of danger and to conserve cultural order (Douglas). Liminal cases such as grey zones are potentially harmful, and thus rituals are important ways of framing the transition as magical rather than dangerous, sacred rather than profane.
Crossing national borders is one such potentially harmful event due to its culturally messy state; not yet leaving the old country behind, not yet belonging to the new country. Being “in between,” the individual is personally vulnerable and potentially dangerous to others. Thus, passport screening at national borders can be viewed and interpreted as a transformative ritual, functioning to uphold the cultural order and mitigate risk. What is at stake in this in-between state is belonging: will the person/dog/horse be judged as meeting criteria permitting them to enter or re-enter a country? Will they be transformed from someone seeking passage to a country, to someone approved to enter?
This is evident at Calais docks: despite being on French soil, and despite the putative integration of countries within the European Union, passengers must pass through U.K border control even before checking in with the ferry company. This is a liminal zone (Turner; Van Gennep), an area of land between nations, a non-place (Augé). Not only are legitimate passengers policed: vehicles too are checked for (human) illegal immigrants — that is, those without passports or permission to enter.2
Passports clearly serve purposes of individual and national identification, and enable travel — for (some) nonhuman animals or ourselves. They create one definition of belonging, while implicitly defining non-belonging — those who lack passports. They enable journeys, liberating people from their usual surrounds, but they also incur surveillance, and their absence disqualifies people from unhindered travel. They thus tell stories, not only of how identity is differentiated, but also of mobility and social control. In relation to animal passports, these stories further embed nonhuman animals within human-animal nexuses of ownership.
In this discussion paper, we use an EU case study to consider first what role passports serve, and then analyze their function in various forms of surveillance — around disease and global bio-security, around mobility/travel, and around identities. That is, we are interested in highly controlled animal movements.3 Finally, we consider some issues raised about technologies of identification, and what these say about identity and belonging, particularly with respect to human-animal relationships. In particular, we ask what do these documents contribute to human-animal engagements?
What is a passport? Human passports generally serve as documents of national identity, as well as their role in travel; in the UK, they have been issued by the State since at least the 16th century, identifying not only individuals but also sovereignty — as subjects of the head of state.4 Initially, passports were a protection, an introduction; later, they also became a means of controlling populations — not only those wishing to enter or leave, but also those who are “resident aliens,” who are not full citizens but have permission to remain in the country (Lloyd).5
To take the example of British passports: these bear the royal coat of arms on the front red cover and state that “in the name of Her Majesty,” the passport “requests and requires” that the bearer be permitted “to pass freely, without let or hindrance” (see Figure One). This wording thus underlines the bearer’s status, as belonging to a particular nation, and also as subject of a sovereign, in “whose name” free transit is requested. The color matters, too: harmonizing passport color within the EU took years of debate (Anon.). So, the outer appearance of the human passport signifies specific citizenship of a particular country, as well as the location of that country within broader affiliations (such as the EU).
Figure One: a passport for human citizens of the United Kingdom
The animals’ passports make no reference to status as citizens/subjects, nor requests for free passage. Like human equivalents, they identify individuals, but also sex and age, and place of birth if known. Unlike humans, they also identify species or breed. Horse passports indicate species on the front cover, while for dogs and cats, the cover states only “Pet Passport” (see figure 2a). In our example, the dogs’ passports state species/breed on the second page (“crossbreed,” for instance), while, significantly, ownership details appear on the first page.
These documents are produced in the UK, but depend on European agreements about pet animal movement (the “PETS scheme,” covering dogs, cats and ferrets — species most at risk for carrying rabies). They thus do not appear to be specific to Britain, although British policies of rabies control require them for these species on return to the UK. While human passports might occasionally be required for identification within the country of domicile, they are not usually needed for dogs unless they leave and re-enter the country.
British horse passports are more diverse, because they are required for domestic as well as international travel, and are issued by several organizations (breed societies, associations for specific equestrian disciplines, or international equestrian sport: see Figures 2 b and c). Outer covers of equine passports do not, however, necessarily indicate specific countries, and there is no harmonization of appearance. Requirements for these passports is less about permitting free passage of animals as about policing human ownership, as well as more bureaucratic monitoring of disease and drug administration (eg. if the horse might end up as human food). Since demands to view the passport at roadsides may occur in connection with checks on the transport vehicle, the passport also indirectly enables the policing of drivers and vehicles.6
Figure Two: (a) is a dog/cat passport; (b) is a horse passport issued by the British Horse Society; (c) is an international horse passport, issued by the international equestrian federation (F.E.I).
