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.