Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some thoughts on Ethics and Affect

Levi has an smart post, following up on some work from Bennett. Check it out. Levi is concerned here with the question of the how of ethics, rather than the why or what of ethics. In other words, not how do we figure out what is ethical, but rather how is it that we sometimes act in ways we know to be ethical, and sometimes we act in ways we know to be unethical. For Levi, this relates to the psychopath. The psychopath is interesting, but few of us are psychopaths. However, the failure to act in ways we find to be moral is a rather common failing. That we regularly fail to live up to what we believe is right is a rather mundane point, but one that has to haunt every ethical enterprise.

This question is, shall we say, more than a passing interest of mine. It follows from the belief that, as Colin McGinn argues, "vegetarianism is a won argument" (see his Minds and Bodies, pp. 207-214, h/t Bill Martin's Ethical Marxism). This was before the rise of the popular localvore movement, and McGinn is mostly focused on the industrial aspects of animal production. And in my general experience, I have met very few people ever willing to defend the industrialized production of animals and their flesh. I have, for example, never found an article on that defends industrial production of animals on ethical grounds. Jonathan Safran Foer is fond of explaining that he expected a large push back from agribusiness when Eating Animals came out, but all he got was silence. His conclusion, and one I agree with, is that animal agribusiness wishes to not draw attraction to the actual practices that go on.

That brings us to the recent comments by Laura Wright:
I was following Hal's lead, after he'd read from his book a particularly graphic passage about the lives of factory farmed hens. I stood up and started talking about my veganism and then realized that no one was listening to me at all. Everyone looked vaguely traumatized by what they'd just heard; indeed, they should have been traumatized. I backed up, and we talked about how the information that Hal had conveyed had made the students feel. One said, "kind of guilty about having just eaten Chick Fil A for lunch." Yeah. So we processed.
Yeah, who hasn't been there? Whenever I give a public talk about animals, I always try to limit the graphic nature of the talk. Mostly because if one nightmarish example is not enough, I really have no reason to believe that more will do anything. And while some of the students may honestly not know how terrible factory farms are, in general such an ignorance falls under the category of what the philosophical aphorist Donald Rumsfield referred to as "known unknowns". So, while many people are ignorant of what goes on in factory farms, frequently it is because of a willed ignorance. They fear that the horror of the factory farm will force changes on them they do not want to make. This brings us back, obviously, to affect.
As J.M. Coetzee notes:
We [...] are where we are today not because once upon a time we read a book that convinced us that there was a flaw in the thinking underlying the way that we, collectively, treat nonhuman animals, but because in each of us there took place something like a conversion experience, which, being educated people who place a premium on rationality, we then proceeded to seek backing for in the writings of thinkers and philosophers (Cavalieri's The Death of the Animal, p. 89).
I think there really is something here, and I want us to turn our attention, now, to David Hume. David Hume understood politics and ethics against other state of nature theorists of the early modern period. For Hobbes and Locke the fundamental political question is how to limit the egotistic, atomistic individual. However, for David Hume this completely misses the central political and ethical question. We are not fundamentally atomistic individuals, but fundamentally partial. We are born not into a state of nature, but rather into a series of partial sympathies, into a family for Hume. The problem is not one of limitation, but rather of “inequality of affection.” In this understanding justice is not finite because of the inherent nature of humanity, but rather provisionally finite based on our partial nature. Instead the ethical question is how do we transform ourselves and society to extend partial sympathies.

When Isabelle Stengers thinks of an example of the cosmopolitical question, it is about the gray areas of animal issues. "Apart from the multiple cases about which we could say 'there is abuse,' futile or blind cruelties or systematic reduction of farm animals to the status of meat on legs, what interests me are the 'difficult' cases where the refusal of the experimentation and a legitimate cause-- the struggle against an epidemic, for instance-- are 'balanced against each other' (Latour and Weibel (eds) Making Things Public, p. 996). I think an equal cosmopolitical question is about the cases that are not difficult. How is it that we can extend our partial sympathies? How can we combat the known unknows? How can we address, as William James put it, a certain blindness in human beings (also see Cary Wolfe's short essay of the same name in The Death of the Animal, pp. 123-133)?
What are the institutions, practices, and artifices we can create to overcome these limitations? What are the affects and the abstractions, the precepts and the concepts, we can multiply and circulate? This is why rhetoric and aesthetics are as important philosophical fields as ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and logic. To alter what Ranciere refers to as the partition and distribution of the sensible is always a cosmopolitical question.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Post of Links

You know that claim that eating meat is what allowed humans to develop larger brains? Claims repeated in such places as, say, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Well, over at PaleoVeganology, is a presentation of the scientific evidence opposed to this position. I am obviously a little biased, but it sounds rather convincing.

Over at This Cage is Worms, CK has a wonderful review and criticism of Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken. Part One. Part Two. Part two also has a critique of McGonigal's anthropocentrism, which includes one of the worst versions of "this is what makes us humans" that I have seen in a while.

