Breaking the Cycle

Many of my artsy friends are surprised to learn that for years, I studied the social practice of dogfighting. When I was in grad school at Emory, I spent years doing ethnographic research with "dogmen," as gamedog enthusiasts are known, and their dogs and families in the rural South. I learned that a significant number of dogmen were war veterans or had sustained childhood abuse, but my research focused instead on the workings of gender, race and class in that world, and the strange dynamics of the interspecies relationships.

I didn't recognize that my interest in dogfighting had to do with trauma until talking it over with a trusted friend. She pointed out that I had studied various subcultures for very specific reasons. At first, I replied "Well, that's just what anthropologists and cultural studies folks do." Thank Dog for community and dialogue, because my fragmentation had prevented me from recognizing my own motivations. My disciplinary training had obscured the heart of the matter.

I had to get into the trenches with violence in order to try to make sense of it. Throughout this "mesearch," I was continually ripping open my own sutures, and in the tenderest places since I spent years working in animal rescue, and dog love has always been a huge part of my life. Things got even more bizarre when I tried to make a difference by going to work at a high kill shelter. That's the thing about trauma: it breeds in dark places.

Being immersed in worlds so widely divergent as academia, dogfighting, and shelter work left me in culture shock. I could not find a holistic or humane framework to make sense of my complex experiences. Instead I attempted to leave the whole mess of it behind me, but it came out anyway, through art. And so it is. 

Posted on October 15, 2015 .