Formally, passports are intended for two purposes. They serve as means of identification, helping to define belonging or not-belonging (inclusion and exclusion); they also facilitate control — of movements, and of disease. As already noted, checking horse passports is partly about identifying individual animals, but also about checking the validity of documents and their record of preventative health measures (eg vaccinations). Importantly, it also serves to verify the animal’s ownership and establishes criteria of “responsible” ownership (those who maintain schedules of inoculations), thereby also categorizing humans.
Although human travel has long required passports, animal passports for travel are more recent, reflecting changes not only in human-animal relationships but also in how animals are expected to move. Although horse passports, for example, as means of identity and ownership were used in some countries in the early twentieth century,7 horses had long been kept primarily as themselves means of transport. In that context, identifying individual animals/owners was possibly less important and horses themselves were not required to have identities checked: as means of transport, horses were depersonalized and therefore interchangeable.
That view changed, partly because of the rise of motorized transport, but also because of changing attitudes towards animals in general. Horses, particularly, are increasingly seen as partners in equestrian leisure (Birke, Hockenhull & Creighton), performance (Thompson “Binaries“; Thompson, “Theorising“), and competition (Thompson and Birke) pursuits. In these contexts, horses are often moved about as much as they themselves move. And as animals became subject to such movements over time, so they became increasingly vulnerable to restrictions and bureaucracy — notably around disease surveillance.
So, what is a passport? Something that allows and records movements; establishes and verifies identities and immediately records who can and who can’t, who is and who isn’t. In relation to animal passports, it is not only animal movements and identities that are being formalized, recorded and traced; it is also the human-animal relation that is under surveillance; a virtual portable panopticon to promote compliant behavior from docile bodies (Foucault). In the following sections, we consider the animal passport's role of surveillance in tracing disease, movements and identities.
Surveillance: Tracing disease. While it is difficult to control zoonotic diseases spread by wild animal movements, governments often seek to restrict movements of animals to control disease spread (for example, rabies control in the UK or Australia). Indeed, this is one reason why agricultural animals are individually identified, through movement records and eartags, ear cuttings, brands and so forth. In the UK at least, farmers must maintain detailed documentation, not only of individuals, but also of all animal movements (from farm to farm, or to market, or to another country). In cases of serious epidemics, these records can be quickly mobilized and animal movements curtailed — as was the case during the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the U.K in the early 2000s (Law). Tracking British cattle movements via passports is mandatory, and is seen as providing assurance to consumers regarding the provenance of meat supplies.8
Animal passports thus enable the tracking, and potential control of, disease. For dogs and cats under the EU PETS scheme, the primary issue is rabies. Some European countries and Australia are believed to be rabies-free, and tightly control animal movements into them, while others (e.g., in South America) have more or less eradicated the disease through aggressive vaccination programs. The UK has long restricted importation of small pets from other countries for this reason. Until recently, dogs or cats were required to go into quarantine for 6 months on entry. Since 2001, however, the PETS scheme has permitted movement of pets between EU member states, provided certain conditions are met. These are that: the animal is microchipped, then given rabies vaccination, then serologically tested for rabies antibodies,9 then given a Pet Passport — and the order here matters.10
Horse passports, too, have partly to do with disease control, particularly equine influenza.11 However, horses’ ambivalent status, between pets and agricultural animals (Thompson, “Theorising“), has different implications. Horses treated with drugs not permitted in meat-producing animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. If “owners” want their animals to receive particular medicines they may be required to sign the passport to indicate that the animal will never enter the human food chain.12 A case in point is the 2013 horsemeat scandal across Europe where horsemeat was found in otherwise labeled meat products. Besides issues of consumer trust, the focus of much media reportage was the issue of whether or not phenylbutazone (“bute“) had entered the human food chain.
These narratives of disease management not only enable tracing of disease, they also reinforce and record/reify/materialise discourses of “proper responsibility.” The responsible owner (introduced above) is one who ensures that the animal is properly vaccinated (and will be penalized if not), while responsible institutions are those which implement the regulations. In turn, this gives rise to a moral discourse of superiority — as was evident in the Australian horse community’s outrage over the 2007 equine influenza outbreak that was blamed on poor biosecurity procedures in quarantine (Davis).
The story of movements told in animal passports is, furthermore, narrated through mechanisms of disease surveillance.13 Outside of transport for slaughter, most horses for instance are moved for competition, owner relocation, or sale, typically involving veterinary checks, and stamping of, passports — as was the case with the horses in our story. So, tales of movements for these animals are framed within multiple narratives of competition/ human ambition (specific locations stamped into the passport; see Figure Three for relevant page of passport for the jumping horse, Tripoli) as well as narratives of disease control. Our passports, however, do not usually convey health status, and will not be stamped for these journeys — for we are usually travelling with animals within the EU, where borders can now be crossed quite easily.
