Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Animal Theory, Going Feral in 2012

Since the late 1970s, scholarship in the field of human and nonhuman animal relations--a development of animal, environmental, and social liberation movements--has significantly developed, testing the limits of the humanism and liberalism that gave birth to it. In the 1980s and 90s, philosophers, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, feminists, socialists, and literary theorists have contributed to this academic and cultural project. Research in human and non-human animal relations has particularly come into vogue in the last decade. This new literature developed out of increasing interdisciplinary as well a younger generation with more radical political ambitions, those who were dissatisfied with the presuppositions and/or simplicity of earlier theory.

Below are a few lists of books published between 2010 and 2012 that I would love to read by the end of the year; books such as Zoopolis which re-conceptualizes interspecies ethics as interspecies justice, Critical Theory and Animal Liberation which organizes the most sophisticated collection of critical animal studies theory to date, Creaturely Poetics which articulates a movement in animal ethics away from reason and power toward vulnerability, and Social Lives with Other Animals which investigates the social formation of species identity within the particular intersections of oppression. Animalkind, Beyond Animal Rights, and Animal Ethics in Context further challenge the traditional and universal morality espoused by animal advocates for more nuanced considerations that are far from self-certain. And if these books aren't tricky enough, the first philosophy book entirely dedicated to the moral considerability of plants, Plants as Persons, is bound to give the zoocentrist a run for her money.

Tim Tyler's book CIFERAE and Dominic Pittman's Human Error, and Boddice's Anthropocentrism add further complexity to our understanding of our humanity and the hegemony of anthropocentrism while Pat Shippman and Hal Herzog explore the myths of human-animal relationships with the latest empirical research in anthropology and psychology. Then there is Meat, Animals and Public Health, and Animals as Biotechnology which offer meditations on the relationship between our treatment of animals and the intersections of human, animal, and ecological health. Last but not least, I'm majorly anticipating Kari Weil's Thinking Animals, which seems like it will provide the greatest synthesis of human-animal studies yet published.

If you are interested in contributing a book summary and review to be posted on this blog, please send me an email or comment below.

Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Sue Donaldson, Will Kymlicka, 2012)
Zoopolis offers a new agenda for the theory and practice of animal rights. Most animal rights theory focuses on the intrinsic capacities or interests of animals, and the moral status and moral rights that these intrinsic characteristics give rise to. Zoopolis shifts the debate from the realm of moral theory and applied ethics to the realm of political theory, focusing on the relational obligations that arise from the varied ways that animals relate to human societies and institutions. Building on recent developments in the political theory of group-differentiated citizenship, Zoopolis introduces us to the genuine "political animal". It argues that different types of animals stand in different relationships to human political communities. Domesticated animals should be seen as full members of human-animal mixed communities, participating in the cooperative project of shared citizenship. Wilderness animals, by contrast, form their own sovereign communities entitled to protection against colonization, invasion, domination and other threats to self-determination. `Liminal' animals who are wild but live in the midst of human settlement (such as crows or raccoons) should be seen as "denizens", resident of our societies, but not fully included in rights and responsibilities of citizenship. To all of these animals we owe respect for their basic inviolable rights. But we inevitably and appropriately have very different relations with them, with different types of obligations. Humans and animals are inextricably bound in a complex web of relationships, and Zoopolis offers an original and profoundly affirmative vision of how to ground this complex web of relations on principles of justice and compassion.

Critical Theory and Animal Liberation (John Sabonmatsu, 2011)
Critical Theory and Animal Liberation is the first collection to approach our relationship with other animals from the critical or 'left' tradition in political and social thought. Breaking with past treatments that have framed the problem as one of 'animal rights,' the authors instead depict the exploitation and killing of other animals as a political question of the first order. The contributions highlight connections between our everyday treatment of animals and other forms of social power, mass violence, and domination, from capitalism and patriarchy to genocide, fascism, and ecocide. Contributors include well-known writers in the field as well as scholars in other areas writing on animals for the first time. Among other things, the authors apply Freud's theory of repression to our relationship to the animal, debunk the 'Locavore' movement, expose the sexism of the animal defense movement, and point the way toward a new transformative politics that would encompass the human and animal alike.

Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (Anat Pick, 2011)
Simone Weil once wrote that “the vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence,” establishing a relationship between vulnerability, beauty, and existence transcending the separation of species. Her conception of a radical ethics and aesthetics could be characterized as a new poetics of species, forcing a rethinking of the body’s significance, both human and animal. Exploring the “logic of flesh” and the use of the body to mark species identity, Anat Pick reimagines a poetics that begins with the vulnerability of bodies, not the omnipotence of thought. Pick proposes a “creaturely” approach based on the shared embodiedness of humans and animals and a postsecular perspective on human-animal relations. She turns to literature, film, and other cultural texts, challenging the familiar inventory of the human: consciousness, language, morality, and dignity. Reintroducing Weil’s elaboration of such themes as witnessing, commemoration, and collective memory, Pick identifies the animal within all humans, emphasizing the corporeal and its issues of power and freedom. In her poetics of the creaturely, powerlessness is the point at which aesthetic and ethical thinking must begin.

Social Lives with Animals: Tales of Sex, Death and Love (Erika Cudworth 2011)
The conventional trilogy of social domination, of class, 'race' and gender has been challenged by new concerns around other distinctions – of place and location, age and generation, sexuality and forms of embodied difference. Despite these important developments, sociology has mostly stopped short at the difference of species. Erika Cudworth draws on various traditions of critical theorizing in sociology and animal studies in arguing that the social is not exclusively human and that species should be understood as a complex system of social domination which is co-constituted with intra-human social dominations. This understanding of species as a social system of relations is exemplified through three case studies: the eating of animals as food, the rearing of animals in industrial agriculture and the keeping of animals as companions. These sites reveal ways in which relations of species domination shape the lives both of humans, and of domesticated animals. Social Lives with Other Animals is a critical sociology of species which takes us beyond theories of speciesism or anthropocentricity and presents a necessary challenge to the power relations in the social formations of species.

Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals (Jean Kazez, 2010)
By exploring the ethical differences between humans and animals, Animalkind establishes a middle ground between egalitarianism and outright dismissal of animal rights. A thought-provoking foray into our complex and contradictory relationship with animals. Advocates that we owe each animal due respect. Offers readers a sensible alternative to extremism by speaking of respect and compassion for animals, not rights. Balances philosophical analysis with intriguing facts and engaging tales

Beyond Animal Rights: Food, Pets, and Ethics (Tony Milligan, 2010)
Issues to do with animal ethics remain at the heart of public debate. In "Beyond Animal Rights," Tony Milligan goes beyond standard discussions of animal ethics to explore the ways in which we personally relate to other creatures through our diet, as pet owners and as beneficiaries of experimentation. The book connects with our duty to act and considers why previous discussions have failed to result in a change in the way that we live our lives. The author asks a crucial question: what sort of people do we have to become if we are to sufficiently improve the ways in which we relate to the non-human? Appealing to both consequences and character, he argues that no improvement will be sufficient if it fails to set humans on a path towards a tolerable and sustainable future. Focusing on our direct relations to the animals we connect with the book offers guidance on all the relevant issues, including veganism and vegetarianism, the organic movement, pet ownership, and animal experimentation

Animal Ethics in Context (Clare Palmer, 2011)
It is widely agreed that because animals feel pain we should not make them suffer gratuitously. Some ethical theories go even further: because of the capacities that they possess, animals have the right not to be harmed or killed. These views concern what not to do to animals, but we also face questions about when we should, and should not, assist animals that are hungry or distressed. Should we feed a starving stray kitten? And if so, does this commit us, if we are to be consistent, to feeding wild animals during a hard winter? In this controversial book, Clare Palmer advances a theory that claims, with respect to assisting animals, that what is owed to one is not necessarily owed to all, even if animals share similar psychological capacities. Context, history, and relation can be critical ethical factors. If animals live independently in the wild, their fate is not any of our moral business. Yet if humans create dependent animals, or destroy their habitats, we may have a responsibility to assist them. Such arguments are familiar in human casesùwe think that parents have special obligations to their children, for example, or that some groups owe reparations to others. Palmer develops such relational concerns in- the context of wild animals, domesticated animals, and urban scavengers, arguing that different contexts can create different moral relationships.