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Where Social Justice for Animals and Animal Studies Intersect

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Where Social Justice for Animals and Animal Studies Intersect

By Marc Bekoff (Psychology Today - Animal Emotions) on Free From Harm
July 2012

These journals mark more very good news for nonhuman animals and we should thank Drs. Brosnan and Giglioti for taking the time to do the hard work to get the word out to others who are interested in our complex, frustrating, and challenging relationships with other animals.

Every now and again professional journals publish special issues devoted to “hot” topics about nonhuman animals (aka animals). In June, two peer-reviewed journals published the first of two issues devoted to very important topics that are receiving more and more attention by researchers, non-researchers, and mass media.

The highly regarded journal, Social Justice Research, just published the first of two issues devoted to the general topic of justice in animals, edited by Sarah Brosnan who works at Georgia State University. Research on justice in animals is exciting and has far-reaching implications about who they are, who we are, and about how we treat nonhumans. Psychology Today blogger Jessica Pierce (and my co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals) and I note this in our abstract.

Social justice in animals is beginning to attract interest in a broad range of academic disciplines. Justice is an important area of study because it may help explain social dynamics among individuals living in tightly-knit groups, as well as social interactions among individuals who only occasionally meet. In this paper, we provide an overview of what is currently known about social justice in animals and offer an agenda for further research. We provide working definitions of key terms, outline some central research questions, and explore some of the challenges of studying social justice in animals, as well as the promise of the work we’re proposing. Finally, we suggest why continued research into animal cognition and social behavior has significant ethical implications for our treatment of nonhuman animals.

Original essays written by many different researchers deal with the general topic of justice for many different animals including non-human primates, social carnivores, birds, fish, and those of the human kind, including people living behind bars, a topic close to my heart because of my own work with inmates. By clicking here you can read all of the abstracts, the first page of each essay, and get the email address of authors if you’d like a copy of their essay.

Nonhuman animals figure into out lives in myriad ways and the current issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture called “Animal Influence” contains numerous wide-ranging essays. To quote from the introductory editorial:

Animal Influence was the title of a conference part of the Interactive Future series, organised by Carol Gigliotti, which took place in November 2011 (Vancouver). The conference gathered nationally and internationally recognized artists as well as scholars whose work is influenced and informed by animals, their cognitive abilities, creativity and consciousness. As the introduction of the program stated: “Our particular interest is in how investigations in animal-human relations are affecting the ways in which new media artists are considering broader understandings of other species and creating varying methodologies for experimental art and new media appropriate for these unique circumstances.” This issue of Antennae, (and the next one, which will be available in September), gathers the great majority of papers delivered at the conference and a selection of artworks which were exhibited at the concomitant art exhibition.

The entire issue is available for free. I was fortunate enough to attend this seminal meeting and to give a lecture and was floored by how much I learned about topics I rarely thought about or didn’t even know existed!

These journals mark more very good news for nonhuman animals and we should thank Drs. Brosnan and Giglioti for taking the time to do the hard work to get the word out to others who are interested in our complex, frustrating, and challenging relationships with other animals. Projects like these require that people with different agendas work with, not against, one another, and the editors have done an admirable job of bringing together people with different agendas and views, just what we need to make progress.