Reflections and Discussion Guide for Urbanik’s “Placing Animals”

The Human Animal Landscape

Chapter One Geography and Human-Animal Relations

  • Where, how and why do we have the relationships that we do with different animals? Why are some animals food and some animals pets? Why are some animals both? Do we have obligations to other species? Do some animals matter more than others?
  • 3 key points about human-animal relations complicate our relations with animals (true now and historically)
  1. The boundary between humans and animals is not consistent
  2. Animals are much more than simply background to human lives only to be acknowledged intermittently – they’re central to people’s everyday existence (bees, leather, etc)
  3. Who and where you are as a human in the world shapes the interaction you will have with different species

The author says that the purpose of this book is to help understanding of

  • the relationship between animal geography and the larger animal studies academic community
  • the any geographies of human-animal interactions around the world
  • the way in which animal geography is both challenging and contributing to the major fields of human and nature-society geography
  • the role of place in shaping human-animal interactions
    1. material places – zoo, slaughterhouse, home, wild
    2. symbolic places – scientific, literary, moral, theoretical

Causes for increased scrutiny of human-animal relationships

One reason – Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution placed value in “human rationality over emotion and the individual over the collective” which allowed for more science in some ways, but also 1) homogenized human experience (despite differences in gender roles, racial histories, colonial histories, sexual identities, etc) and 2) denies the interconnectedness of humans and the planet

Now people are moving toward “posthuman” period that “challenges notions of what has historically been seen to separate humans from animals.” Bashing “Once-key markers of human superiority and uniqueness – tool use, language, abstract thought, even culture itself as the ability to pass down behaviors” – animals are no longer only objects to be studied and categorized, now we understand that their experiential lives count, as do our experiences with them.

Fouts and Washoe

“This book will emphasize five major categories: cultural, ecological, economic, ethical, and political” geographies. These terms are also defined (pg 11-12).


“Today more tigers are estimated to be in captivity as pets in the United States than in the wild, a testament to our contradictory relations with them. We love them and want to save them for their wildness, yet we also want some of that wildness for ourselves, and so keeping them as pets or using them for medicine becomes a way to connect with their power.”

Overview of Animal Studies

  • Human-animal studies (HAS) is usually credited as rooted in Peter Singer (philosopher)’s book Animal Liberation (1975) and Tom Regan’s book The Case for Animal Rights (1983), which both included info about current conditions of animal treatment – which has a shock factor for many people.
    • Singer said – society should try to maximize good and minimize harm including with animals
    • Regan said – “animals, like humans, are “subjects of a life” and, as such, have intrinsic value and the right to live their lives as subjects.”
    • Which do you connect most with?

Parallels (pg 16) between “the emergence of animal studies in the academy echoes the rise of other identity-based studies such as ethnic, gender, and race studies programs” says Ken Shapiro… marginalization of animals?

“This comparison is not to claim that nonhumans or their treatment is commensurate with different human groups, but to recognize (1) certain groups have been treated differently over the course of history around the world and (2) understanding this treatment is part of understanding the collective experience of human societies. Animal studies scholars argue that animals have basically been taken for granted by humans and kept to the edges of not only our daily lives, but our intellectual thought, and we need to “recover” animals as animals…”

Animals have been seen as “biotic elements” and influential philosophers and scientists like Descartes have built animals up in this way by concluding things like “animals cannot speak and lacked soul and therefore were no more than instinctually driven automatons” –

How many people have pets? Do you have a favorite pet story? What animals do we come in contact with every day?

Speciesism: the attitude that regards all nonhumans as inferior to humans and therefore not a part of the human moral system. Parallels to concepts like racism and sexism because people “are made out to be less than other groups simply because of who they are.” (17)

Chapter Two A History of Animal Geography

  • The organization or categorization of animals is impacted by location and culture

The First Wave of Animal Geography

  • Zoogeography heavily influenced by scientists like Darwin, before which people believed that animals lived where ever they were most suited for
  • Animal geography allowed people to ask why there weren’t the same species in very similar habitats – why don’t all tropical rainforests have the same species?
  • In 1937, Allee and Schmidt describe ways in which “civilized man” impacts other species in the cases of deforestation, managed forests, agriculture, gardens and parks, buildings, unintended transport, and direct eradications
    • And they conclude that the only hope for preservation of natural conditions for the future lies in the establishment of state and national parks to serve as refuges and sanctuaries for wildlife

The Second Wave of Animal Geography

  • “Grossman (1984) documents how cultural variables like values and local practices can be crucial forces shaping present-day animal-related livestock practices. In other words, human use of nonhumans as livestock is not defined only by economic utility – sheep may not be valuable enough for ceremonial exchange and so sheep herding wouldn’t take hold
  • Frederick Simoons and James Baldwin (1982) studied the practice of women breastfeeding other species (pg 35)