Figure Three: horse journeys — identification of the horse, Tripoli, at different international competitions. The vet will sign and stamp the right hand side only if the horse appears sound and is up to date with vaccinations. That is, to travel, the passport must be authorized, but only by a person authorized to do so — a qualified veterinarian.
Travelling with our companion animals, then, is a story of control, reflecting a history of changing relationships with animals. To travel between nations requires us all to be firmly embedded in socio-technical networks of traffic management, of roads, seaways and airports — as well as vehicle inspections, disease control regulations, and veterinary inspections and licenses. Travelling together means negotiating and being responsible for all of these; but above all, it requires systems of identification and monitoring. Passports may permit movement, but they also control it.
Surveillance: tracing movements. Animals, including humans, are creatures that are expected to move. To move, to animate, is perhaps ultimately what defines our shared animality. Many species migrate between different places, in order to feed or breed, for example, though they seldom care about national and other borders. Thus, particular bird species like Barnacle Geese can be characterized as both Swedish and Dutch, in that they spend time in both these human-defined territories. Migration may be limited by geographical boundaries — although human activities can obviously overcome this for opportunists such as brown rats who migrated between land masses aboard ships.
Whatever animals’ motivation, their ability to move themselves is not usually subject to passport controls: rather, it is migrations of animals-with-humans which are policed through passport systems and across borders. Here, however, natural barriers can be overcome, through motorized transport (see Figures Four and Five). Physical locomotion is unnecessary, rather we are taken from point to point by means of other vehicles (cars, trucks, planes, boats). In our example, dogs, horses, and humans all travelled in a lorry, in turn briefly contained within a ferry.14 The vehicles brought us together within a small space, in turn moving us between other spaces, along routes defined by road and seaways, and enabling us to move rapidly. They also facilitate large-scale movements of animals around the world.
Figure Four: Travel with animals across borders: the pet exercise area at Calais docks (photo courtesy of Linda Liebrand)
Figure Five: Travel with animals across borders: competition horse (Frank) in lorry awaiting to board ferry at Dover docks.
Many animal species are moved by humans for economic reasons, since they are “caught up in the globalised networks of production and consumption, which materially and discursively circulate them and their body parts as currency, capital or commodities” (Bull 23). Thus, animal mobility becomes part of capitalist logic: animals are transported from country to country for various (human) reasons. And, where once these animals would move at least part of the way on their own four feet (sheep “driven” from Welsh hills to London markets, for example), now most animal journeys require motorized transport. This, in turn, facilitates much longer journeys — with unintended consequences for animal well-being and safety.
Documentation may be necessary, but it can also be tampered with — a significant problem in relation to long-distance transport of animals to slaughter. Seen as commodities having little commercial value, many may be transported enormous distances alive, but with little care for their welfare, especially if doing so is cheaper than operating refrigerated meat transporters or where the live delivery of animals facilitates culturally prescribed means of killing. Although Europe has strict regulations, they are regularly and often flouted.15 Moreover, fatigue, risk, and safety management protocols for drivers may conflict with animals’ health and welfare needs. Both may clash with the geography of particular trips, especially where there may be no appropriate areas for drivers or animals to rest at recommended time and distance intervals.
Particularly valuable animals are, by contrast, likely to be closely scrutinised, and to travel with better protection (although travelling long distances still carries health and environmental costs, however much padding is provided). Racehorses may travel for a particularly lucrative race, for example, or because of other regulatory requirements. Furthermore, prohibitions on artificial insemination by particular breed registries such as Thoroughbreds, or the Pura Raza Española, mean that stallions, not their semen, must be flown across the globe and then mares transported to them upon their arrival- reflecting human demands for breed “purity,” identification, and control of potential disease.
There are of course other objectives of animal mobilities. People themselves migrate and bring their companion animals with them. Rebekah Fox and Katie Walsh discuss migrants between the UK and Dubai, and how people either bring pets along as part of creating a new home and sense of belonging, or abandon them along the way. For these animals to travel, identification is essential. Most will be forced to travel in small cages, in aircraft holds, well away from their familiar human companions, so adding to journey stress.16 Here, it is not so much economic incentives driving need for passports as human attitudes toward animals as family members and their preparedness to subject their animals to the conditions of travel.
