A Wolf at the Gate: The Anti-Carnivore Alliance and the Symbolic Construction of Community



Controversies over the return of large carnivores (e.g. wolves) are often interpreted as clashes between rural traditionalism and urban modernity. Rural communities, however, have never been culturally monolithic, and modernization increases their diversity. However, the popular image is one of rural communities united against vermin and urban romantics. An important reason for this is probably the successful construction of the anti-carnivore front as a last line of defence against destructive forces threatening rural life. Drawing on examples from a study in Østerdalen, Norway, the struggle against wolf protection is discussed as an instance of symbolic construction of community. Images of a threatened community are vital to the self-understanding of the wolf adversaries, but cleavages run through the alliance. Three principal groups may be identified: sheep farmers, landowners who lease hunting, and people with strong ties to traditional land use practices (primarily hunting) and a rural working-class culture. These groups have not always been allies, and conflicts of interest run through the ‘resistance front’. The task here is to identify the social forces that now bring them together, and to explain why the carnivore issue is well suited as a significant component in their symbolic construction of community.