Adam Robbert has links to two wonderful Isabelle Stengers writing. Here and here. In the first one, Stengers introduces the idea of mesoscopic thinking and political action, as opposed to the D&G opposition between the molar and the molecular (this interview is also personally funny to me because my wife is trained as a chemist, as well. And she loves making the joke that D&G are chemists).

I recently ran across this interview with Diane Davis about her book Inessential Solidarity. One of the questions contain this:
That is, you asked why we are asking questions about the object and the animal at this moment. Clearly, these are not brand new questions, and all of this current work is rooted in a long philosophical tradition. But these questions are popping up with more urgency now.
It is always interesting to see the way others view the fragmented attack on anthropocentrism.

Hal Herzog and Laura Wright got into a little fight about if Hitler was a vegetarian. See here, and here. I think I have read all the works cited by both these thinkers on the issue. So, if I get some free time in the next few days, I might make my own post on this topic. But I suggest you go ahead and read these posts, regardless.

Here is an interview with Silvia Federici about Occupy Wall Street.

Speaking of interviews, two of them were posted recently on the Ranciere blog. First one, obviously, with Ranciere himself. The opening question concerns Ranciere's relationship with anarchism. The second interview is with Rey Chow, always worthwhile.

Lastly, check out these interesting opening thoughts on the space of the slaughterhouse.

My song today is from The Haunted Windchimes, with their "Ballad of Human Progress". I cannot tell you how addicted I have been with this band since I heard them.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Federici on witches and animals

This is taken from Silvia Federici's "The Great Witch Hunt", a variation of this is also printed in Caliban and the Witch, p. 194.

Regardless of age (but not class), in the witch trials
there is a constant identification between female sexuality and bestiality. This is
suggested by copulation with the goat-god (one of the representations of the Devil),
the infamous kiss sub cauda, and the charge that the witches kept a variety of
animals, called "imps" or "familiars," with whom they entertained a particularly
intimate relation. These were cats, dogs, hares, frogs the witch cared for, presumably
suckling them from special teats; other animals, too, played a crucial part in her life
as instruments of the Devil: goats and (night)mares flew her to the Sabbath, toads
provided her with poisons for her concoctions – such was the presence of animals in
the witches’ world that one must conclude they too were being put on trial.35

This was possibly a response to the indiscriminating, "bestial" practices that
characterized the sexual life of rural Europe, which remained a capital offense long
after the witch-hunt was over. In an era that was beginning to worship reason and
draw a rigid divide between the physical and the spiritual, animals too were subject to
a drastic devaluation, and reduced to mere brute matter, the perennial symbol of the
worse human instincts. No crime, then, would inspire more horror than copulation
with a beast, a true attack on the ontological foundations of a human nature that
increasingly was identified with its most immaterial aspects.

But the continuity between female sexuality and animality postulated by the
imagery of the hunt also insinuated that women are at a (slippery) crossroad between
man and animals; for what in men appeared as a temporary fall, an eclipse of reason
produced by the orgasmic effects of the sexual act, in the case of women was
elevated to an inherent condition, as it was agreed that women are especially carnal
and weakminded. Thus the alter ego of the witch was the toad, the most frequently
cited familiar, which being a symbol of the vagina, perfectly synthesizes sex, bestiality, femaleness, and evil.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More on the Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

First, there is this essay, at times wonderful and other times horrible, on the Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon from Orion.
Wonkbook briefly discusses the Orion essay here.
Wonkbook also brings us this very funny McSweeney's piece. Which is a nice play on the perennial question: What have the turkeys done that they require a pardon?

The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon and sacriifical community

Another thanksgiving pardon, another suggestion for you to read Magnus Fiskesjö's The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo (.pdf) from Prickly Paradigm Press. Like other PPP titles, it is short and accessible. Also, you should read his follow-up: Fiskesjö, Magnus "The reluctant sovereign: New adventures of the US presidential Thanksgiving turkey." Anthropology Today (October 2010), Volume 26, Issue 5, pages 13–17.

I also want to remind readers about this post I made about a Foer and Bourdain debate. The logic of sacrifice is one that the sacred structures the profane--that the exceptional structures the everyday and the common. Understanding within community, and understanding as being a part of community, is crisscrossed with sacrifice, with a shared sense of the sacred and the profane. This is, of course, easy for any vegetarian or vegan to understand this time of the year, when I have a dozen emails from semi-official sources wishing me a Happy Turkey Day. Over the years I have known many new vegetarians and vegans to falter during their exceptional family get togethers--during Thanksgiving and Christmas and Passover and Superbowl and many other times besides. How we eat and what we choose to eat is at the heart of communion and community, it is at the heart of host and hospitality, it is at the heart of all breaking bread and shared interpellation. Just as the exceptional pardon of the Executive (the one who executes) structures the everyday violence of the sovereign, the exceptional holiday structures the everyday community. Choosing not to eat flesh tomorrow will most certainly change or challenge many of your communities, but it will also open up new ones. New communions, new communities, new commons, new communications, new relations. And maybe one day we will find a time when we can come together outside of the dialectic of the sacred and the profane, maybe one day we will be able to sacrifice sacrifice. Until then, good luck everyone. May you find your communities as rich and rewarding as I find mine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Expelling the slaughtering of animals from urban centers