In our examples, human activities necessitate and guide the travelling. The movement of humans and other animals can be regarded as a matter of “trans-species politics“ (Holmberg, “Trans-species“). While a feral dog may cross with impunity the arbitrary line we call a national border, once a dog accompanies (and is accompanied by) people, s/he needs identification, a means of location within specific human-animal relationships. To complicate things a bit, abandoned animals like cats and dogs, but also sometimes horses, can go into circles of homelessness stretching beyond national borders (Holmberg, “Wherever“). One of the authors (TH) has herself “adopted” three dogs from Ireland and flown them to Sweden, a transition requiring passports and associated interventions (vaccination, chipping, and veterinary examination). This can be seen as an example of animal trafficking with colonial connotations — dogs often come from the south and are rescued to the north. Haraway talks of this transnational rescue scheme in the US context, where dogs are often taken from the Caribbean or Latin America (which is ironic considering how many homeless and abandoned “native” dogs are killed in the US every year).
Domestic animals are — as they have always been — thus embedded in global networks of movements and controls, in which individual lives must be accounted for, identities and movements traced. These are not journeys of animals moving of their own volition, but of being transported for human purposes. Such journeys produce new forms of mobility, in which animals are unwittingly enmeshed. At the same time, they offer unprecedented opportunities for surveillance.
Passports thus both permit and control movements for humans and nonhumans alike. Those without passports cannot readily move across the specific zone demarcated by what we call a national frontier. Wild animals may do so, but what passports define is who can or cannot be moved in association with human activities, as part of a human-animal relationship (whether that be as pet, valuable commodity, or potential food). Crucial to that definition is individual identification.
Surveillance: tracing identities. Whatever our personal sense of identity, passports distinguish us by physical appearance. For humans, dogs and horses alike, they specify size, age and gender. Regardless of their similarity, they differ in how this differentiation is achieved. For humans, a photograph is essential, and newer passports also use facial recognition technology.17 Dogs, by contrast, require microchips as primary mode of identification; passport photos are optional. The microchip contains a unique number, which can be picked up by a transducer. Horses, on the other hand, are still often identified via a diagram, a two-dimensional silhouette, accompanied by standardized descriptions to support it (see Figure Six). Microchips are now mandatory for young horses, but are not yet universal. In time, microchips might replace fire or freeze branding of horses — more painful process of identifying breed or ownership.
Figure Six: identification diagrams for a horse passport: a veterinarian must identify specific marks on the horse (whorls in the fur, white marks) and indicate these on the diagrams.
Whilst microchips, like any technology, may be subject to tampering, failure, or removal, such embodied and reproducible technologies of identification reveal changing stories and new ways of telling them. Prior to photography, human passports needed to indicate descriptive details — sometimes in unflattering terms. One French 18th century passport, for example, described the bearer as having a “nose like a duck,” and a spot on the cheek (Lloyd 66). But the advent of photographs, and more recent recognition technologies, have reduced the need for lengthy description — perhaps to the relief of many travellers! They also enable precise identification and tracking of individuals, in ways that narrative descriptions cannot, but which are somehow less personal.
Recognizing faces visually is crucial for human social engagement, and for our sense of who we are. Obtaining a passport means familiarity with photographs, and how these purport to capture a visual image. We identify ourselves using the passport, yet many of us fail (or refuse!) to identify ourselves in the photograph they contain. That stern image, mandatory for passport photos, does not seem to relate to our sense of self; even so, there is some resemblance, something recognizable to either the immigration offical or the new technological scanners, or even to ourselves. While “nose like a duck” could perhaps apply to many travellers, modern passports are intended to provide sole verification, that we are who they say we are. They are at the very least props to our performance as traveler.
Microchips provide precise verification of identity — though by contrast these presumably do not relate at all to who the animal perceives him/her-self to be. Microchips do not convey visual characteristics of the animal, let alone characteristics more likely to be salient for other species, such as signature smells. Rather, microchips identify animals as numbers, which can be cross-checked with passports or breed societies (and some animals may have multiple numbers allocated by different organizations). Microchips thus convey homogeneity (one numerical code amongst others) at the same time as specificity (it is this particular animal/breed) along with anonymity (becoming a number, rather as animals are in laboratories).
Horse passports are hybrid documents, still relying substantially on visual imagery. Here, however, diagrams rather than photography suffice. The diagrams are standardized line drawings, which must be filled in by an identifying vet when the passport is first issued or when the horse is purchased. What matters here are height, location of whorls in the animal’s coat, or of patches of white on darker colours (on the head, for instance). These are the primary visual identifiers: not surprisingly, they are ambiguous, and easily forged (both in the document and on the horse’s body).
