Hamster numbers: Biopolitics and animal agency in the Dutch fields, circa 1870-present

Raf De Bont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Numbers of European hamsters (Cricetus cricetus) in the Dutch Province of Limburg have been subject to much scrutiny and controversy. In the late nineteenth century, policymakers who considered them too numerous (and invasive) set up eradication programs. In the second half of the twentieth century, even when its domestic relative (Mesocricetus auratus) increasingly circulated as a pet in urban spaces, the numbers of European hamsters in the rural areas collapsed. Large-scale preservation campaigns and reintroduction programs ensued. According to some media, all this has turned the European hamster into the most expensive undomesticated animal of the Netherlands. A whole network of institutions became involved to save the species - ranging from local activist organizations, over zoos and universities, to federal ministries and international organizations. The interactions between the Dutch and 'their' hamsters, this article argues, were inscribed in various forms of biopolitics. The article highlights the changing discursive framings and spatial practices that have shaped the management of Cricetus cricetus over time and calls attention to the diversity of living and non-living agents that produced the multispecies choreographies of the present-day Limburg landscape. Finally, it alerts us to the (sometimes-paradoxical) kinds of agency that reside in the numbers of non-human animals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
Number of pages25
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021



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