Intellectual and Policy Frontiers

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Intellectual and Policy Frontiers

By Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
August 2010

The 4th annual ASI Human-Animal Studies summer fellowship is now history. We will be sharing news of this and plans for future fellowships and related projects in this blog in the future. Here I want to give you a front-seat at the final week of the fellowship. Beginning June 28th and continuing through July 1, a group of 25-30 HAS enthusiasts participated in critical and lively discussion of 18 scholarly presentations.

In what follows, I confine myself to a personal reading of a primary idea selected from the presentations of this year's seven fellows.

Dita Wickins Drazilova: In the near future, it is possible that scientists will be able to bring back long-extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth. Drazilova examines the ethical issues raised by this prospect. Are we obligated to clone all the species of animals that we can or just those whose extinction was human-induced? Are there special ethical considerations in the case of Homo neanderthalensis?

Jane Harris: One of the primary projects of the human-animal studies field is to encourage scholars in various disciplines to take the study of nonhuman animals seriously. For example, instead of treating the animals in a particular subculture merely as products or cultural artifacts, an anthropologist can examine the role the animals play as co-shapers of the subculture. Harris documents how in psychodynamic psychotherapy (a modern form of psychoanalysis) animals are reduced to projections of the client, aspects of the client's peculiar psychology. Her project is to show how psychodynamic therapy could take actual human-animal relationships seriously and adapt psychodynamic concepts to help understand them -- and treat individuals for whom those relationships have gone awry.

William Lynn: One of the factors threatening the endangered spotted owl is the westward extension of the range of the closely related barred owl. This extension is largely a function of human-induced changes in the Great Plains, which formerly served as a natural barrier between the 2 species. Lynn provides an ethical framework to resolve complex issues involving both environmental and animal welfare considerations. "Practical ethics" is a situated and theoretically pluralistic bottom-up approach based on studies on facts and viewpoints on the ground rather than on the apriori application of axioms or principles of ethical theories that claim universal application.

Robert McKay: The post-world war II period saw a major shift in the way we produce food. Through a close reading of selected fiction of the period (1945-1970), McKay shows how the construction of the "animal-industrial complex" impacted the complex and often contradictory ways in which we view animals - as product, as companion, and, with the rise of the contemporary animal rights movement, as oppressed group.

Siobhan O'Sullivan: Most ethical arguments on the animal issue build on the argument that human and nonhuman animals are similar in some way and yet are treated differently. O'Sullivan argues that it is a more effective policy-making strategy to apply this principle of equality within the same family of animals -- if we protect horses that are companion animals, we should offer the same protection to horses in rodeos or in the wild.

Krithika Srinivasan: A comparison of the status of dogs in the US and India shows a class of dogs, "street dogs," in the latter country that are not considered property, unlike both companion animals (individual property) and wildlife (state property). What are the implications of this class of unowned, autonomous animals for policy and the status of animals? Srinivasan examines the Indian street dog as a possible model for how we "could and might live well with nonhuman animals."

Jenny Vermilya: Veterinary schools typically offer separate small-animal and a large-animal curricula. The two tracks differ in the view of animals presumed and taught - small animals are considered as individuals and offered highly specialized treatment; large animals are considered as part of a herd and offered less sophisticated treatment, primarily guided by commercial value. As veterinarians are major players, changes in these curricula differences would have important implications for the way animals are treated (in the broad sense of that term) in industrial agriculture.