This post is in many ways a response and inspired by this post at Environmental Critique by Hugh Bartling. So, go read that first. Several provisos: (1) Bartling focuses on chickens, which is not at all my focus. (2) Bartling also is more concerned about policy issues, which will not be the focus of this post. (3) Clearly I think the idea of human chicken rearing as, at best, problematic. And in most cases clearly unethical. I probably won't get too much into that, because everyone knows where I stand on that. (4) Bartling is focused on animal rearing, whereas I will mostly be addressing animal slaughtering. Clearly one does have to entail the other, but there is a strong relationship between the two. On to the main part of the post.

Modern urbanism has, again and again, replicated a model of pushing animal slaughtering outside of the urban core. Some of you may find the history unnecessary, in which case you can skip to the bottom. To give a few examples:

New Amsterdam/New York City 1641-1865: According to the historian James Thompson, in 1641 "[t]he slaughterhouses and cattle pens in New Amsterdam were almost as conspicuous on the landscape as windmills in Holland. They straddled the ditch on the north side of the palisade, later Wall Street, the effluvia flowing down this streamlet [called Bloody Run] through the Water Poort or Water Gate into the East River. " [1] As Jimmy Skaggs reports, "[a]fter 1656, Manhattan officials required permits of anyone who wanted to slaughter or butcher animals on the island. Ten years later they ordered the the killing grounds out of the community, beyond the stockade fence along Wall Street, and erected a public facility on present Pearl Street, between Wall and Pine. All slaughtering, including that for private consumption, was restricted to the public house[.]" [2] He later concludes, "By the 1830s, New York City had banished slaughterhouses and their attendant meatpacking plants to beyond Forty-second Street, and by the time of the of the Civil War, to Eightieth Street and north. In time, hounded buisnessmen abandoned eastern cities entirely, especially after improved water and rail transportation became available, and the industry slowly shifted westward as the frontier receded before it."[3]

Paris 1806-1867: Émile Littré gave the definition of abattoir in his first edition of the Dictionary of the French Language, and maintained through all subsequent editions: "Place set aside for the slaughter of animals such as bullocks, calves, sheep, etc. that are used for human consumption. Abattoirs are located outside the surrounding walls of towns." [4] This definition seems odd at first glance, after all why would abattoir have, as part of its definition, its location as outside the walls of towns?
Well, Napoleon I engaged in a national regulation of slaughterhouses, and in 1807 ordered the building of five public slaughterhouses, all located outside the city walls, in Paris. The slaughterers were not allowed to kill animals anywhere else.[5] "In 1810 Napoleon issued a second degree, requiring that public slaughterhouses be built in every town in France, and--it was specified--outside the city limits."
It is also around this time we gain the word abattoir, appearing for the first time in 1806. A strange word, it comes abattre, which means to fell or bring down. It was a term mostly used in forestry, as in bringing down a tree. The abattoir was meant clearly as a euphemism, meant to replace the tuerie and the boucherie for the name of Napoleon's new public slaughterhouses.[6]
George Eugene Haussmann, as part of his reforms of Paris, also reformed Napoleon's slaughterhouses. In this case, from 1863-1867, Haussmann had built the Central Slaughterhouse of La Villette. It was a singular slaughterhouse, massive is scope and cost, that was the first one of its kind intended to service the desires of a city of millions for animal flesh.

Chicago Unfinished and Fragmented: Chicago is a different phenomenon in many ways than what we have discussed in New York and in Paris. Chicago was at the center all of sorts of changes--the raise of trains, the invention of refrigerator cars, monocultural agriculture, disciplinary techniques of worker management, new accounting methods, barbed wire, vertical monopolies, feedlots and early genetic manipulations of animals, new advertising techniques, etc.--that allowed it to exist primarily as a place to slaughter animals. I am going to skip a lot of that, and there are many excellent books on the topic (though, if you haven't read William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis, you are really denying yourself), but I want to fastforward just a little bit. Okay, nevermind. I didn't bring the right books with me for this next section, and I won't get to them again until after the holidays. If there is interest, I will be more specific. But basically, slaughtering did not remain for long in Chicago's urban core. The Union Stockyards opened in 1865, and by sometime around the turn of the century, the slaughtering had already moved out of Chicago proper.

