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).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

REVIEW: Defining Critical Animal Studies (1/2)

[H]uman being is not so much a value-neutral biological fact as a violent political fiction. (p. 8)
-Weitzenfeld and Joy 2013

Just before the eve of 2014, Peter Lang International published the first anthology explicitly dedicated to "Critical Animal Studies." (See my resource list for some close predecessors). Given I have yet to see a review of the book online and that many CAS folk across the world are interested in the book but may not have access to the book or time to read it, I've written one myself!

My purpose is not to judge the book so much as reflect upon and reorganize its themes around questions concerning what CAS is, why it is a significant site of resistance in the university, and what it can contribute to animal advocacy beyond the university. The review is divided into four sections: (1) why CAS is an important field, (2) what CAS research and teaching involves, and CAS's commitment to (3) veganism and (4) decolonization.

Fittingly, the book opens with a Forward by David Nibert, author of the canonical text Animal Rights / Human Rights, and a Preface by Ronnie Lee, co-founder of the Animal Liberation Front. In a matter of a several pages, Nibert and Lee concisely provide the historical and political context for the value of Critical Animal Studies. Historically, writes Nibert, the domination of human and nonhuman animals have gone chain-in-chain. Since the institution of animals as property,

[t]he possession of large numbers of these other animals became a sign of wealth and dominance, and elite male’s treatment of them as property was extended to women and devalued people. (p. ix)
The result of cattle ownership? Thousands of years of military invasion, cultural destruction, human slavery, zoontic disease, gender warfare, and more. Even the contemporary military and animal industrial complexes function interdependently, with military expenditures and campaigns to capture more animal capital in Latin America (and elsewhere), and the exploitation of animals in military training and testing.

So how does one respond to these twin industrial machines of violence? The Animal Liberation Front may have been an appropriate response to the industrialization of animal exploitation in the 1980s and 90s, however, after spending nine years in prison, Ronnie Lee has suspicions that its efficacy has declined.

Although it is my belief that ALF actions have contributed significantly to a huge reduction in the fur trade and a  big decline in animal experimentation here in the UK, I now have doubts as to the value of this type of activity in terms of bringing about widespread animal liberation. (p. xiii)
Under new legislation such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and state Ag-Gag initiatives, ALF, if it were to ever achieve more influence, would be crushed by the State. In addition, despite its success, such direct action bypasses the public rather than engaging with it to transform its consciousness and behavior. Without transformation and solidarity, change will not be sustainable. Critical Animal Studies thus serves as a conduit for understanding the interdependence of liberatory movements and the value of education as a vehicle for transformation and resistance to oppression. 

Beyond serving as a conduit of knowledge production and dissemination, why is the university an important site of resistance for nonhumans and their allies?
Universities are incorporated in the animal industrial complex, providing space, funding, technology, and training to present and future generations of animal exploiters and the innovation of new forms of torture and massacre. As Glasser and Roy state,

the university is a space hostile to nonhuman animals, who are welcomed onto campus only insofar as they are used for food, research tools, or to assist the disabled. (p. 90)
It is thus not surprising that those who research and advocate the animal liberation movement's tactics and actors are surveyed, requested to reveal the identities of anonymous research subjects, prevented from accessing public documents on those who dissent to animal exploitation, and even fired and barred to enter foreign countries. Animal activists live in countries whereby decent has become criminalized (what Will Potter calls the Green Scare), and scholars and students are not somehow removed from this public situation because of their private pursuits (p. 184). Recent legislation such as AETA demonstrate a convergence of “the institutions of speciesism, the protection of private property, and the state’s regulation of dissent” (p. 193). CAS thus provides a site of resistance not only for nonhuman animals incarcerated by universities, but also human allies (and humans generally) incarcerated within the prison industrial complex (p. xxx). 


Given the magnitude of human-induced animal suffering and the complicity of the university, the founders of Critical Animal Studies sought to create a distinct field of study from less political orientations to "the animal question," Human-Animal Studies and the Posthumanities. In the introduction, the book editors argue that just as nonhuman animals are objects callously and physically cut apart for the sake of knowledge in the natural sciences ("animal studies"), so nonhuman animals are symbolically dissected in the humanities. The editors suggest that many in "mainstream animal studies" may very well earn the title "theoretical vivisectors" (p. xiv).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Critical Animal Studies in 2014

Welcome to 2014. We have yet again an exciting year of cutting edge books on animal advocacy and theory.

