Bringing Hunters to the Table: Avoiding Radicalization Through Debate
In any kind of contentious public debate, having (or making) space for various stakeholders to be heard is an important part of the political process. Without having a space at the table, different groups may feel disenfranchised and consider acting outside the normal process to be their only course of action.
This article from the Journal Of Rural Studies looks at one particular instance of this very dynamic, by examining illegal hunting in Nordic countries. Specifically, the study looks at how European conservation policy in the 2000s has led to a set of “counterpublics” in Nordic countries – groups of rural people who have felt excluded from the conversation, and have turned to illegal hunting as a means of resistance. The article notes that this process of radicalization, when considered from the perspective of the state, is generally seen as a threat: when stakeholders walk away from the table (or are never included in the first place) it can unsettle political stability.
The problem with this is that “these processes [of radicalization], however, are poorly understood. The question at hand, therefore, is what characterises the radicalisation trajectory of law-abiding hunters to illegal hunters on a societal level.” They found that, for hunters in Sweden and Finland in particular, the arc included three points: first was the rise of an environmentalist ethos, that is, an increase in concern for environmental issues on a public and policy level; secondly, the “‘Europeanisation’ of rural space,” or a kind of flattening of the differences in different parts of the EU with a more homogenized kind of policy making; and thirdly, as these two other things were happening, there was an overall “crisis of legitimacy” of the public sphere, as people (it should be noted, both urban and rural) questioned and lost faith in the ability for political processes to affect meaningful change.
If the arc seems rather straightforward, the process does not end there. As the radicalized hunters have abandoned any hope for “being heard,” there has been increasing public support for them. The researchers note this means that “outright defiance, or ‘message crimes,’ may become more common in the future.” They also state that “most studies within conservation criminology have dismissed illegal hunters as deviants, criminals and extremists,” which may not only be inaccurate, but serve to radicalize them further. “They should situate the phenomenon within the changing ideological contours of society that label them so,” they say, though they caution “against abandoning the use of radicalisation in the case of hunters, as this risks romanticising increasingly violent and illegal behaviour.”
Of course, for animal advocates, including the voices of hunters in the debate about hunting is at best an annoyance, and at worse, undermines the goals they are actively striving towards. However, hunting is an issue where a “radicalized counterpublic” that is not included in the debate can easily break away from political structures and engage in illegal activity that may harm more animals through poaching than would happen through a tightly regulated practice. This case study of radicalized and entrenched illegal hunters may be worth animal advocates considering, as most of us would not like hunting to be driven underground where it may be completely uncontrolled, and uncontrollable.