The Third Wave or “New” Animal Geography

  • started in the early 1990s
  • the intersection of events, an academic reassessment of culture and subjectivity, and…
  • a desire to unpack the “black box” of nature (which we’ve been doing in this class!)
  • Elder, Wolch, and Emel (1998) “outline the ways in which practices on different animal bodies (e.g., eating, fighting, researching) are used to police relations between different human groups in different places. They point out that what is an accepted practice depends on the dominant human group in a particular place, and animal geographers can study how actions (1) reinforce human-to-human power relations and (2) reinforce boundaries between humans and other species.” (38)
    • “Not only are humans working out relations with animals, but human groups are also competing, confronting, and conforming with each other about animals in addition to having relations with them” (39)
    • Biomedical research treatment of chimpanzees.. is government the strongest factor? Not science? Where do other people think the power lies? Who decides that it’s ok to use animals in this way or other ways?
  • “A geoethical approach would ask us to consider both the individual animal and the larger ecosystem” Where and how is the animal being raised and slaughtered: What is the impact of that animal’s life on the ecosystem compared to the scale of animals produced for consumption? These types of questions allow a more nuanced approach than trying to fit all human-animal relations into one value system” (40)
  • Hybridity – the idea that humans are not the only actors – other animals have culture and identity too – human identity is created in relation to other living and nonliving things (41) Actor Network Theory (ANT) has also pushed this idea.
  • Elephants in different places (wild, zoo, circus) – “In all cases, which humans and which elephants matter because the humans and elephants morph and shift with each encounter [that they have with each other]” “Hybridity, then, helps animal geographers see that (1) subjects exist – human, elephant—in and of themselves, and (2) a constellation of identity relations forms when different human-human, human-animal, and animal-animal configurations appear in specific places.”
    • Allows animal geographers to focus on the individual relationships
  • This animal geography
    • Decentralizes humans as the focal subject
    • Recognizes the agency of nonhumans
    • Demands a geographically rich analysis of the ways in which the full spectrum of human-animal relations develop

Discussion Question: “When and where do you encounter individual animals versus groups or animals or their parts? How does your behavior change depending on the location? Why?”

Chapter Three Geographies of More-than-Human Homes and Cultures

  • What constitutes a pet?
    • Michael Vick pit bull fighting ring
    • Travis the chimpanzee shot after attacking his owner
    • Dogs belong in the home in most areas of the US and not in fighting rings, but in some places they can belong in both. Many people would argue that chimpanzees do not belong in the home at all.
    • But, who has the right to tell people what they can and cannot do with animals?
  • Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets by Yi-Fu Tuan discusses human’s respect and admiration for animals as terrible beasts, held in high regard, but that humans dominate and exploit as displays of human power over the natural world (51)
    • How are pets similar or different to having lawns?
    • Goldfish and dogs bred to human specifications – dog breeds suffer many health problems to achieve the look desirable to humans
    • Pets are further manipulated to make them more suited to live in our homes by spaying and neutering them, removing their claws, bathing them, clipping their ears and tails, etc.
      • Tuan says this isn’t the only way people can live with animals thought- pets can be a way to connect people to the larger world around them because living together creates intimacy and opportunities to connect
    • Dog stealing in Victorian days impacted the upper class and exemplified the owner’s attachment to the animals, causing fear among men and women but the author says ultimately reinforcing women as safest in the home
    • Pet cemeteries were against the wishes of clergy, but were supported by upper class women who were exerting their own power by publicly valuing their pets while bringing open grieving and “feminine emotionality” into public spaces (54) [picture of these places?
      Hyde Park Cemetery
  • “Animal terms within languages are used metaphorically to emphasize links between human and animal traits, but they also normalize attitudes about other species” (57) {women as bitches, pussies, pigs, cows, chicks and cougars}


  • pets can be anyone and anything you want them to be (57)
  • pets can be furry children (you worry about their eating), part of your pack (you limit and control them), or individuals with their own agency (you play with them when they bring you a toy and learn to play their games)
  • animal representations in media


  • “What are your relationships with your pets like? More dominance? Or affection?”
  • “What is a more-than-human family? Who is keeping whom?”

Chapter 4 Beasts of Burden: Geographies of Working Animals

Include diagram of places animals are kept for work

  • Zoos began as early as 3500 BCE in Egypt.. then zoos became more common and popular as humans encountered and brought back species from places they’d colonized. Now, zoos are said to be more “educational entertainment” where the goal is to get people to learn more about the species and the problems they face, but they’re still kept in cages (or as they’re sometimes called, habitats or enclosures)
  • Animal research: pure and applied research as well as “in studies of toxicity of chemicals, cosmetics, and military for weapons testing and training, and in all levels of education”
  • Animals as entertainment – racing, circuses, film and television – training animals to do things like ride on segways. Jump barrels, and pose
  • Elephant logging (83)
  • Service and therapy animals (85)


  • zoos denote spaces between humans and animals
  • the zoo is where “the raw material of nature is crafted into iconic representation of human capacity for order and control”
    • habitats are designed to allow animals to behave in their most natural ways
    • takes away animals agency
  • cultural consensus shapes what is acceptable and what is not
    • compare animals used for research in labs to animals in zoos
    • what can be done to make zoos better for animals?
      • Enriching their lives? Embracing their individuality? Knowing them as individuals?


  • “What is it about the urban identity that requires a zoo?
  • What individual working animals do you know? In what contexts do you know them?”

One Response to Reflections and Discussion Guide for Urbanik’s “Placing Animals”

  1. […] Week 11, Urbanik Placing Animals pt. 1 – I presented…. outside! […]

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