Why?: Vialles make the argument that the industrialization of slaughter cemented the desire for slaughter to exist in a "no-place." As she explains: "To sum up: from this point on, slaughtering was required to be industrial, that is to say large scale and anonymous; it must be non-violent (ideally: painless); and it must be invisible (ideally: non-existent). It must be as if it were not." [7] She continues: "We see now why the disjunctions are necessary: urbanisation and the consumption of large quantities of meat lead directly to the creation of abattoirs as places set apart, where the inevitable occurs. All these disjunctions invite and combine with one another to keep the mass killing of animals at a reasonable distance. [...] It is very much as if the initial separation between killing and meat had triggered a process of repeated fissions forming a kind of spiral of avoidance of a reality and a meaning that are too raw, the centre of the spiral and the force behind it being the very thing that it is trying to avoid--forever unsuccessfully, and for good reason."[8]
I would like to continue this thought and link it back up with Bartling's original post. The problem of farm animals is that they exist in a weird sort of middle ground for the urban dweller. They are neither wildlife, ie animals that are not directly owned and maintained by particular humans, and they are not pets, ie animals that are owned and maintained by paritcular humans for no specific purpose. Indeed, the term farm animal itself shows the confusion, these are animals whose definition includes the place they are suppose to be. The farm animal reasserts the unease, unravels our disjunctions, and returns us to the scene of the crime. Just as Bartling points out that: "In numerous cases, critics are concerned about such things as the pollution of the water supply, the spread of avian flu, and concerns for the animals’ safety. This line of argument is, of course, ironic, since these are similar reasons cited by proponents of urban chicken-keeping." The idea of urban farm animal raising both incites dread on those who want the disjunction maintained by keeping all of this at a distance, while at the same time those who want to raise chickens hope that in so doing, they will be able to overcome the disjunction.

[1] Thompson, A History of Livestock Raising, p. 39. As originally cited in Jimmy Skaggs, Prime Cut, p. 34.
[2] Skaggs, p. 34.
[3] Skaggs, p. 36.
[4] As cited and discussed in Noelie Vialles' excellent Animal to Edible. See p. 15.
[5] This, and the immediate following discussion is drawn from Siegfried Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command, pp. 209-213. It is a crime this book is out of print.
[6] Vialles discusses the euphemistic nature of abattoir, pp.22-28.
[7] Vialles p. 22.
[8] Vialles, pp. 31-32.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Post of Links

Peter and Devin continue my post on Levinas. No surprise, I have broad agreement with them. I would like to add, if you are interested a way of reading Levinas for animal others, you need to read Matt Calarco's Zoographies (if, for some reason, you haven't already).

Levi has a post extending my analysis of human exceptionalism, and circling squares riffs on it over at his blog.

There are two awesome looking events in the DC area on critical animal studies at the beginning of Dec. I cannot begin to tell you how jealous I am of anyone going.

My blog is just never going to be the place for finding up to the minute news and analysis on the Occupation. Not because I don't think it is important, it might be the most important news story in America these days, but because other people are doing it better and faster. Anyway, here is a good round-up by Stuart Elden on the UC police brutality. A nice place to go if you are out of touch.

Over at Knowledge Ecology, Adam Robbert has uploaded Donna Haraway's speech on animals and killing well that she gave at the AAR this weekend. I need to listen to it again (I was distracted this morning while listening to it) to give a better response. However, I continue to believe she is somehow articulating a position to vegan ecofeminists of innocence, which I think is clearly not at all what is at stake. Also, I continue to be confused if her position on killing well thinks through animal/critter sociality (outside of human-animal sociality) in any sort of semiotically and materially thick way. Worth a listen, though. Donna Haraway remains a remarkably bright and insightful thinker, and one whom comes across in a spirit of generosity so seldom seen in the academy these days.

MLA has an insightful and disturbing post on the justifications and views of distance learning, including linking it to his shitty early jobs at McDonalds.

Over at Environmental Critique is an interesting post on urban animal raising. If I get the chance tomorrow, I will make a post on the tendency of urban centers to exile animal slaughtering. Also, APS has a post up there, definitely worth checking out. The title, "A Necessary Fear of Chaos," should be more than enough to entice you to click.

I recently discovered the blog Animal Wise, which is about research into animal intelligence and capabilities (I believe from a link on Andrew Sullivan's blog).

It seems that modern humans once mated with other species. I've been meaning to do a post up about this and Ladelle McWhorter's smart essay, "Enemy of the Species", from the edited volume Queer Ecologies. It might still happen.

Peter Singer argues we should ban cigarettes.

Lastly, but not least, here are a few conferences that if I can make the time and funding work out, I would like to submit to, and hopefully present at: the 2012 Radical Philosophy Association Conference, 5th International Deleuze Studies conference, and the Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies.

Florence+ The Machine has a new album. Instead, here is her old song.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On hating humanity

I went to a lecture yesterday on Levinas, Kierkegaard, and Locke. I asked the speaker a question about potential limits of the phenomenological basis of Levinas' ethics in regards to beings who are not yet (the ethics of fighting global warming for those who do not yet exist), and also I asked about what happens when there is a disagreement about being called by the face of the other, specifically about animals. The speaker began his response this way:

"A French philosopher, I don't remember whom, once said that loving nature is really hatred of humanity." And the answer went downhill from there. A few things: (1) I assumed the speaker was referring to Luc Ferry, but when I checked, I realized Luc Ferry is quoting Marcel Gauchet. (2) I am honestly shocked every time I run into an educated person who does not believe in global warming. (3) This seems like a good time to remind people about this post.

