Friday, April 18, 2014

REVIEW: Defining Critical Animal Studies (2/2)

***This is the second half of the review ***
Please see the first half for a discussion of CAS as an alternative form of research and education than HAS and the Posthumanities.

VEGANISM as part of CAS
Veganism (and vegan education) is a critical component of CAS that most explicitly distinguishes CAS from HAS and the Posthumanities, wherein veganism draws sympathy, but, not uncommonly, also rolling eyes. So significant is veganism that Glasser and Roy recommend adding a twelfth principle of CAS to the original ten that (more-or-less) requires those in CAS to practice vegan in order to be accountable to their research subjects: "scholars must not abuse, injure, degrade, exploit, cage, denigrate, or kill humans, nonhuman, animals and the earth."(p. 100)

However, just because CAS appraises veganism does not mean it is (ironically) uncritical of the politics surrounding it. While editors call it a "moral baseline," they acknowledge that structural conditions such as a lack of geographic, financial, and educational access obstruct many people from practicing veganism (p. xx). Along these lines, Grubbs and Loadenthal also raise judgement of mainstream veganism, following Dr. Harper, as a “providence of a moneyed minority who can afford expensive foods in which "sizist, racist, and classist discourse [...] replace ideological critique with green capitalism" (p. 187).

In Chapter 4, Stephanie Jenkins and Vasile Stanescu likewise critique "vegan lifestyle" discourse which complicity operates within the neoliberal framework of privatizing moral problems through markets and placing full moral accountability on individuals rather than institutions and social structures:

Boycott veganism conflates conspicuous consumption with ethical action and political change… limiting activism to an economic boycott undercuts the moral force of veganism by reducing it to an individual lifestyle. (p. 78)
Richard White and Erika Cudworth alternatively conceptualize veganism as a micro-resistance, through French anarchist Elisee Reclus' theory of "microgeographies" which privileges practice in the "here and now" (p. 203). Jenkins and Stanescu call this "engaged veganism":

[E]ngaged veganism refuses complicity with and symbolically disrupts the instrumentalization and hierarchialization of animal life [necessitating] a micro-political revolution at the level of embodied perception, aesthetics, taste, and affective responses (p. 76)

Engaged veganism is thus similar to what I have previously called social veganism (as opposed to diet, lifestyle, boycott, pragmatic, and ethical veganism), an alternative to what I call consumption veganism.

I understand veganism as a social modality, an affiliation and solidarity with others beyond (species) boundaries, in which animal others are regarded as someones, not somethings... Exploiting animals may not terminate conversations absolutely, but enables and is enabled by an emotional [ignorance] to their resistance whenever it becomes inconvenient to using them.
In other words, veganism is an embodied perception of animals as fellow social creatures whom we have an inherent curiosity for and permeating compassion for through our nature as social beings. Veganism is a recognition of something already there, not an additive ideology or identity politics.

Critically, Adam Weitzenfeld and Melanie Joy state that the consumption of nonhuman animal bodies, far from a matter of personal choice, is at the heart of speciesist narratives and institutions:
Of all the ways humans are subject to speciesism, carnism—the unrecognized ideology that legitimates the killability and edibility of animal others—is arguably the deepest, most pervasive and catastrophic in modern Western cultures. Vegan praxis is one means of embodying critical animal theory and challenging the hegemony of speciesist institutions and anthropocentrist ideology that keep the human-animal binary and hierarchy alive. (p. 1-2)
As a result Weitzenfeld and Joy, recommend shedding light on flesh-consumption practices as not "normal, natural, and necessary," but a biased schema (a way of perceiving the world) in order to expose carnistic affects as social and political intuitions. While carnism is based upon post-hoc disavowals of animal subjectivity and personal accountability for the consequences of choices, veganism is "based on empathy, authenticity, reciprocity, justice, and integrity—the principles that underscore true freedom" for nonhumand and human animals (p.25).

Decolonization and CAS
As the above quote implies, Critical Animal Studies is not only committed to animal liberation, but human liberation. CAS scholars argue that one cannot be had without the other for both liberations are obstructed by the violent construction of human identity as "something superior and opposed to animals and animality" (p. 3).

