What Makes Nordic Hunters Tick? Outlining the Challenges Facing the Contemporary Nordic Hunting Ethic

Last changed: 16 September 2020

In this 2-year postdoctoral research project, Erica von Essen explored the do’s and don’ts and taboos that exist on wildlife harvesting and killing among modern Swedish hunters. The findings were corroborated by equivalent studies on Danish, Norwegian and Finnish hunters. This to meet the principal aim of the research project, which was to identify a common Nordic hunting ethic.

Nordic Hunters often pride themselves on their high standards of wildlife ethics and code of ‘jägarmässighet’. This is sometimes contrasted with southern European trophy hunting styles. But Nordic ethics are also undergoing change in modernity as new developments impact hunting.

This research project sought to map the grammar of wildlife hunting ethics in part to identify the main forces that challenge, destabilize or change the norms. This included looking at the impact on wildlife ethics of some of the following external processes that now shape contemporary hunting:

  1. New game species, including invasive and ‘pest’ species without an established hunting tradition
  2. The commodification of hunting, including the turn toward canned hunts and the impact of increasing lease prices on the experience of hunting
  3. The demographic transition of the hunting community, whereby urban citizens and women hunters increasingly enter the ‘old man’s league’ that has characterized Nordic hunters up until now and bring in new ways of hunting and relating to wildlife
  4. New technological advancements, including high-tech ‘gear’ hunting that may both reduce the fair chase aspect to hunting but also ensure swifter, safer kills.

The project was firmly situated in the Environmental Communication field because it treated wildlife ethics not as a matter of personal morality, but as the result of communicative processes in society. Previous research had regarded hunting ethics as a private affair and has thus dismissed it as unresearachable and situational/personal, and not as part of a logical system of informal norms. This research contested this and seeked to map this system. It also operated with the premise that hunting, and in particular, wildlife ethics need to be put to debate in the hunting community in new communicative spaces. This is so in part for pragmatic reasons of Nordic hunters projecting unity and ethical integrity before the greater public, so that they may continue to enjoy hunting in a popular climate that increasingly questions the pastime. It is also needed as an internal exercise to meet the challenges of modernity and the impacts they have on ethics.

Within this, taboos, do’s and don’t’s, superstitions and conceptions of fair chase are very much features also of contemporary western hunting communities, and they need to be brought to an open discussion. Some taboos may need to be more strongly embraced; means of social control to enforce norms need to be made explicit and discussed, and certain old customs or historical ways of relating to wildlife may been to be revisited in modernity in light of the aforementioned new developments.

The research was interview based. It drew on institutional theory of norm change to explain the existence and change of hunting norms, wildlife ethics (and within it, philosophies like ecocentrism, biocentrism, ecofeminism and more) and political theory. The project was an inductive outcome of a previous research project pursued by the principal researcher: on illegal hunting. This interview study revealed an ethics dimension that was underacknowledged in its complexity, internal tensions and future direction.

The research relied on collaboration from the two Swedish hunting associations, with whom close ties are developed: the Nordic hunting associates (Denmark and Norway) and the supranational organisations for hunting including FACE and Nordic Hunters Alliance. Academic collaborative partners for this project were Michael P. Allen at East Tennessee State University and Christian Gamborg at Copenhagen University.

The principal researcher was also a member of:

Anthropology of Hunting & Conservation Network

European Network for Environmental Ethics

Hunting Party, 1761 by John Wootton
Edward Coleman, Hunting still life
Carstian Luyckx, Fowl Attacked by a Fox

Publications and manuscripts associated with this project

von Essen, E. 2017. "Slob Hunting and Emerging Taboos among Contemporary Swedish Hunters". Journal of Environmental Values [submitted]

Peterson, M., Peterson, M.N., Peterson, T.R. von Essen, E. 2017. Environmental Ethics. Chapter In Silvy, N (ed). The Wildlife Techniques Manual. vol. 8. Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore [forthcoming]

von Essen, E. Hansen, H.P. 2017. "Hunting in Modernity: The Impact of Sport Hunting on Food Procurement Ethics." In Kaplan, D (ed). Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics 2nd edition. [forthcoming]

von Essen, E., Hansen, H.P. 2017. ”Policing Peers between law and morality: A socio-legal perspective on managing misconduct in hunting. International Journal of Rural Criminology [forthcoming]

von Essen, E., and Allen, M.P. 2016. “A Rabble in the Zoopolis? Considering Responsibilities for Wildlife Hybrids”. Journal of Social Philosophy 42 (2): 171-187

von Essen, E., and Allen, M.P. 2016. “The Republican Zoopolis: Towards a New Legitimation Framework for Relational Animal Ethics.” Ethics and the Environment. 21 (1): 61-88 

von Essen, E. Allen, M. 2016. ”Wild-But-Not-Too-Wild Animals: Challenging Goldilocks Standards in Rewilding”. Between the Species, 19(1) 80-108

Allen, M. von Essen, E. 2016. "Neo-Republicanism as a Route to Animal Non-Domination. Politics and Animals: 15-24

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