If breeding is known, these details also appear alongside the diagrams. Horses of specific breeds may also have a brand, usually on their shoulders and hindquarters but also on their necks (standardbred horses in Australia), lips (some Arabian horses), or hindquarters (Hanoverian horses). These practices, together with local, regional, or national traditions of horse presentation, identify them as breed-specific (so traceable in stud books). In the case of standardbreds, they can “pigeon hole a horse“ and conflict with “change of career“ pathways, especially in the direction of the show ring where a neck brand is considered unattractive. Equine passports have space for breeding lineage (patrilineal and matrilineal); names of parents, grandparents, great grandparents, are listed if known, providing potential for further identification. “Pedigrees” matter in identification of horses (Ritvo; Russell).
Beyond individual identity, passports also tell stories of nationality. To obtain a passport, humans need to show that they were either born in the relevant country, or have a right to be there (as a permanent right to remain, or through citizenship). Passports thus convey a kind of belonging, to a nation or a wider institution (for example, bearing a UK passport indicates that the person is classified as British, but it also indicates the inclusion of the UK within the European Community). Passports also, therefore, help to define not-belonging — those who have entered the country illegally, without proper passports.
Animal passports similarly identify nationality, at least in terms of where the animal resides. But animal movements further complicate this. To say “this is a British horse” is a statement about where the animal lives, who the ”owner” is, and who issued the passport — not about rights to domicile. We might also say that Tripoli is a ”Belgian-bred” horse (although he is a British horse as identified by the passport — because the ”owner,” LB, is British) defined as belonging to a breed called Belgian warmbloods, indicated by his brand and number. Tripoli may or may not have been foaled in Belgium, but has been registered with the Belgian warmblood studbook. If, at some point in his/her life, such a horse had ended up in France, or Ireland, s/he might have a passport issued by those countries. This passport might then be incorporated into a ”British” passport identifying the animal, so that the passport becomes multi-layered — nationalities within nationalities — in ways that human passports generally are not.18
Nationality, as a form of belonging, is always a messy business. What makes it particularly complicated for nonhuman animals and their passports is patterns of ownership and movement through trade. ”Belonging” to specific nations is, for nonhumans, traced through patterns of human ownership, and where owners reside, rather than something intrinsic to the animal.19 Indeed, we might say that passports — and the systems of surveillance in which they are embedded — further entrench nonhuman animals as commodities.
Discussion. In many ways, animal passports are bizarre. Like human passports, they offer identification and facilitate ”free passage” across borders, yet simultaneously deny such passage, in that the individual will not be permitted to move across the border of his/her own free will — and, for animals, usually only with the permission of the ”owner.” We want here to explore some implications, drawing out three themes. These are: similarities/dissimarilities, particularly in relation to technologies of identification; questions of identities, nationalities, and ”belonging”; and finally, the question — what are the implications in terms of the human-animal relationship?
a. Similarities and dissimilarities. Clearly human and animal passports are similar, notably in the work they do in regulating movements and serving as means of identification. We noted above the significance of passports within systems of surveillance — of disease control, of movement, of identifying individuals. This is, of course, identification by others, most notably those whose job it is to police the boundaries of the state and its laws. For each of our three species, that requires different personnel, and different networks. Immigration officials, employed by the state, check human passports. Veterinarians check equine passports, although not usually at the border (commonly done prior to departure, or at a competition). Dog passports and microchips are checked by staff employed by the transporting company (e.g the ferry company). There is a lot of passport-checking going on at the docks, either with the passport holder or its human representative.
Although modes of individual identification differ — photography versus diagrammatic representations, for example — identification of all species increasingly relies on biometric technologies, from barcodes to facial recognition. Just as human passports carry a specific number, which links to other personal information held elsewhere (e.g.the Passport Office), so do animals’ barcodes provide a unique identifier connecting in turn to databases yielding further information (details of the animal, and owner’s name and address). And just as animals may have multiple identifiers (microchip number, breed society number, international registration), so too do humans — unique numbers for bank accounts, employment and other sundry purposes.
Biometric technologies in turn require scanners/detectors as well as software for decoding. Such systems, suggest Dodge and Kitchin in their analysis of biometric identification, “seek to render people machine-readable, and ... enforce the infallible linkages of individuals to their records in information systems” (872). In turn, people are further embedded in a “machine-readable world in which all entities are assigned identification codes which can be ‘read‘ and acted on by software independent of human control. They work to eliminate the messy, subjective realities of everyday life, ordering and objectifying people, striving to make them consistently addressable by software” (ibid., 878). So too with animals — barcodes and registration numbers render them, too, trackable by the software with which they have become incorporated. The effect is that people and animals become increasingly enmeshed within and dependent upon technological networks to validate their movements, health status, and identities.
