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.