I really do wish I had been able to ask him something like, "So, to prove your love of humanity, do you try to destroy nature as much as possible?" Sadly, that seemed grossly inappropriate at the time.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Archive of Critical Animal Studies

This post is inspired by writing the lit review of my dissertation, and reading Barbara Noske's Beyond Boundaries: Humans and Animals (which is sadly out of press).

In the anglophone world, particularly the North American anglophone world, Animal Studies as a major academic phenomena is distinctly a 2000s event, and comes about with the rise of continentalist attention toward animals. To give some dates, we have H. Peter Steeves (ed) Animal Others, a volume that was particularly unique when it came out in 1999. In 2000 we get Steve Baker's Postmodern Animal and Lippit's Electric Animal (and does it surprise anyone that it would get the paperback reprint treatment eight years late?), Critical Inquiry published the English translation of Derrida's "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)" in Winter of 2002, Cary Wolfe's edited Zoontologies and his monograph Animal Rites both came out in 2003, Donna Haraway's The Companion Species Manifesto was also released in 2003, and finally Atterton and Calarco's edited volume of Animal Philosophy came out in 2004. Shortly after that Columbia UP starts a concentrated effort of publishing animal studies, and by 2008 Cary Wolfe has his Posthumanities series at Univ of Minnesota Press. During all of this we also see both the rise and support by the Institute of Critical Animal Studies, founded in 2001, and the foundation of the Journal of Critical Animal Studies in 2003. And while the work after the sudden and important attention toward animal studies is important, I want to turn our attention to the work done before this rise in animal studies.

There exists a vast literature of people who published on animals before the boom. I think it is important to honor that archive. Many of these published in a climate absolutely hostile to doing animal studies work. I have written many times about how the climate of doing animal studies has become increasingly friendly since I started. I believe I have told the story about how I once told another student that my work was on animals, and she laughed at me. She thought it was a joke. Well, a lot of things have changed since then. But for those who worked in animal studies before the boom, or in the earliest stages of the boom, they faced a lot of opposition to do both ethical and cutting edge work. Their books were frequently published in minor presses, or advertised in ways they wouldn't be today, and many of them have gone out of print. They faced attacks on their work. Noske describes near the end of her book: "[I]t turned out the continuity [between humans and other animals] question especially was a taboo subject among feminists. Behind my back doubts were expressed as to my political correctness...." (p. 171) Any number of other examples can be given, no doubt. Greta Gaard and Susan Fraiman have both worked on the ways that ecofeminism, particularly in regards to questions of animals, have faced serious troubles. Ecofeminists thinkers like Carol Adams, Lori Gruen, Greta Gaard, Chris Cuomo, Lyndia Birke, Val Plumwood, Vandana Shiva, and I am sure many more I will be embarrassed for not listing later on, are an invaluable resource for any critical animal studies scholar.
I think it is vitally important as we build our archive of critical animal studies that we pay attention to thinkers who were fighting the anthropocentrism of the academy years, even decades, before it was acceptable (to the degree that it is now). Their work has been frequently marginalized when it came out, so it up to us now to find it, read it, and engage with it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Initial issues with the grad program listing.

There are already a lot of issues to think through with the grad programs friendly to critical animal studies project.

(1) I have generally been very open with the idea of working on animals. I have included people who have published, people who are teaching, and people who are just beginning doing these things. The goal of the project is to try and identify programs where students would find an atmosphere that might allow them to do the sort of critical animal studies work they want to do, without feeling always intellectually alone.

(2) But I have already run into the problem about the ambiguity of critical animal studies. Usually I enjoy the ambiguity, taking it as a good coalitional term. But there are two problems I am faced with here.

(A) Does CAS just refer to animal studies that intersects on some level with theory (a poorly defined term itself!)? In this, I mean is there any reason, for example, to exclude the animal ethicists working in the analytical tradition? Or the people doing quantitative work on human-animal relationships (if, indeed, anyone is doing that work)? I honestly do see any reason to, say, not list Princeton with the work of Peter Singer.

(B) The other problem has to do with the level to which the work of people listed are for animal welfare, animal abolition, pro-veganism and/or pro-vegetarianism, etc. For example, Kathy Rudy is obviously not pro-vegan or pro-vegetarian, but still considers her work pro-animal welfare. Do we list her work? And what about all the more ambiguous cases? If someone is publishing on, say, Herman Melville and the animal, we might have no good sense of that person's position on vegetarianism/veganism, abolitionism vs. welfarism, etc etc etc. It would be terrible if this list turned into some sort of weird witch-hunt, in which people email into me that so-in-so actually was seen eating animal flesh or whatever. Anyone interested in critical animal studies knows that there is a constant stream of rumors and gossips if certain academics are vegetarians. Or if they are more than vegetarians, but also vegans. Lastly, there is a real limit to my knowledge. I just cannot possibly know everyone's work in every field and discipline, and I cannot know all their positions.

