SYMPOSIUM – THE FUTURE OF CRITICAL ANIMAL STUDIES
An event at the Minding Animals Conference
Utrecht, the Netherlands
July 3, 2012
DON’T MISS IT! This event is FREE and attendance at Minding Animals is not a pre-requisite. However please register for the event by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org because space is limited.
Critical animal studies is an inclusive nonspeciesist social justice field of study that is rooted in the intersectional global inclusive social justice movement. Critical animal studies, challenges human-animal studies as reinforcing single-issue politics and the false binary of human-animals and is opposed to animal studies as being an oppressive field of study that exploits and murders nonhuman animals.
1. Richard Twine, UK: The Politics of Critical Animal Studies and Animal Studies
Richard will address the politics of critical/animal studies (tensions around politicisation and practices), differences between Critical Animal Studies and Animal Studies, and the need for CAS to focus on practices, infrastructure and “worldmaking.”
2. Anat Pick, UK: An Open Approach to Vegan Advocacy
Anat will speak about her commitments as a CAS scholar to “expanded veganism”–veganism that is philosophically and politically open (and open-ended). She will also discuss the occasionally strained relations between Critical Animal Studies and Animal Studies (and the newcomer Animality Studies). My argument will be one in favor of an “open” (in addition to intersectional) approach to vegan advocacy and vegan philosophy, with a view to maintaining a certain indeterminacy with regard to the idea and practice of activism. She will briefly explain how she sees criticality and openness as complementary.
3. Gary Steiner, USA: Reflections on Animal Studies and the Postmodern Turn
Gary will speak about the genesis of his own thinking about animal issues, as someone who started out a Continental, Heidegger-inspired approach, and then raise the question of why contemporary animal studies has taken such a pointedly postmodern approach to animals. Should the postmodern turn dominate contemporary animal studies as much as it now does? Gary will frame his remarks against the background of his work as co-editor of the Critical Perspectives on Animals book series at Columbia University Press.
4. Lynda Birke, UK: What Animal Studies Can Learn from Feminism
Having survived the incorporation of feminist politics into the academy, Lynda wants to ask: what can we learn, in CAS, from that experience? She will outline two issues. The first is a warning: one of the consequences of bringing feminism into the academy was, in my view, that it became too distant from the politics that had originally driven it. One of the good things about emerging animal studies is precisely the connection to animal advocacy, and she is concerned that integration into ivory towers may come at a price. How, then, can we retain–or, more importantly, develop–activism within animal studies? The second issue concerns research methods. Feminist researchers have stressed the need for researchers to be accountable to those who are studied. Can we do that in animal studies? How? We must pay attention to these (and other) histories of social movements and academic studies, and learn from them; in doing so, we must seek to avoid schisms and find ways of working together for a better world.
5. Krysztof Forkasiewicz, Poland: Beyond Ethics and Abstraction Toward a Corporeal Politics of Animality
Krysztof argues that ethics-as-abstract-principle limits the efficacy of the cultural politics of the Animal Protection Movement (APM), by relocating the corporeal moral agent to an abstract space from which it is difficult to engage the world of hard reality. He argues instead for an ethos and theme of Animal in which animal ethics are grounded as bodied co-presence in the world, without a reproduction of a human-animal divide. Both technological and capitalist mediation of experience tear us out of sensuousness, rupturing our tangible link to the world of those we wish to see liberated. To be able to appreciate the richness of other animals’ lives, therefore, we must find ourselves of the same world, not above it, in a second-order existence. And to find ourselves in that world we must, in turn, struggle against that which reifies our existence: technoscience and capitalism.
6. Zipporah Weisberg, Canada: Critical Animal Studies versus Posthumanism
There is a growing tendency among animal studies theorists to conflate Critical Animal Studies (CAS) and posthumanist theory. Posthumanism has many merits, especially as a framework for rethinking human and nonhuman animal relationships beyond the stifling anthropocentrism of enlightenment humanism. However, posthumanism’s preoccupation with boundary dissolution between humans, animals, and machines brings it dangerously close to reaffirming the logic of late capitalism which, especially since the rise of biotechnology, is increasingly committed to ruthlessly exploiting ontological fluidity between living beings and technical artifice. Moreover, posthumanism’s wholesale rejection of humanism is misguided and based on a reductive reading of all humanisms as equivalent to enlightenment humanism. It fails to acknowledge that humanism—especially as interpreted by Freudo-Marxist Erich Fromm—can also be understood simply as “a protest against [human’s] alienation” under capitalism—a protest that is more urgent now, in the age of technoscience and neoliberal globalism, than ever before. Finally, posthumanism’s self-proclaimed debt to poststructuralism also leaves it vulnerable to entrenchment in a tradition which, though having gestured towards a re-examination of power relations between humans and animals, did so only timidly and often disingenuously. While we may wish to preserve “posthumanism” and “the posthuman” as critical categories of reflection and inquiry, CAS should shy away from identifying directly with posthumanism. Instead, CAS should be squarely grounded in critical theory, existentialism and phenomenology, and Marxist humanisms.
7. Fahir Amin, Austria: TBA
8. Tereza Vandrovcová, Czech Republic: The Future of Critical Animal Studies and Animal Studies:
Tereza will discuss the general relationship between CAS and Animal Studies, while touching on key themes CAS might concentrate on in future. CAS scholars should not be repelled by “mainstream” human-animal studies, she argues, and should cooperate with AS scholars where possible. CAS researchers should be active especially in areas beyond anthropocentric topics (e. g. the link between animal cruelty and violence toward humans, or the health effects of attachment to animals). This can attract the attention to Animal Studies itself and give the opportunity to present the critical point of view. CAS should specifically address such issues as eco-education vs. the omnivore phenomenon, objectification of animals and its consequences, efficiency of animal rights campaigns, the “dulling” of our innate compassion with nonhuman animals during socialization, etc. If she has time, Tereza will mention possible opportunities for CAS scholars (e.g. to become expert spokespersons for animal issues) as well as challenges (conservative opposition, the industrial lobby).