Outlined below is the third annual Animal Reading List. This follows 2012's exciting lineup of books challenging conventional approaches to animal ethics and advocacy and 2013's posthuman bonanza. The Animal Reading List of 2014 is organized into four categories: Critical Animal Theory, Human-Animal-Machine, Ecology, Geography, Effective Advocacy for Animals, and Coffee Table books.

Critical Theory
With the release of two anthologies defining the field, 2014 is a significant year for critical animal studies. In Defining Animal Studies, new and veteran contributors to the field elaborate on the ten principles of critical animal studies from deconstructing the human-animal binary to bridging academics and advocacy to building multi-movement coalitions for total liberation. The Rise of Critical Animal Studies alternatively focuses on the theoretical grounding, challenging methodologies, and effective application of critical animal studies. Finally, Ecofeminism returns attention to two distinguishing themes of ecofeminist theory -- affect and context -- exploring the interspecies phenomenon of joy and grief as well as animal advocactes' complicity with white, class, and gender privilege.

Several books listed present ontological questions regarding the callous implosion human, animal, and technological natures. In The Silence of Animals, John Gray challenges human exceptionalism and progress, prescribing a Buddhist-like appreciation of our animality including a disciplined suspension to let the world be. Animals and War presents the bloody consequences of human aspirations to compete against others to order the world according to their wills and self interests: exploiting animals as vehicles in war, as test subjects of weapons and medics, as ecological casualties, and as combatants and weapons themselves. Emily Anthes studies the latest violation of body integrity in Frankenstein's Cat, exposing the science fiction realities of remote controlled animals for surveillance, bioenginered pets for profit, and more.

Geography and Ecology
Animal others are, of course, more than the object of ethics and theory as well as the anithesis and prey of technology. Animal others are inhabitants of cherished and forsaken places. Julie Urbanik in Placing Animals draws the most comprehensive map of the spatial arrangements and meanings humans share with animals from the farm, to the woods to the lab, including an introduction to the sub-field of animal geography. Trash Animals is dedicated to the egregiously misunderstood realities of "mis-placed" species, animals who receive little advocacy yet reap a large proportion of violence for being "filthy," "invasive," and "worthless."

Ronald Sandler gives to us a much overdue in-depth discussion of the value of species in his The Ethics of Species, treading controversies over restoration, assisted colonizations, hybrid animals, engineered species, and human "enhancement." Centering Animals in Latin American History is the first of its kind to delve into contested intra and interspecies power relations in Latin America, teetering between posthuman recognition of animals as historical agents and postcolonial critique of market and state domination through animal protection. Last but not least, Andrew Lindzey's Global Guide to Animal Protection collects synopses of nearly two hundred animal rights causes including amphibian conservation, sanctuary work, habitat restoration, living with predators, sabotaging hunts, combating poachers, managing feral cat populations, and animal law.

Effective Words and Images
Animal activists have another collection of books this year that may very well improve their advocacy. In the first, Russ Mead lays out laws and policies in Nonprofit Animal Law spanning across risk management, fundraising, employment and volunteering, animal disaster response, nonprofit structure, tax exemption, animal cruelty, intellectual property, animal transport, public events, privacy laws and more. Arguments about Animal Ethics is another over-due book from the field of communications containing fascinating essays inclusive of interspecies communication, inner dialogue, analysis of sexualized and racialized rhetorical strategies in advocacy,  and critique of the biomedical backlash of said advocacy. Finally, there are the statistics-heavy entries, one on the externalized economic costs of animal flesh production by David Simon in Meatonomics and the other on the efficacy, demographics, myths, and cognitive processes of vegans and omnivores in Nick Cooney's Veganomics.

After the release of We Animals, a book by Jo-Anne McArthur, star of Ghost in the Machine, I've decided to include a new category for less academic and verbose texts, specifically one dedicated to the power of visual art. McArthur's We Animals, Sue Coe's Cruel, and Daniel Imhoff's CAFO are certainly more than coffee books, but they have a heightened accessibility because of their provocative images. Accompanied by anecdotes and essays, all three books provide an opportunity for a reader to witness the popularly unperceptive marginalization and violence against animals.

If you are interested in reviewing a book or film for this blog or in the Journal for Critical Animal Studies, please send me an email.