These two issues makes me wonder if a list about critical animal studies is at all possible. Perhaps, all I can do is a list about human-animal studies. I would really like some feedback on all of this.

(3) Should I continue to list graduate certificate programs along with MA and PhD programs? My gut feeling is yes, but I don't have a good reason for that one way or another.

(4) Eric pointed out that I need to add which professors are working on animals in this list. That strikes me as a good idea. Is there any reason that I should maybe avoid this?

Lastly, all of this is taking absurdly more time than I already thought it would. Which is fine. But I have a dissertation to finish (among other things). So the idea of even having a decent Beta list for this application season seems impossible. Still, the goal is to have a strong initial list, at least for North America, by the start of Fall 2012. And that will mean lots more working. I have only gotten a few suggestions so far. Please keep them coming.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Help me generate a list of graduate programs in Critical Animal Studies

I tried to start this once before, but it didn't work out.

Since I made that post, I have gotten increasingly more hits of people interested in this material. I think this is information that will be important for many people. Here is what I am working for: Graduate programs, in any discipline and in any English speaking country, that would be seen as being friendly to critical animal studies. My guess is that we can determine two different levels of friendliness. First, programs that have some sort of specific or stated affinity toward animal studies. Second, programs that have at least one faculty member that is interested in critical animal studies. (If anyone has any objections to these, let me know. If anyone has any other ideas, let me know). Please either post in comments or send me an email. Furthermore, please let me know why you are including the programs you are suggesting. This year's graduate school hunt is already upon us, but I want to try and get some sort of Beta list up by the end of this month, if that is possible. Then hopefully before Fall 2012 begins, I would have a stronger list up, and then I would try to keep it updated as long as the list seems relevant.

Other relevant comments:
(1)This is in no way a ranking list, and I have no desire to start a ranking system.
(2) Critical Animal Studies here is meant in its broadest, most inclusive sense. We can work out if there are issues with this after we have gotten the data.
(3) I am open to any advice or criticism in all of this.
(4) As always, self-promotion is welcomed.

Here is the immediate data I have so far. All the programs listed have faculty that are working on the issues of animals. The schools offering programs in animal studies, are obviously offering programs in animal studies. Also, Colorado State also have an animal studies working group of some sort.
I will certainly have some obvious and embarrassing omissions in what follows. Help me fix those. These schools are being drawn from things other people have mentioned in the past, or I have written down for some reason. This current list is completely devoted to the United States, because that is what I have. I will try to do one on Canada tomorrow (I have a lot less for Canada). I have almost nothing for other countries outside of North America. Send in other stuff, and I will expand the list.

Tell me what I missed. Who has schools where people are teaching and/or publishing on animals, and have graduate departments.

United States

Animal Studies/Animal Public Policy

Humane Society University (MA only).

Michigan State University.

Tufts University (MA only).


Cornell University


Stanford University


Arizona State University

Brooklyn College (MA only)

Colorado State University (MA only)

Columbia University

Northwestern University


Portland State University (MA Only)

Rice University

Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (MA only)


University of Chicago


Cornell University

Northwestern University

Interdisciplinary Studies

Stanford University (Modern Thought and Literature)

UC-Santa Cruz (History of Consciousness)


Emory University

DePaul University

Penn State

University of Oregon

Vanderbilt University

Political Science

Colorado State University


University of South Carolina (MA only)

University of Texas at Austin


Colorado State University

University of Colorado at Boulder

Women's Studies

Duke University (Graduate Certificate Only)

UMass Amherst (Graduate Certificate Only)

On Anti-Nietzsche and Ontological Poverty

Well, my copy of Malcolm Bull's Anti-Nietzsche came in, yesterday. I briefly talked about this book before. The TOC:



Ch 1: Philistinism

Ch 2: Anti-Nietzsche

Ch 3: Negative Ecologies

Ch 4: Subhumanism

Ch 5: Excommunication

Ch 6: Counter-Interest

Ch 7: The Great Beast

And then the usual back matter.

The first three chapters can basically be found in either the New Left Review, or in the links I gave earlier. But, besides sharing some information on the book, I wanted to share this wonderful paragraph:
The alignment of Durkheim and Heidegger here owes something to their shared debt to Leibniz, whose monadology provides a model not only for Durkheim's account of specialisation, but for Heidegger's account of captivation as well. But it is more than that. If to become poor in world is to become poor in common consciousness, Heidegger's attempt to exempt the human from the world-poverty of the animal is inextricably entwined with the desire to release humanity from the world-darkening of modernity. No wonder he uses the metaphor of darkness to describe both states. Nature provides us with a model of what social interaction is like without common consciousness. Becoming animal is becoming modern, perhaps, as Kojève suggests, the future of modernity. A negative ecology of value must eventually involve participating in a division of labour, a being plural plural. That is what an ecology is. Becoming world-poor opens up the possibility for a degree of anomie beyond that possible within purely human interaction. You cannot fully experience anomie within the species; you have to go outside. The human world is never dark enough. (p. 128)
This is obviously a dense paragraph, but also intense. It is only by accepting our ontological poverty that we can begin to think community and ecology.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CFP: 11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies

