Review for First Half of Placing Animals

The first half of this book was familiar to me because it was largely an overview of how studies in human academic geography are done. Scale, space, region, and place are all clearly defined and used in the context of animal studies. These terms are also defined in the broad, qualitative way used in human geography and the narrow quantitative way that people are typically used to; scale can be the size of objects relative to each other on a map or the idea of smaller and larger concepts, space can be the container for phenomena or a an idea, and place can be a specific location or an idea. Region is a grouping of similar places.

What I find fascinating about this book is that it redefines animals in a way that is neither condescendingly anthropocentric or equalizing; “(animals) ‘are not brethren they are not underlings; they are other nations,  caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth”

This quote seems very true to me and it makes it clear that animals have more agency than we commonly give them credit for. Anyone who has ridden an unruly horse or been bitten by a cat can concede that animals do have power over people in certain situations! This connnects to the post-modern idea that dichotomies and hierarchies do not always tell the full story because they leave out marginalized groups and homogenize everyone’s story.

The discussion of the lack of a standard legal definition for animals, despite having a clear biological definition intrigued me. I noticed that in the US, animals were exempt from protection and legal status as “animals” if their mistreatment or killing benefited a certain portion of the economy.

The author looks at the animal geographers of the mid-twentieth century in a detailed and critical way that I find refreshing. In my two previous human geography classes, the works of these people was dismissed or spoken of in a condescending and presentist manner because critical geographers see them as politically incorrect. However, this book discusses the ways in which Carl Sauer’s thorough studies of “cultural” and “natural” landscapes helped advance the field and praised Sauer for using cultural, rather than pure material explanations for the move to pastoralism. However, she does make it clear that his strict division between “natural” and “cultural” is out of date.

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