According to Weitzenfeld and Joy, the violence of the human-animal dualism occurs at the level of the body, perception, and state. First, by dividing humans into mind and body, privileging the former over the latter, human beings are alienated not only from themselves (their "animality") but also nurturing relationships to nonhuman animals and the Earth. Second, by classifying all nonhuman animals as "animals," humans have facilitated ignorance of their similarity to and difference from other species, as well as an understanding of nonhumans on their own terms. Finally, humans have reduced animals to mere life to be known through science, managed by the state, and sacrificed for the economy, resulting in not only an animal holocaust, but human holocausts wrought by the very same technologies and exclusionary politics (p. 8).

The violence against human and nonhuman animals in the name of humanity lead Weitzenfeld and Joy to conclude "[H]uman being is not so much a value-neutral biological fact as a violent political fiction" (p. 8):
[T]he concept of what we now call “the human” has been selectively, adaptively, and partially defined according to a particular form of embodiment and culture against others… [reflecting] a particular group of elite men’s perception of themselves in opposition to those they ruled over and classified as their others... [T]he “cult of humanity” function[s] to maintain the market and cultural imperialism of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy through people’s complicity with and celebration of its technological, globalizing “progress.” (pp. 8-9)
Citing Matthew Calarco, they advocate challenging human supremacy (anthropocentrism) as a tactic for all liberation movements as it is “always one version or another of the human that falsely occupies the space of the universal and that functions to exclude [others]… from ethical and political consideration” (p. 10).

In Chapter 2, Amy Fitgerald and David Pellow position CAS as a cutting-edge field of research converging with well-established normative methodologies including multiracial- and eco-feminisms, critical race theory, environmental justice, green criminology, and animal theory. What all these bodies of research have in common are an understanding of what Kimberle Crenshaw calls "intersectionality," a recognition that identities have been historically co-constituted through asymmetric, binary power-relationships.*

Further, these fields also recognize that capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and human supremacy are central organizing principles of (Western) nation states and cultures, and thus liberation for some people is not achievable without the liberation of all.
The power and role of the state in classifying and producing racial, gender, and humanist categories for centuries… The state has managed, included, excluded, homogenized, and controlled humans and nonhuman natures for the benefit of a small elite. (p. 37)
Fitzgerald and Pellow thus argue that the metaphor that racist policies that disadvantage blacks is "the canary in the coal mine" for future harm to others (e.g. working class whites) needs to be taken literally:
[In recognition that the] direct and indirect result of the exercise of human privilege, humans themselves have and will continue to suffer from the effects of harm to ecosystems and nonhuman animals.. We argue for extending that metaphor literally to include the miner, the canary, the mine itself, and the ecosystem in which all three are situated. (p. 37)

In Chapter 2, Sarat Colling, Sean Parson, and Alessandro Arrigoni do the most in depth work of positioning CAS in historical and political context as well as prescribing three general political principles: revolutionary decolonization, groundless solidarity, and a relationship framework. These three principles translate into opposition to neoliberal competition, assimilation, and ownership.

The authors begin by recognizing the limits of forerunners of CAS who extended advocacy for liberation to some while excluding others and then lay out an instructive history on liberation movements beginning with Fanon as a champion of decolonization to those he influenced in the 1960s:
Black Panthers, Young Lordes, Chicago Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and the American Indian Movement, and groups led by poor and working class whites such as JOIN Community Union, the Young Patriots, and Rising Up Angry in Chicago, White Lightening (p. 60)
Before moving onto the "post-materialist" movements of the 1970s (wherein gender, ethnic, and environmental identity become recognized as interrelated sites of struggle), the authors highlight vegans and animal advocates among the ranks of radical people and organizations including John Africa’s MOVE back to the land, Angela Davis, Coretta and Scott King, Ashanti Omowalli Alston, Alice Walker, Food Not Bombs, and the Clamshell Alliance. Most of these people and groups were skeptical of the state and it's criminal justice system and police force if not outright hostile toward them.