Animals — indeed, all forms of life — are now subject to digitization: DNA barcoding is now frequently extolled as a way of mapping biodiversity (see Ellis et al.). For companion animals, like humans, this means becoming locked into systems of monitoring, which enable populations to be tracked through space and time.20 Surveillance society developed and became routine during the twentieth century, promoting new forms of visibility and new ways of managing risk (Lyon ”Editorial”; Lyon, Surveillance). For animals, microchip barcodes are the means whereby they too can be tracked and made visible, part of these proliferating digital networks.
Both passports and animals are thus actors within wider networks of socio-technical associations. While networks may differ between species, passports serve similar roles of mediation. In that sense, horse, dog, and human passports are all alike: each links the individual within nexuses of governmental (and international) regulations. Latour’s sociology of associations is relevant here: looking at networks of actors, bound together by translations, captures what happens when various non-human actors such as the microchip, the passport, the visa, the border — as well as travelling animals — flow together in order to enable, or produce, a smooth transition from one place to another. Actors, according to Latour, are “anything that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference” (Modern 71). And in the borderlands, passports make all the difference.
A passport, in this approach, becomes on the one hand an “obligatory passage point“ (Callon) — a central actor that all action must relate to — or, a mediator, an actor that translates an action from one part of the network to another, thus producing meaning around patterns of migration, and revealing the ”ontological politics” (Law & Mol, ”Situating”) of transnational, transspecies border crossings. Without a passport (and all the accoutrements, relations, processes and networks that it entails), human and animal cannot be transformed from national, to passage-seeker, to approved visitor — and back again. It is precisely in this role of mediator that the passport both enables mobility and simultaneously constrains it, as we are all similarly forced into spaces and queues required by systems of passport control and identification.
b. Identity, nationality and belonging.
“What do dogs want most? They want to belong, and they want each other” [Elizabeth Marshall Thomas 111]
“Belonging“ can have several meanings, and includes the dimension of place as well as social relations: belonging to a nation, a city, a family or a soccer club, and being Swedish, from Uppsala, of the Holmberg family and a fan of Gävle IF, go hand in hand. But it is not so simple. Processes of inclusion and exclusion produce both our sense of belonging — the subjective dimension — and the conditions for belonging. We might think of animals similarly as ”belonging” in terms of place and social relations to a particular breed or species (kind), to a specific ”nation” (as identified in international passports), to an ”owner” (kin as specified within a passport or other documentation). Animals — especially companion species — may in turn facilitate our own ”belonging” to a place, or social group; we might identify ourselves, for instance, through animal-related subcultures (such as dog training, specific equestrian pursuits, or approaches to the same pursuit). Perhaps animal passport-holders do not share our understanding of belonging to abstract categories such as nation-states or breeds. They might, on the other hand, have some understanding of species (as similar to themselves), of place or of shared social worlds — as Thomas recognizes in the quotation above (also see Van Dooren and Rose for discussion of urban animals and their contribution to social worlds, and processes of meaning-making through action).
Whatever social worlds passports embed us in, they ostensibly identify us individually. But this may bear little relationship to our senses of belonging and identity. ”Identity” — who we claim to be but also who we are perceived by others to be — is something created in relation to others through social interaction, meaningful exchange of symbols; words, body language and the like. While this is often seen in anthropocentric terms, human/animal relations are also implicated in the production of identity. Studies of dogs and their people (Sanders; Irvine) have shown how they continuously exchange non-verbal symbols, producing shared interpretations and meanings. This working relation is not simply dominance; over and over, dogs guide people in how to behave through cross-species communication and interaction. Identities of both human and dog are continually made and remade within the relationship (Higgin; Irvine).
Moreover, others also view human-animal ”couples” through the lens of cross-species identity. Thus, if a dog behaves badly, this reflects on the human partner (Sanders, 1999). Women who house many cats are often regarded as crazy cat ladies. But the femininity performed is colored by the imagined nature of cats, their felinity, creating a kind of ”feline femininity” (Holmberg, forthcoming). However, this is not just a matter of species identity, but an inter-personal process. Departing from his own transgender process and relationship with his pit-bull terrier, Harlan Weaver notes that both gender and social interpretations of breed affects how others view him,21 and how he experiences his relationship with the dog. Weaver conceptualizes this identity process a ”becoming-in-kind” (forthcoming).
