Around the World with Human-Animal Studies

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Around the World with Human-Animal Studies

By Kim Stallwood on Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
October 2011

Evidence of this growth is on our HAS Links page. Organized under some 20 key categories, there are scores of links to college programs, course information, journals, organizations and so on. Many of these were not available to scholars 10 or even five years ago.

Human-Animal Studies (HAS) is growing around the world, and from my view in Europe it’s an exciting time to be involved.

Evidence of this growth is on our HAS Links page. Organized under some 20 key categories, there are scores of links to college programs, course information, journals, organizations and so on. Many of these were not available to scholars 10 or even five years ago.

Look under the category HAS Conferences and you will find a link to Minding Animals. Minding Animals International (MAI) made its mark in 2009 with an international conference in Newcastle, Australia. Sadly, I was unable to attend but my ASI colleague, Ken Shapiro, did. He says – as does everyone I’ve spoken to who went – that it was a defining moment in the development of Human-Animal Studies. Some 500 scholars, students, advocates, lawyers and policy makers came together in the first international conference of its kind.

MAI’s mission is to provide an international avenue for the interdisciplinary field of HAS and acts as a bridge between the worlds of academia and advocacy. It recognizes HAS as a moral and legal concern for animals, which it situates within the progressive context of social justice. MAI’s Chief Executive Officer is Dr. Rod Bennison, who organized the 2009 Minding Animals conference. I am MAI’s Deputy CEO. Ken is a member of the Board of Directors, which also includes Giovanni Aloi and Linda Williams (see below) and Richard Twine, Kay Peggs, Vivek Menon and Jessica Ullrich

MAI is partnered with the Utrecht University on the organization of the second Minding Animals International conference. MAC2: Building Bridges between Science, the Humanities and Ethics will take place at Utrecht University in The Netherlands on July 4-6, 2012. I encourage everyone to attend who is interested in examining the complex and multidimensional relationships between humans and other animals. The MAI conferences are unique international events where those from advocacy and academia meet to share and discuss our complex relationship with animals.

Between now and MAC2 next year, a series of preconference events are taking place throughout the world. Each one is independent; collectively, however, they are helping to establish further HAS as an important and vital academic discipline throughout the world.

Earlier this month, I attended two consecutive MAI pre conference events, which illustrated the depth and range of HAS.

The first, Animal Citizens, focused on political approaches to animal ethics and was held at the London School of Economics. The seminar organizer, Alasdair Cochrane, began with an overview of animal ethics and how political science can add further insight into our understanding as to what animal rights means in a moral and legal sense. (See his An Introduction to Animals and Political Theory, published by Palgrave Macmillan.)

Siobhan O’Sullivan, from the University of Melbourne, contrasted the ways the same species is treated in legislation depending upon the context of the relationship we have with them and how they are used. For example, dogs, cats and rabbits as companion animals have different legal protections than when they are used by science as research tools in a laboratory. She made the case that these "internal inconsistencies" should be highlighted and used to elevate the legal status of those who are less protected. (See her Animals, Equality and Democracy, published by Palgrave Macmillan.)

The next speaker, Robert Garner, who teaches political science at the University of Leicester, has researched and written about animals and the law since 1993 with the publication of Animals, Politics and Morality (see second edition published by Manchester University Press in 2004). His paper, “Animals Rights in a Non-ideal World,” examined the challenges to achieving effective legal protection for animals in the current political climate. He made the case for an “enhanced sentience position” for animals which afforded significantly stronger legal protection for animals than their current legal status. In short, animals have a right not to suffer regardless of any benefit that may accrue to humans.

The concept of animal citizenship was proposed by Will Kymlicka from Queens University, Ontario. He asked us to imagine a plane arriving at its destination. Everyone aboard held the legal status of citizen; however, depending their circumstances, their status maybe as a full citizen entitled to live, work and vote or someone, for example, who enters the country as a student on a temporary visa with limitations on the length of their stay and what they are legally entitled to do. Drawing from this analogy, he made the case that animals could also have citizenship status, which, depending upon their species and situation, afforded them particular rights. The seminar concluded with a discussion by Steve Cooke (University of Manchester), whose paper, “Justice for Wild Animals: Sovereignty and Partial Sovereignty,” discussed animal citizenship as proposed by Will and his co-author Sue Donaldson in their book, Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford University Press).

The second MAI pre-conference event was organized by Giovanni Aloi, editor of the online journal Antennae. It was held at University College London. The program, “Animal Ecologies in Visual Culture,” was divided essentially between academics who studied the representation of animals and nature in the arts and artists whose practice is also the focus on this relationship.

Included among the scholars were Joyce Salisbury (Professor Emerita from the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay) and Linda Williams (Associate Professor of Art, Environment and Cultural Studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia), who spoke respectively on the representation of mammals and non-mammals as good and evil in the middle ages and related positions in eco-critical theory in response to the works of Australian environmental artists John Wolseley and Harry Nankin.

Artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson, who collaborate as London Fieldworks, described various projects in urban and rural settings that engage ecology as a “complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds.” Based in Budapest and London, contemporary art historians and curators Maja and Reuben Fowkes considered socialism and its legacies in Eastern Europe and how artists represented animals and the natural world. This focus included a consideration of Laika, the dog who was sent on a one-way mission into orbit in 1957. Jussi Parikka focused on the disappearance of insects and animals in early 21st century culture of environmental waste of which electronic media waste constitutes an ever-growing proportion.

Additional commentary was given by arts journalist Rikke Hansen and a concluding discussion was given by Ron Broglio, assistant professor of English and senior research scholar of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, and Giovanni Aloi, lecturer in History of Art at Roehampton University, Queen Mary University of London, The Open University and Tate Galleries.

The day before these two conferences, the opportunity was taken by the MAI board to hold our first in-person meeting. Included among our business was a report from Tatjana Visak, the organizer of MAC2. These three busy days in London reaffirmed the steady progress HAS is making throughout the world, and both Ken and I will post further about our experiences at future events.