Discussion Questions for Placing Animals

Overall Impressions:

  • What was your overall impression of the book?
  • What stood out to you?
  • What did you agree/disagree with most?
  • Did you like the structured format of the book?

I thought the book made many interesting, thought provoking points. Although I did not necessarily agree with the majority of Urbanik’s claims, I admit that her arguments were well made. Additionally, I enjoyed the format of the book where for each topic was divided into each field of geography.

Chapter 1:

This chapter is mostly just an introduction to the themes to be presented later in the book and mostly discusses how animals fit into our idea of society.

  • Social sciences usually look at how the animal falls into society where the natural sciences are looking at the functions of animals within their own society as well as ours. The first is usually questioning welfare and belonging where the latter has less of an emotional context. Will these two fields ever agree to how animals should be placed in society? (4-5)
  • How did you react to the legal definitions of animals across states? How does this drive animal welfare and politics? Does this make Americans from different states have different perceptions of what an animal is or do you think this is derived more from culture than legal definitions?(7)
  • Do you think our society will change our beliefs on where animals belong? If so, how will this change occur?

Chapter 2:

This chapter puts animal geography into a historical context and discusses how these geographies come to be.

  • I was surprised to learn about some of these newly discovered species. I thought that new species were usually small invertebrates or subspecies of already known animals that taxonomists decide to make a new species. Do you have any thoughts about the scientific discovery of new species? (22)
  • We previously explored how nature and animals played a part in ancient cultures and religions. Do you have any new thoughts about this subject based on these passages?
  • Urbanik introduces us to the term “geoethical” alongside ecocentric and anthropocentric. What were your reactions to this new view of human-animal interactions? (40)
  • This chapter explores how location/geography is the foundation for how social constructs are made of animals, and additionally, how social constructs continue to alter the geography of animals in a positive feedback loop. How do you see this for the future of human-animal interactions?

Chapter 3:

This chapter explores animals as culture – the way in which we use them for everything from companionship to art.

  • Pretend we used dogs as livestock and never invited them to become part of home as pets. Would we still feel the same way we do now about dogfighting? Would we still see them as intellectual beings if the social construct was different? (49-50)
  • Why is it acceptable to cause harm to some animals but not others? (50)
  • I was particularly interested in the section that talked about fish as art. What were your thoughts? In a previous class we even said that they are not comparable to other pets. Where is the line on how they can be treated and/or manipulated? Think of the pet trade – almost all saltwater fish are taken from the wild. Why is this ok for fish but not most other animals? (51)
  • Our culture is obsessed with dogs yet we keep breeding them to the point that they are genetically unhealthy just so they are cute (i.e. teacup yorkies). Why do we keep doing this? Is this ethical? (53)
  • “No such reverence or treatment exists for any animal in the Christian or Muslim tradition.” Why do you think this is? How do you think our culture would be different today if other religious teachings said to treat all animals sacredly? (56)
  • “Might it be that commodified pet-animal dominance-affection-love (DAL) is a powerful means for taking human resources of time and money away from organizing activities geared toward confronting escalating inequalities and human violences locally and world-wide?” Perhaps I misunderstood this passage, but I was very put off by this quote. What are your thoughts on this passage? Is focusing on pets keeping us for reaching our potential as humans? Is it selfish and against the human good to have pets instead of children? (58)
  • I never thought about the economic drive around the pet industry before reading this. Is this inherently negative? What about other “hobbies” that cost a lot of money? Does it only become negative when live animals are involved? (59)
  • What are your thoughts on using cartoon animals as an advertising tool? Is that still exploitation? (60)
  • “Take for example King Kong and the ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes because we see what humans have done with their power to capture and control. Films like these require us to do deeper reflections on just who is a ‘monster’ if humans are doing things to animals to turn them into ‘monsters.’” I really enjoyed this quote. Did you take a moment to reflect? What do you think? (67)

Chapter 4:

I thought this was an interesting chapter that presented a lot of arguments that I hadn’t thought of before. However, through most of it I found myself justifying we use animals for the jobs we do. Is that anthropocentric of me to do?

  • Working animals play a huge part in our society. What would be the cost of not having them? Think about dogs used for bomb detection or search and rescue.
  • Should we categorize and make legislation on working animals who are working in entertainment as those working for service? (76-77)
  • Fun fact: the information on page 84 is false; the Przewalski’s horse is extant not extinct. Conservation efforts through the AZA have created a population of over 400 in Mongolia thanks to reproduction and reintroduction techniques. Another example of where zoos aren’t so bad all of the time…
  • Where is the line for using animals for medical research? Is it justifiable to sacrifice some animals in the name of saving humans, or is that to anthropocentric? Think of cancer research, etc. (87)
  • Urbanik almost equates laboratory mice to show horses. One ends with death or pain to the animal where the other is almost always living a pampered life that is arguably better than most humans are on this planet. Is it fair to equate them and suggest that no matter how they are serving humans it is the same exploitation? (89)
  • The author claims that by using the biotechnology resources we have, we made nature into a laboratory. There is a very negative connotation to this passage. Do you agree? If so, is this necessarily a bad thing? Does this mean all application science is bad? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of conservation? Should we not implement technology to save a species and let them go extinct (even though we probably made them endangered) out of principle of keeping nature and science separate? (92)
  • Argument that we don’t care enough to name animals in captivity… but the argument is usually that it is wrong to name these animals because it anthropomorphizes them? Is the point of this text to always anthropomorphize because animals are equal beings? (93)

Chapter 5:

This chapter brought up similar arguments that we saw in Eating Animals. Once again, I through that many arguments were well made but I still disagree with many.

  • How do you think this compared to Eating Animals? Did you learn anything new or find anything particularly interesting?
  • Urbanik refers to domestication as a hybrid of nature and culture. Do you think this statement is equally applicable to all forms of domestication or to some animals over others (i.e. livestock vs pets, etc.)? (106)
  • I found the section about dying salmon flesh to be particularly disturbing. What were your reactions? Can you think of other similar things we do to make our food more artificially “natural”? (114)
  • Admittedly, as someone who has bred and shown livestock for years, I never thought about limiting genetic diversity to make a “good” animal. (127)

Chapter 6:

This chapter discusses human-wildlife relations. This is mostly hunting, but also of wildlife in culture (i.e. nature films) and wildlife-based tourism. This chapter is probably the one I agreed with most as I sense that exploiting wildlife is more severe and detrimental than domestic animals.

  • How does social demographics (sex, race, age, etc.) influence our relationships with wildlife?
  • Humans are often moving animals around, both domestic and wild, and replacing them with each other. How has this shaped our social construct of what is “in place” and what is “out of place.” (144)
  • Animals must continue to adapt to the landscapes we make. Think about how animals have had to adapt to industrialization and urbanization, for example, birds in cities finding new foods and unnatural places to nest. (144)
  • Do you see wildlife filming as the same level as hunting as Urbanik proposes? Is exploitation the same in any form, even I it doesn’t lead to death of the animal? Does film contribute to inappropriate social constructs of wildlife? (146)
  • CITES aren’t as well regulated as this sounds (personal story). (150)
  • I liked the passage about gardening on page 154: We want gardens but don’t want the “pests” that will naturally come with them, whether that be mammals, insects, reptiles, or other plants (weeds).
  • Once again, Urbanik appears to be against conservation efforts. Do you think there is a line or should saving the species always be the highest priority? (163)
  • Why do we choose some species to be more “charismatic” than others? How does this effect conservation, advertisement, animal welfare, etc.? (175)




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