We cannot know how dogs, or any other companion animal, understand their own identities, but we can know something about how they engage with us, and (perhaps) about how they perceive the mutual relationship. Our relationships with many species are historically and culturally contingent, as Haraway has emphasized, in her influential Companion Species Manifesto. Yet at the same time, they (and we) experience these relationships within nexuses of human institutional control. Here, it is not so much dynamic identities which matter, but ones which are fixed in space, object and time.
Where do passports fit into these interwoven identities of humans-with-nonhumans, of ”becoming-in-kind?” However much we may write about interspecies socialities, these are not manifest in individual identification promised by the passport. The fluidity and affect of our relationships with each other are lost, constrained. Through such documentation; the emotional connection with our animal kin is erased.
At the same time as performing a particular kind of ”harmless” traveler, at the moment moment of policing through passport controls, our identities and relationships become irrelevant, reduced to alphanumeric codes. In this moment, relationships between companion animals and humans are lost in translation. There is no becoming-in-kind as our shared passports are routinely checked at the docks by various personnel, but a process of monitoring that returns all of us to our separate species. In that sense, the surveillance, a product of modernity (Lyon, ”Surveillance”), further reinforces human/animal separation. Like Weaver, we experience our animal relationships differently through the transactions embedded in using passports. Whatever our sense of belonging with each other (we think of companion animals as kin, for example), that becomes reduced to a much more mundane sense of belonging and negotiating boundaries, which posit our animal friends as our property.
c. Documenting human-animal relationships. Passports, then, reinscribe human-animal relationships within patterns of ownership, and nexuses of control. These work through connections inscribed directly or indirectly in the animal passports, between ”owner,” veterinarian, vaccine manufacturers, state institutions, and transport companies. There are, as Haraway argued, multiple and complex levels of human-animal relatings — as passports illustrate, and as they comprise. Just as human passports represent multiple histories — of colonialism, of immigration, of diaspora, as well as ideas of nation (see Kumar) — so too do animal passports bear histories of myriad animal-human linkages.
In this paper, we have referred to how passports enable surveillance, particularly in relation to disease spread and to movements. That is, they facilitate the control of individuals and their relations, especially across borders. Traversing boundaries is hazardous; they are liminal zones, quite literally ”no-man’s land.”22 Cultural order must be preserved, and the risk of pollution contained. This pollution might be disease (as in the case of animal passports) or the danger of illegal immigration, in the human case. Passports, in Douglas’ terms, serve to symbolize this process of surveillance, a way of maintaining boundaries even while permitting their crossing.
They also symbolize our enmeshment within global networks. Discussing barcoding technology, Dodge and Kitchin note that “identification codes are key components of governmentality and capitalism....[they] now provide a means of uniquely addressing all the entities and processes that make up everyday life — people, material objects, information, transactions, and territories. Moreover, they provide a means of linking these entities and processes together in complex ways to form dense rhizomic assemblages of power/knowledge” (851)
Domesticated animals, too, are part of these assemblages, caught up with us in means of monitoring, which offer further traceabilities (specific locations of individual animals, tracked through GPS, for instance). While we may all be caught up together, however, for animals these changes further entrench their ever-increasing commodification (see also Cudworth; Twine). In that sense, identification documents come to symbolize the status of animals as commodities that can be exchanged only with the permission of the passport and the approval of its state-endorsed associations.
Yet passports also arguably enable other versions of animals’ stories to emerge. While passports for some species, such as cattle, codify them entirely in relation to numbers, companion animal passports do attach a name. So, his humans know Tripoli as a chestnut horse who can sometimes be rather grumpy, who likes his personal space, who hates wearing travelling boots, and who loves to roll as soon as he has arrived in a stable; we never recognize him as ”GBR10776” (the identification number on his passport), as he is a much-loved companion in shared lives and travels. His passport pages (e.g., in Figure Three) trace many shared journeys with one of the authors, as well as with a previous ”owner,” telling a specific story of his life enmeshed in human-horse shared worlds.
It is a human-centric story, to be sure, just as narratives of animal-people usually are.23 Nevertheless, what we emphasise here is that passports — and their associated connections — represent specific moments of relatings of interest to human-animal studies. We cannot, of course, readily tell how Tripoli would recount his own travelling tales. Boredom? Standing around too long on the journey? Perhaps an excitement when immigration officials come on board, ostensibly to check the lorry for illegal immigrants, but often apparently more interested in talking to the ”lovely horses” in the back. In his assessment of the journey, no doubt passports are irrelevant, even if his humans fret about their authority.
