Placing Animals

Chapter 1

“modernist view, values rationality over emotion and the individual over the collective. This ardent humanism takes as its starting point the separation of humans and animals and then places humans above animals in a dualistic hierarchy of value” (5)

I found it interesting how the author traces the roots of our attitudes towards animals, citing its central source back to the Enlightenment, where humans were thought to be rational, and therefore autonomous, unlike animals. I continually think back to the first day of class, when we looked at definitions of nature, and how each was posed at direct opposition to man. In this scope, animals are a part of nature, and therefore similarly at odds. Of course, we ultimately tame these aspects in domesticating animals as pets, which I think furthers this notion of where we stand in relation to nature.

The author talks about the factors that have contributed to why critical animal studies has been expanded upon in the past decade, citing 4 central reasons

  • animal-based social movements
  • environmental awareness
  • decentering of the human subject – posthumanism
  • identity-based studies, ways humans have treated certain groups

I found the final factor most interesting, as it represents a turn in academic discourse and attitudes/awareness towards a history that is marred with oppression and colonization, ultimately examining how that history still affects the present and in what ways.

Figure 1.1, Global Distribution of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare Groups (6)

The diagram provided was extremely telling of where NGO’s are concentrated, illustrating how the majority operate within first world, western countries. While NGO’s are an important component of institutional change, they are ultimately advocating for their own cause, sourcing money privately and encountering little regulation because of their nature. I think this raises some red flags, and also speaks to the global power structures that circulate — as western ideals transform into global norms.

  • what we think is best is embedded in our perception, run risk of imbuing change via an ethnocentric lens that does more harm than good
  • p. 118: combatting poverty via a generalized structure in India that viewed and addressed the problem at large, rather than transnationally

exotic natural objects vs. objects of man’s use: does it really matter?

“for all of recorded history the ability of humans to modify other life-forms has been seen as a marker for ‘humanness'” (106)

I think this quote is interesting in relation to Bruckner’s idea that we need parameters to reify our collective identity. On the one hand cultural advancement has contributed to this process, but I guess one must ask to what degree is advancement truly for the greater good? And who is included in this conception of that? Human-animal relations question the very basis of nature and culture, proving they can become intertwined. In this way, clear cut conceptions of one or the other become blurred, re-imagined and reconsidered based on various factors (cultural, ethnic, geographic, etc)

The passages (25-26) written by a German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt reflect a contrast in attitudes between himself and the Venezuelans he was talking to. His intention was to rationalize their behaviors, acknowledging their awareness, while the natives maintained a more spiritual outlook. I think this attitude reflects Enlightenment thinking, favoring rationality and using it as a further means of demarcating oneself from animals.

  • Christianity, man made in the eyes of god, power to name
  • Islam: humans have dominion over animals, seek not to inflict pain
  • Hinduism: ahimsa, vegetarianism

I thought it was interesting how the conception of why we began domesticating animals was formulated, initially a “by-product of the need for ritual sacrifice of animals to appease religious beliefs” (105). Though this may have been an initial motivation, religions that involved sacrifice were largely eventually deemed sacrilegious by competing (hegemonic) voices and opinions of the Christian faith. Despite this, the practice has only been expanded upon since. Conversely, the book talks about the displacement that occurred in Australia among the aborigine peoples, deemed “less human” because they had never domesticated an animal. I find it unique that we define ourselves in relation to animals, as well as the relationship both share with the environment. Moreover, it was the modification to animals that constituted “humanness” in this case. Conversely, the book talks about animals used for research that

Industrial Farming for an Industrial World

  • industrial revolution: urban spaces expanding, animals no longer seen fit
  • labor force changing to meet global demand (capitalistic ideologies)
  • CAFO: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

In talking about the changes to the landscape that the industrial revolution caused, I think it’s significant that this was the first time man was able to truly demarcate between nature and man, but also that we deemed animals out of place in such a setting. I find it ironic that part of the reasoning to move livestock out of the cities was for fear of women or children becoming exposed to animals having sex or relieving themselves publicly, when today the (global) market affords low wages to those working in livestock raising and slaughtering — which translates to women and immigrants ultimately filling this type of work. More than anything, it speaks to our global emphasis on production and output, at the hands of underrepresented groups of people as well as animals.





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