9. Kim Socha, USA: The Case for an Anarchist Perspective in Critical Animal Studies
The success of any movement often relies on foundational solidarity, especially in terms of political perspective. This elicits the question: As political thinkers, rather than single issue activists and scholars, from where do we speak? With this in mind, Kim proposes that CAS, on a national and international level, consider the application of anarchism to set our (a)political ideological foundation. Anarchism can promote a leveling of hierarchy that is not to be found within other political strategies (i.e. “No Gods, No Masters”). As to CAS’s future in the disciplines, we would do well to promote it in all fields of study, exposing the ways in which the social construct of “the animal” is always present, though often rendered invisible. As a composition and literature teacher, Kim imagines a curriculum that finds “the animal” hidden in our cultural texts, from study of social issues ranging from environmental destruction and war to literature that uses “the animal” as mere trope or prop to the ostensibly more important investigation of the human condition with which most Western literature troubles itself.
10. Alejandro Lorite Escorihuela, Finland: Critical Animal Studies and Critical Interdisciplinarity
One particular issue of interest to the development of critical animal studies is its nature as a political movement within academia and the meaning of critique as it relates to interdisciplinarity. In the received critical tradition, a concern for the critical impulse is institutionalization as a marginal, and thereby legitimating, position in the intellectual landscape. Each academic discipline has its own critical genealogy, and the question arises as to how the animal question is made to enter the disciplinary debate and its peculiar sociological dynamics. As a broad interdisciplinary movement, the coherence of critical animal studies is tied to its dual relationship, on the one hand, to the constitution of a mainstream interdisciplinary field of animal studies and, on the other hand, to a critical perspective (or critical perspectives) on the animal question within received disciplinary boundaries. From that perspective, tensions may arise with regard to the political direction of critique for the movement, based on the fragmented understanding and tasks of critique in various fields and the implausibility of a unified substantive political platform across fields. Based on my disciplinary location in legal studies, I want to suggest that the overwhelming gravitational force of welfarism as a converging point for mainstream animal studies is dictated by the pluralist ethos of political liberalism, which constitutes the unifying structure, ethical and metaphysical, of disciplinary knowledge and its relationship to political practice. From there, a suggestion for discussion would be the importance to the identity of critical animal studies of a critical understanding of interdisciplinarity and its relationship to the politics of liberal pluralism in academia.
11. Vasile Stanescu, USA: Beyond Speciecism and Humanism
Certain strands of critical theory (personified by such thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Donna Haraway, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari) possess within them a deep and sustained commitment to questioning the essence of humanism, as well as frequent expressions of concern for the welfare of individual nonhuman animals (for example Jacques Derrida’s famous denouncement of the factory farm system). And yet, at the same time, there is an absent –if not an outright critique—of a commitment to ethical veganism and animal rights. On the other hand, the traditional texts of animal rights, such as Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, possess this firm normative commitment to both animal welfare and ethical vegetarianism (if not veganism). And yet, at the same time, these foundational texts are inherently “humanist” in which nonhuman animals’ lives matter only to the degree that they resemble a human model. For example, to return to the case of Peter Singer, nonhuman animals’ lives matter only to the degree that their intelligence corresponds to humans which Singer pegs as comparable to human infants or humans suffering from the medical designation of “retardation.” Critical Animal Studies, therefore, attempts in part to combine these two schools of thought, drawing from their strengths and critiquing their aporias. How can we maintain critical theory’s questioning of “humanist” model of value, in which rationality and the human model of intelligence is key to determining the moral life of nonhuman animals, while at the exact same time, joining it with a firm normative commitment that can be found in the foundational texts of animal rights and liberation? How can we formulate a new ontology of ethical commitment to nonhuman animals that is simultaneously anti-humanist and anti-speciecism and critical not only of animal studies but even critical of “critical” theory itself?
12. Kim Stallwood, UK: Animal Rights: Moral Crusade or Political Movement?
Animal activists seek their objective of moral and legal rights for animals by promoting the adoption of personal choice cruelty-free, vegan/vegetarian lifestyles. This strategy is informed by personal transformative moments (PTM), which are individual, powerful situations when the veil of institutional animal exploitation is lifted. The transformation to an animal activist is profound. Animal rights becomes a moral crusade. The animal liberation objective which animal activists seek will be achieved, they believe, by creating similar situations for others to experience PTMs. These are moral shocks triggered by public educational campaigns (e.g., protests, information dissemination, publicity stunts). Thus, people become animal activists. It is naive to believe, however, that everyone will care about animals as deeply as animal activists do. Consequently, animal activists need to understand how society responds to change, particularly from social movements and, then, apply this insight into achieving animal rights. Kim draws from more than 35 years of personal commitment and professional involvement with the animal rights movement in the UK and US to make the case that animal activists must expand their worldview from activism to also include advocacy (e.g., law, public policy, lobbying, legislation). Further, seeing the animal rights movement as a social movement will help animal activists to understand social change. He proposes five stages which successful social movements move through. As animal activists learn how to function as animal advocates we will advance the animal rights movement further along the five stages toward achieving our mission.
CAS ROUNDTABLE, 4 July:
Dinesh Wadiwel, Australia: Thinking through Race and its connection to Critical Animal Studies
Dinesh will discuss the intersection forms of racialisation and whiteness with animal activism. Using the example of the Australian campaign against live animal exports, Dinesh will highlight the unique potential of critical animal studies in challenging forms of animal activism that reinforce white privilege.
Others speakers TBA (volunteers welcome!)