One story passports tell is about border-crossings — not only in the obvious sense of moving across geographic borders of nations, but also in the sense of who one is. Latour argued that modernity is characterized by a preoccupation with ”purification” — of society from nature and the human from the nonhuman. Yet at the same time (indeed, precisely because of purification), it is a society in which hybridization proliferates (Modern 10-11). Animal passports specify species in ways that reinforce separations — this passport belongs to a horse, that to a dog. In that sense, their existence operates to purify species boundaries, and to maintain the separation of humans from other animals. Yet passports also signify a kind of hybridization, a documentary indication of companion animals’ place in a human-animal social world. It is precisely because they, and we, are both implicated in the production of our social worlds that Donaldson and Kymlicka have argued for thinking about domesticated animals in terms of citizenship. For all that they signify human-animal separation, passports also signify the shared, mobile enmeshment of humans and animals in citizenship as well as social life.
Acknowledgments. The authors wish to thank the editor and a reviewer for their comments and perceptive remarks. We would also like to thank Tripoli for the reproduction of his equine passport.
All referenced websites were last accessed in August-September, 2012.
4. See http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/agencies-public-bodies/ips/passports/timeline/ for history of passports in the UK
5. Even by the sixteenth century, settled immigrants did not have full legal status, unless they applied to become a denizen of the UK — the precursor of the current legal ”leave to remain” (Lloyd 53)
7. http://www.roots-saknes.lv/History/HorsePassport/HorsePassport.htm describes a horse passport issued in Latvia, in the 1930s. The passport was signed not only by each owner, but also by the municipality or police authority, so embedding the animal into further institutional structures.
8. See http://animalhealth.defra.gov.uk/keeping-animals/registering/ cattle.html#passports [see Guidance Notes]
10. The importance of order is also emphasized in Law & Mol, "Veterinary Realities."
11. Horses are required to have equine flu vaccinations to compete under national and international rules. Vaccinations against other diseases are often advised by vets for travel to some countries (e.g., against West Nile virus, in some parts of southern Europe), but are not currently mandatory.
12. According to the British Horse Society, a passport is needed, to “comply with an EU directive that aims to ensure that horses that have been treated with veterinary medicines not authorized for use in food-producing animals cannot be slaughtered for human consumption. If the UK had not complied, we ran the risk of losing 70 percent of horse medicines. UK veterinary authorities have stressed the importance of our compliance with the EU directive for horse welfare in the UK.” From http://www.bhs.org.uk/Horse_Care/Passports/FAQS.aspx. This act of signing an animal out of the food chain is then binding on any future owners.
13. Human passports may, of course, sometimes used to restrict movement in relation to disease control, but this is not common. By contrast, records of prophylactic measures are essential to animal passports.
14. Within the ferry, of course, humans are at liberty to move around, while the associated animals are not: they must remain in the vehicle for short journeys, while dogs/cats may have to be moved to kennels on longer crossings. Ingold notes how passive transportation removes us from the physical sensations of our own locomotion, our engagement with the ground through our feet — perhaps especially for animals incarcerated in vehicles within vehicles.
15. For discussion of welfare and regulatory problems involved in long-distance transport of animals see chapters in Appleby et al., 2008.
16. Although some airlines now permit service animals such as guide dogs to travel in the cabin with their humans: see http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/2005/flying-high-with-pet-passports
17. The efficacy of this is disputed, however. See BBC News, website, 21 October, 2004. “Doubts over passport face scans.”
19. For some international competitions, such as the Olympics, horses and their riders must both “belong“ to the nation they represent. In other words, the horse must be owned by someone of the same nationality as the rider. RSPCA “Animal Life,” Summer, 2012:13.
20. Technologies, of course, can fail — as the UK’s Home Office discovered to its chagrin in 1999, when newly-installed IT systems for passport issue crashed (see Laurie).
21. Public attitudes toward some dog types, such as pit bull terriers, can in turn affect how that human-dog relationship can be permitted to move around — perhaps in terms of requirements to muzzle the dog in public spaces, or such dogs being barred from spaces (taking a dog to a campsite in Normandy, France, in 2012, LB was asked to declare that the dog was not a ‘Category A’ dog — i.e., a dog of specific breeds, such as bull terriers, Rottweilers, etc.
22. A similar zone, belonging to neither one country nor another, is evident in war — as noted by the fictional equine personae in Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, who discuss who they are in relation to these borderlands, and see review by Birke.
23. See examples of such “personal stories“ by horse-“owners“ about their animals, in Birke, Hockenhull and Creighton.
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