In belief that “any freedom that involves negotiated settlements and economic dependency on a neoliberal system is pseudo-freedom," the authors reject crypto-colonial strategies of foreign powers to appropriate and assimilate lands and bodies through market forces (p. 57). They cite Franz Fanon's Wretched of the Earth as a foundational revolutionary text, and conclude that since “[c]olonization is a violent process, and likewise so is decolonization because many of those who benefit from it will violently uphold their positions of power and privilege” (p. 59).**

The authors appraise the Zapatistas, a local autonomy affinity group within Mexico, as well as allies such as the Latin American Solidarity Movement for their revolutionary decolonization and groundless solidarity.
Groundless solidarity is a realization that there is no ground to a claim that one form of oppression is central and others merely peripheral… all resistance to domination is essential and necessary.  (p. 64)
Following Christian anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, they perceive humans having an intuitive affinity for aiding nonhuman animals in need as coming out of a biological and historical evolutionary favoring of mutual aid. Further, the authors cite Black Cherokee, Zainab Amadahy, to see mutual aid not as joyless obligation but as "as inherent to enjoying life experience" (p. 68).

Finally, of course, nonhuman animals, too, have been been colonized. The very biopolitical movements and technologies that have been imposed upon them, such as vivisection and eugenics, have later been applied on devalued humans including Jews, Gypsies, queers, those with disabilities, people of color and indigenous people (p. 67).  To be even more succinct
[t]oday’s animal enterprises exist in direct continuity with the Western European colonial project of slavery, genocide, and environmental destruction. (p. 70)
Like the decolonial politics of Corman and Vandrovoca's position that we must understand ourselves as allies of nonhuman animals rather than their heroic saviors, the authors advocate facilitating the self-rule of nonhumans and the land they are a part of:
[O]ne does not to attempt to take power and impose a hegemonic mindset on others, but instead create a space for others to have autonomy. This means that we must embrace and recognize the need for solidarity with nonhumans and struggle to help them create spaces where they can flourish and develop their own organic relationships and communities. (p. 68)
However, while the connection between animal liberation and decolonization can be quite clear, mainstream animal activists often do not make the connection, whether out of ignorance or indifference to decolonization. Rather than enabling animal liberation, the narrow concentration on “animal rights” has failed all three principles of groundless solidarity, mutual aid, and revolution.

In Chapter 1, Weitzenfeld and Joy analyze the reasons underlying these limits of mainstream (or liberal) animal advocacy, explicating the liberal humanist origins of anti-speciesism. Although humanism has traditionally provided strong ideological support for human supremacy (e.g. human exceptionalism and self-determination), variations have simultaneously offered the greatest resistance (e.g. advocacy for freedom from arbitrary power and prejudice). Because anti-speciesism’s origins have been tainted by human supremacy, its advocates have not been immune from bias toward humans. As a result mainstream animal advocacy often merely extends value to nonhuman animals based upon their proximity to Western, male, able-bodied humans.

CAS scholars, however, are suspicious of not only such biases, but also the hegemonic values and institutions they arise from
the demand for the logical consistency of present thought and politics insufficient. A radical transformation in thought and politics, [CAS scholars] believe, is necessary for challenging the dominant and dominating ways of conceptualizing humans, animals, and morality that…[have] historically served to justify the subjugation of animal others" (p. 10, 18)
Anti-speciesists do not always attend to animal others ‘on their own terms;’ occasionally they project their humanist aspirations for consistency and full autonomy upon them (p. 18)
There are several general critiques of liberal anti-speciesism. First is the fantasy that individuals can somehow transcend social and ecological influence and dependency, pitting individuals against one another in a shared struggle of self-interest. This fantasy often does not acknowledge the labor of others (e.g. women, the working class, and nonhuman beings) and respect the materiality and vulnerability of bodies, while at the same time participates in exclusionary and (mis)representational politics.