Call for Presentations: 11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies

March 2 – 4, 2012
Canisius College
Buffalo, New York, USA

Host Sponsors:
Animal Allies Club of Canisius College

From Greece to Wall St.: Global Economic Revolutions and Critical Animal Studies

As worldwide economies collapse and socio-political revolutions arise in response to education tuition increases, job losses, tax increases, land rights, and religious division, governments are collapsing only to be hijacked by corporations. In the US, national and transnational banks and financial institutions are being bailed out by the government, while common people are kicked out of their homes and fired from their jobs so corporations can save money. Simultaneously, global revolutionary fervor increases against corporations, banks, and corrupt financial institutions. People are demanding their rights and their nations back. The results of this backlash are police brutality and political repression toward activists worldwide. The theme of this year’s annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies is based on inquiry into how economic markets locally, regionally, nationally and globally affect nonhuman animals. Can these revolutions include a critical animal studies agenda? If not, why not? If they can, how would this agenda manifest both philosophically and strategically? How does the economy affect nonhuman animals? Are there alternative ethical and transformative economic systems that promote animal liberation? How are capitalism and transnational corporations affecting nonhuman animal exploitation? How do industrial complexes promote exploitive economic practices? What tactics and strategies can be used to resist economic exploitation? How do economic crises similarly oppress human and nonhuman animals and the environment? In what ways are the resulting oppressions intersectional? How are schooling, teaching, and education influenced by economic interests which promote exploitation?

We welcome proposals from community members including, but not limited to, nonprofit organizations, political leaders, activists, professors, staff, and students. We are especially interested in topics such as the history of social movements, spirituality and social movements, nonviolence, alliance politics, freedom, democracy, and notions of total inclusion. We are also interested in reaching across the disciplines and movements of environmentalism, education, poverty, feminism, LGBTQA, animal advocacy, globalization, prison abolition, prisoner support, labor rights, disability rights, anti-war activism, youth rights, indigenous rights/sovereignty, and other peace and social justice issues.

Areas of inquiry include:The Future of Critical Animal Studies
Occupy Wall Street
Global Industrial Complex
Anarchist Studies
Activism and Tactics for Social Change
Social Networking
Critical Criminology
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA)
Animals in Relation to Religion and Spirituality
Abolition as Theory or Strategy
Animals and Property
Challenges to Human Domination
Sexuality and Gender
Culture, Language, and Animals
Domesticated and Wild Animals
Deconstructing Human and Animal
Social Constructions
Re-Defining Nature
Bio Ethics and Universal Ethics
Geography, Space and Place
Animal Epistemology
Education and Schooling

Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length.

We are receptive to different and innovative formats including, but not limited to, roundtables, panels, community dialogues, theater, and workshops.

You may propose individual or group “panel” presentations, but please clearly specify the structure of your proposal.

Please stress in your paper/roundtable/panel/etc. how you will be focusing on the program theme and linking it to economics and critical animal studies.

Proposals or abstracts for panels, roundtables, workshops, or paper presentations should be no more than 500 words. Please send with each facilitator or presenter a 100 maximum word biography (speaking to your activism and scholarship) in third person paragraph form.

The deadline for submissions is January 15, 2012.

Accepted presenters will be notified via e-mail by January 25, 2012.

Please send proposals/abstracts and biographies electronically using MS Word and as an attachments in Times Roman 12 point font to:

Stephanie Jenkins
Co-Conference Chair

Logistics Contact:
Morgan Jamie Dunbar

Conference Schedule Contact:
Sarat Colling

(h/t Lib Now)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Human Exceptionalism and Ethical Abstractions

(I am still interested in feedback about this job market question)

Alex Reid has a post up about human exceptionalism and the environment. So, that has prompted me to write some things about human exceptionalism, some of which directly responds to his points, some of which has nothing to do with what he wrote.

One of the reasons that I always find human exceptionalism problematic is that most people seem to skip the hard work of philosophical anthropology. Or to put it another way, most people take the human as given, without doing the conceptual work to draw a dividing line between all the variations of humanity on one side, and all manifestations of life on the other side. There is a sort of almost Supreme Court on obscenity feel to such discussions: we know humans when we see them. Of course, our track record of knowing humans is actually pretty bad. Slavery, sexism, colonialism and coloniality, racism, our treatment of the mentally disabled, peasantry and poor, the mad, physically disabled, and more and more. You get the picture, right? It was not uncommon in the histories of coloniality, for example, to believe that the languages of the colonized were not full languages, but existed somewhere between animal languages and full, human languages. Indeed, those colonized peoples were not seen as full people. As little back as the 1950s, it was fairly common to talk and think about people with autism as being not fully human, of not being capable of language, thought, and humanity. We have to have a certain level of hubris to believe that we have finally understood who are humans and who are not, when quite frankly this question of humanness is both old and recent. It haunts the boundaries of every project of philosophical anthropology, it haunts the boundaries of every claim of human exceptionalism.

