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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2013

Cowboy masculinities in human-animal relations on a cattle ranch

Petitt, Andrea


The cowboy has come to be a symbol of the ultimate masculine, and his image is often used to describe the archetype of heterosexual macho masculinity. Nevertheless, this paper shows that contemporary cowboys on a working cattle ranch in western Canada display and value alternative cowboy masculinities characterised by responsibility, calmness, technical finesse, and sensitivity. This paper problematises human-animal relations between cowboys, horses and cows that meet on a daily basis on a working cattle ranch. The focus is on how masculinities play a part in the interaction between cowboy and horse/cow in everyday life on the ranch and how animals are used to construct or display different masculinities. Participant observation among a cowboy crew, as well as interviews, were used to collect empirical data for the study. Drawing on posthumanist understandings of embodied experience, non-binary human-animal relations and multiple masculinities, this paper underlines an expansion of non-binary analytical frameworks. The paper concludes that while the same species can offer a range of relations leading to the possibility of displaying different masculinities, different categories of animals are instrumental in different ways in the construction of alternative and additional masculinities among the cowboys.


masculinity; human-animal; cowboy: gender

Published in

2013, volume: 20, number: 1, pages: 67-82

Authors' information

Petitt, Andrea
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

UKÄ Subject classification

Gender Studies
Other Agricultural Sciences not elsewhere specified

URI (permanent link to this page)