Second, it attempts to ground morality in the universal principles, abstract from any situation via the idea of reason. This alienates us from and subordinates the embodied moral experience we share with other animals, as well as overestimates our ability to articulate our moral values and ridicule those who cannot. Third, liberal anti-speciesism assumes a civilization-wilderness dichotomy that fails at addressing our relationship to non-domesticated animals, whether it be liminal animals who enter into human-dominated spaces or wildlife conflicts which cannot be resolved by abolishing the property status of animals. Finally, it often assumes a patronizing attitude whereby only humans have been (and can be) historical agents, and nonhumans have been mere passive, victims.

A significant reason for the pervasiveness of these liberal assumptions is no doubt their cultural hegemony. However, hegemony has not stopped animal advocates preaching animal equality. Another reason, surely, is what Glasser and Roy call “the Ivory Trap,” whereby people advocate without collaborating with others in the struggle for human and animal liberation. Academic and lifestyle vegans are thus conceptually and politically limited in defending nonhuman animals since they lack feminist, political, and decolonial theory and support.

The liberal anti-speciesist discourse of “animal rights” and giving “voice to the voiceless” unsurprisingly overlaps with the neoliberalist strategies of defending animals through vegan consumption and criminalizing proletarian animal abusers. Through relinquishing the illusory short-lived vegan conversions and criminalization of people of color, as well as a collaborative struggle with other movements, animal advocates have only to benefit in the long-term.

Below is a compilation of the most cited authors in Defining Critical Animal Studies. Although this book represents only a portion of those in CAS and has a particular research focus, I believe the frequency of these references confirm the legacy of these authors' contribution to present and future CAS scholarship. While I wish to avoid canonizing such authors and texts, I believe it would be beneficial for those being introduced to CAS to be encouraged to read some of these texts due to their founder effect on the field.
  • Adams, Carol  (Sexual Politics of Meat, Animals and Women, Animal Care Ethics Reader)
  • Best, Steven ("The Rise of Critical Animal Studies," "The Killing Fields of South Africa")
  • Birke, Linda (Taming the Shrew)
  • Bierne, Piers (Green Criminology)
  • Crinshaw, Kimberlee ("Mapping the Margins")
  • Freire, Paolo (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
  • Harper, Breeze (Sistah Vegan)
  • Hribal, Jason (Fear of the Animal Planet, "Animals and the Working Class")
  • Nocella, Anthony (Terrorist or Freedom Fighters?, Igniting a Revolution)
  • Noske, Barbara (Beyond Boundaries)
  • Plumwood, Val (Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Environmental Culture)
  • Pederson, Helena (Animals in Schools)
  • Recluse, Elisee (The Earth and it's Inhabitants)
  • Twine, Richard (Animals as Biotechnology)

*[Women, people of color, and animals have been co-defined and devalued by their lacking of maleness, whiteness, and humanness. Any pretense that there is a monolithic black or lesbian experience (for example), is to alienate people from the fact that their identity occurs at an intersection (black-lesbian) and is not a matter of mathematics (woman+black+gay). Further, to ignore the intersections of identity and social position is to default to defining blackness on male terms and femaleness on white terms. By privileging the idea of blackness and femaleness over historical and sociological reality, one only reinforces the status quo through other means and privileges competition over solidarity. The same is true of animal activists who privilege the idea of animality over the historical, sociological, and geographical animalization of women, working class, disabled, and people of color as well as the prolific and shifting formulations of the feminization, instrumentalization, disableism, and orientalization of nonhuman animals]

**[Although they cite an abstract of a conference paper of mine (that I have yet to make available online) critiquing and appraising Fanon's discourse on species, my interpretation of Fanon's writings "On Violence" in the book is quite different. Although he was sympathetic toward revolutionary violence, I believe Fanon was also critical of it, considering it animalistic, fearing the reactionary impulse would not allow for the fluid, inclusive, and reflexive "new humanism" that he envisions at the end. Part of Fanon's species discourse was on solidarity, of "species coming apart," as opposed to violently clashing. Further, I disagree on a deeper level with the projection of a Hegelian dialectical logic upon history which existentialists such as Sartre valorize in the Algerian uprising in the prologue. While I am not absolutely opposed to violence as a means of self-defense, I am very concerned with the consequences of believing such violence is an inherently natural and/or necessary part of decolonization.]


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Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a thorough review. Great job tying all the themes together.