To counter one example from Alex Reid, he writes:
Humans are unique (apologies to ET) in their symbolic behaviors, in our particular cognitive capacities and uses of technology, etc., etc
I mean, both yes and no, right? Most attempts to create a clear dividing line between human animals and other animals tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is to claim some trait and say only humans have it, when other animals clearly have it--like claiming only humans have self-consciousness. The second way is to claim some action that exists only for some humans as if it defines humanity--like saying that other animals may have language, but only humans have poetry. We know there are animals that use a great deal of symbolic behaviors (Great Apes, elephants, certain birds, etc), and we know that there are many animals that make tools, even some that make tools to make tools. Of course, we don't know if there are any animal poets, and I don't think there are any animal inventors of complex machines. Of course, most people aren't poets, and I have never invented or made a complex machine. There are certainly expressions of certain traits that seem to be found only in humans, but not for all of humanity. On the other hand, there are all sorts of traits that can be found within animals (tool-use, symbol use and language, mourning, getting high to relieve boredom, friendship, painting, sexual taboos, etc etc). To give an example from Reid's field, George Kennedy, in "A Hoot in the Dark", argues that rhetoric precedes the human (h/t Jim Brown). This is the shores that the projects of philosophical anthropology crash upon: Either characteristics include too many, or not enough. Which makes sense, because as Reid points out:
However not unique in a way that our development cannot be understood as part of the development of the rest of the world. No doubt, for a long time we had a belief (and most humans still believe) that human exceptionalism was not part of the life world but granted by an external divine force.
Evolution is a blind system of forces and relations. It tends to work by repeating adaptive strategies. To believe in evolution as opposed to divine intervention, is to believe that there is a chance that nothing about humans, as such, that does exist in the expressions and manifestations, to some degree, in other species. There is a possibility that we are hopelessly non-unique. Humanity is an abstraction. Abstraction here used in the sense that Pierce, Whitehead, and Deleuze all (differently) use the term. And because humanity is not given, but abstracted, it means that the political and ethical questions of relations are based upon such abstractions. How we attend and care for our abstractions will necessitate different forms of relations. This is probably a good way of thinking through Jane Bennett's claim about necessary anthropomorphism. For a long time (and still is in many places) the way people knew you were purely constructing your abstractions is that they suffered from anthropomorphism--they discovered within non-human categories traits that only belonged to humans. Bennett argues that thinking certain types of relations will require anthropomorphism. And I agree. But I agree, partially, that it will be necessary as a corrective of what primatologist Frans de Waal calls anthropodenial. Anthropodenial is when we refuse to characterize expressions of non-humans by what they are, because they are characteristics we have tautologically assigned to only humans. If we say, for example, that apes do not engage in prostitution because prostitution is an uniquely human activity, that would be anthropodenial. While we have long been wary of abstractions that engaged in anthropomorphism, we are almost never worried about abstractions that engage in anthropodenial. It seems you can never go far enough in your claims about human exceptionalism, you can never been seen as absurd for assuming there are activities and thoughts that belong uniquely to humanity. Anthropomorphism is necessary to counter our millennia long history of anthropodenial.

I want to end, however, with the challenge that Reid ends his post with:
What would a non-humanocentric humanities look like? What would it mean to read literature or examine rhetoric or study philsophy or history or whatever without this exceptionalist view of humans? These are the kinds of changes that Bennett suggests for environmentalism, so perhaps they are not as modest as I suggested at the outset.
Back when we had the group blog of The Inhumanities going on, that was part of the desire. The desire, also, of Cary Wolfe's posthumanism and posthumanities. It is certainly important to note that the humanities, originally and historically, were very much about the domination of a certain expression of the human against other groups that we also consider human. The humanities, of course, have often lead the charge against such colonial impulses, as well. I have high hopes for a posthumanities or an inhumanities. This is also to say, quite simply, that I think the humanities are often great ways of changing our abstractions. Whitehead contented that "You cannot think without abstractions; accordingly it is of the utmost importance to be vigilant in critically revising your modes of abstraction" (Science and the Modern World, p.73). Time for a revision. One after the abstraction of human exceptionalism.

Interdisciplinary Teaching and the Job Market

This is a question mostly for those of you who have been on hiring committees, or are fairly familiar with thought processes of people on hiring committees. Any discipline or type of university welcomed to respond (though please let me know your background if I don't already).

What is the reigning thought on interdisciplinary teaching? To be a bit more specific, if you have a candidate with a home discipline, but has done extensive teaching in all sorts of different disciplines, how do you weigh that? What are the factors that go into examining such a background? Does it help or hurt if this is seen as a larger aspect of interdisciplinary publishing, conference attending, and education?

If anyone feels more comfortable with just shooting me an email, feel free. Or if anyone wants to post anonymous, go ahead, just give us some idea what discipline you are talking from, and the type of university (SLAC, Research, etc.) that you are coming from.