Nikki Baker 

Chapter Two – The History of Fox Hunting and the Civilisation Process.

There are various texts available surrounding this topic, although many of them concentrate on either the history, or the more current editions focus on the cruelty it creates for the animal being pursued or the implementation of a ban, but literature surrounding the reasons why people participate in such a controversial sport is scarce.
The historical area of this subject is difficult to piece together, but various work by Dunning and Rojek can help to understand why it became such a popular pastime.  For three hundred years foxes have been hunted in Britain, and aspects of hunting has changed on numerous occasions.  Fox hunting ‘was, in fact, one of the earliest activities to which the term ‘sport’ in its modern sense became attached’ (Dunning 1999:60) [see references here]. It was a popular sport, and although it was always considered to be violent, the participation in such an activity was considered to be highly exciting. Fox hunting, although violent, ‘was considered to be the most ‘courtly’ form of hunting’ (Stokvis 1992:123).  It is believed that this form of hunting was adopted in England from the French during the reign of James I at the beginning of the seventeenth century, however it has been reported that as deer had become rare during the sixteenth century, foxes, along with other animals became the obvious alternative quarries.

During the early years, fox hunting in Britain was participated in by the aristocracy and upper class, and the reasons for taking part were very different to some of those suggested in modern times.  Nevertheless they are still vital to understand many present day reasons. Many publications also suggest that the most enjoyable part of the foxhunt is also different to that of today, and this has changed more than once over the years too.  In Sport and Leisure In the Civilising Process by Dunning and Rojek, it is claimed that ‘the pleasure and excitement were aroused during the time the hounds were chasing the fox…’(Stokvis 1992:122) although it had been perceived in earlier years that the actual kill was the climax of the activity.  This change in how pleasure is gained from this activity was considered to demonstrate the start of a civilising spurt in society in England.  Fox hunting, compared to other early forms of hunting (which were almost war like) had become and still is much more civilised.  However, reasons for this change were not obvious. 

Norbert Elias developed a popular theory to help to understand this change in society.   His work, A Quest For Excitement (1986) revolves particularly around the theory of civilisation process and also takes a figurational sociological approach.  ‘According to Norbert Elias, the initial development of modern sport…took place fundamentally in eighteenth century England in conjunction with the ‘parliamentarisation of political conflict’’. (Dunning 1992:268).  Norbert Elias claims that this process called ‘parliamentarisation’ influenced society as a whole producing a ‘more civilised ruling class…which developed less violent ways of behaving in both political and leisure spheres’ (Dunning 1992:268).  Civilisation is considered to be a process of development, in this case changing from less violent forms of hunting and reasons for hunting to a more civilised kill, with the enjoyment resulting from the chase.  A major part of this civilising process, which is central to this figurational approach to leisure, has existed in a consistent decline of people obtaining pleasure from engaging in and following violent acts.  This civilising process has not therefore ceased to exist or continue in society.  It helps to explain why a large number of people do not engage in activities that involve physical violence, and its continuation into today’s society, although not recognised by everyone, is probably a large reason for the increase of anti-hunt protesters, (although the number of participants in hunting has continued to increase).  Perhaps this development of a more civilised ruling class participating in this activity has led to the overall judgement that fox hunting is primarily engaged in by the upper classes?  This is a very strong possibility, but it was also believed that rugby was a sport participated in by upper classes, and this does not display very civilised behaviour.  This particular participant profile has changed considerably, although those who do not take part still perceive it to be something done by those in the upper classes of society.  

Jarvie and Maguire have also done a lot of work on the figurational approach of sociology, focusing particularly on the work conducted by Elias and Dunning in A Quest for Excitement.  They attempt to explain how figurational sociologists look at the world, explaining, ‘they focus attention on structured processes that occur over time and space.  Emphasis is placed on probing how the present has emerged out of the past’ (Jarvie and Maguire 1994:132).  People can be born into figurations and the interdependence that exists within them can constrain and enable the actions of the individual.  It is stressed by Jarvie and Maguire that just because an individual belongs to a particular figuration, it does not mean that over time this figuration can change and develop, and therefore the people within it change too (this could also relate to the civilisation process).  This can easily be linked to those who are associated with fox hunting (or within the figurational structure of fox hunting).  Over the years fox hunting has altered on many occasions.  One example of how the behaviour within this figuration has changed is found in how the pleasure in fox hunting is gained.  Originally the kill would be the source of excitement, but this changed as the rules of English fox hunting altered.  English fox hunting became a more specialist pastime, with the term ‘sport’ being applied more frequently.  It was considered more organised than its foreign counterparts, and the gentleman followers’ behaviour was transformed.  They strictly refrained from pursuing and killing any other animals, which were observed during the hunt.  It had developed and changed so much that ‘the pleasure derived from doing [killing] had been transformed into the pleasure of seeing it done’ (Elias 1986:162).  Not only does this demonstrate the development of behaviour within this figuration, but it could also be used to highlight the civilising spurt previously suggested.  The figurational approach of sociology can be used to explicate a number of changes in society, and it certainly provides a good justification of why the behaviours within the fox hunting community have changed.