A tale of multi-species encounterings in mid-Victorian London: Controversies surrounding the Smithfield Livestock Market

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In 1855, as a result of decades of controversy, the Smithfield Livestock Market was relocated from the historic center of London to Islington in north London. Taking on board post-humanist critiques of anthropocentricism, this study reexamines the controversy surrounding the removal of Smithfield Market with a multi-species attentiveness and places the experience and entanglements of various animal groups center-stage. It argues that the relocation of the market stemmed from the multi-species nature of the Smithfield system, just as its solution pivoted upon multi-species considerations. By focusing on the actual encounterings between humans and other animals, such as between cattle, sheep, dogs, drovers, butchers, local residents, horses, etc., at each stage of the operation of the livestock supply system, it demonstrates first how these relations constituted the system as well as the experience of the animals within it. It next examines the factors that impacted on the material-semiotic workings of the system and led to the eventual re-assemblage of the market in Islington, including the actions of interest groups, the agency of nonhuman animals, as well as the discourses on free trade, public health, meat quality, urban planning, and cruelty to animals. This study does not see the removal and re-assemblage of the market as an outright attempt to “exclude” nonhuman animals from the metropolis, thereby ignoring their interests, as some studies suggest. Instead, it regards the removal controversy as a serious attempt on the part of Victorians to learn to cope with multi-species co-existence and respond to the needs of different human and nonhuman groups as they saw fit. It is hoped that this retelling of the story of the Smithfield removal may revitalize the complex historical reality of multi-species entanglements that people once lived in and confronted, and serve as a vital resource for enlarging our capacity to live in the times of multi-species urgency in the Anthropocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-129
Number of pages24
JournalChinese Studies in History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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