No tags :(

Share it

ANIMAL STUDIES Thinking Animals Conference Program


Thinking with Animals

A Minding Animals Pre-Conference Event

Hosted by New York University Animal Studies Initiative & The New School
Friday, January 25, 2013
8:30am – 5:15pm
12 Waverly Place, Room G08, NYC 10003


Although the social sciences, humanities, and philosophy have long been characterized by a deep-seated anthropocentrism, the recent explosion of popular moral concern for nonhuman animals has helped expand the boundaries of these disciplines. This conference examines how the “animal turn” is altering the contours of academic inquiry in the fields of philosophy, anthropology, politics, sociology, cultural studies, and literature. Specifically, scholars will examine how our relations with animals both reflect and shape the historical, political, and cultural contexts in which they are embedded; and they will ask what it means to theorize animals as political, economic, social, and moral objects—and subjects.


“After Human Life: Documenting Liveliness in Zones of Disaster”, Ada Smailbegovic, PhD Candidate, Department of English, New York University

Abstract: In Becoming Undone, the philosopher Elizabeth Grosz poses a series of open questions about the future of the humanities, asking how the humanities can proceed with their epistemological project in light of the Darwinian rearrangement of the universe that has dislocated the position of the human away from the centre of the universe. “This is not simply the question of how we might include the animal, incorporate it into the human,” Grosz writes, but to ask, “what is the limit of the humanities […] beyond which it must be forced to transform itself into new forms of knowledge” (15)? This paper will elaborate one possible response to this question, engaging with the forms of post-humanist practice that are emerging in literary and cultural studies, to examine documents of disaster, which surprisingly reveal not empty landscapes of devastation, but the lively re-emergence of animal life. The central object of analysis will be the documentary film Chernobyl: Life in the Dead Zone which documents the lives of animals, that are inhabiting the literally post-human landscape surrounding the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. The paper will constellate this documentary in relation to two fictional accounts of disaster, the 1979 film Stalker by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and the 1975 film Black Moon by the French director Louis Malle, as well as the drawings of Cornelia Hesse-Honegger which depict the mutations that arise among insect populations that have been exposed to radiation.

“Just Another Manic Monad: Of Glass, Bees, and Glass Bees” Dominic Pettman, Associate Professor, Department of Culture and Media, The New School

Abstract: Karl von Frisch famously discovered the complex communication capabilities of bees. Ernst Junger not so famously wrote a proto-cyberpunk novel about the symptomatic existence of robotic glass bees. By putting these two case studies into dialogue, this paper seeks to reassess one of the key questions of the (animal) monad: does it withdraw decisively into its own interiority, or is it capable of forming relationships and alliances with alterity?

“Humanitarianism beyond the Human”, Miriam Ticktin, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, The New School

Abstract: This paper will examine what I see as the expansion of the politics of universal suffering to include animals and plants – that is, to expand humanity understood as an affective community, into new biological domains — focusing on the accompanying scientific, medical and political technologies that help to shape this emerging community. My starting point is the increasing frequency of stories foregrounding the suffering and rescue of animals, not only in the US but in humanitarian missions in places like Haiti and Japan, which draw on familiar humanitarian sentiments, structures and technologies.


“The Totemic Pigeon: How Relations with Animals Foster Social Belonging.” Colin Jerolmack, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies & Sociology, New York University

Abstract: This paper, based on comparative ethnographic research in New York and Berlin, examines how relationships with domestic pigeons configured people’s sense of self and relation to society. In New York, I show how the appreciation that a group of working-class males expressed for their pigeons was given impetus by their social relations: they bred and trained their birds according to group customs, and they competed for peer status vis-à-vis their birds. I also examine how the men’s animal practices were steeped in working- class culture and fostered social ties that crossed racial boundaries. Shifting to the Turkish pigeon caretakers in Berlin, I show how the birds were vehicles for the men’s performance of their ethnic identity, and I describe how the pigeon coop enabled these homesick immigrants to simultaneously maintain a material connection to their homeland and create a Turkish social space in the interstices of their host city. By underscoring how people’s close relations with animals can be driven by socially patterned impulses and can organize the “social self,” this paper critiques the notion that such associations are inherently tied to an innate desire to commune with nature. It also challenges sociological perspectives that assume nonhumans play no part in shaping the social realm.

“Animals and the Production of Meaning: Enriching “The Animal Turn” with Insights from Cultural Anthropology (and Vice Versa)” Amy Leigh Field, PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, New York University

Abstract: Fifty years ago, Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote in The Savage Mind that animals are “good to think.” Although this idea in and of itself was not taken up widely in anthropology until “The Animal Turn,” human relationships with animals are not a theme which is new to the discipline. Studies of animal totemism, animal classifications, and pastoral livelihoods have always been central topics in anthropology. However, the animal itself as a subject and as the embodiment of difference was not heavily considered. The most recent work in anthropology has begun to apply concepts from within the discipline which reverse this trend, examining themes such as animal personhood, animals in technology, animals in agriculture and food systems, and animals in morality and ethics. My own ethnographic research on the legal regulation of small animal farming in Germany follows this pattern. I attempt to describe the place of the animal in the contemporary European legal system, as well as the meanings ascribed to animals by those who regularly interact with them. The benefit of doing ethnography, the major methodology in anthropological research, is its ability to capture the rich multiplicity of meanings which relationships with animals take in different social, cultural, economic, and political circumstances, and thereby provide empirical data from which we can more clearly theorize the human-animal relationship.

“The Elephant’s Self-Portrait: On Humane-itarian Interventions”, Pooja Rangan, Assistant Professor, Department of Culture and Media, The New School

Abstract: My paper investigates contemporary humanitarian efforts to rescue and rehabilitate incarcerated and indentured animals as producers of art—a practice most recently and controversially popularized by viral videos of former draft elephants in Thailand producing paintings for sale. Positioning these efforts as “humane-itarian mediations” that merge the rhetorical immediacy of humanitarian interventions with the disciplinary logic of humane reform, I question the anthropocentric regulatory coordinates of “selfhood” claimed for these newly empowered animal authors, by drawing on attempts by Roger Caillois and Jakob von Uexkull to articulate radically non-anthropocentric theories of animalpoiesis and semiosis.


“Conceptions of environmentally-responsible agriculture: the role of animals” Chris Schlottmann, Clinical Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, New York University

 Abstract: A number of recent studies indicate that animal agriculture contributes to more environmental impact (especially climate change) than previously thought. This is due to improved assessment methods and the inclusion of more environmental harms such as methane. Such empirical evidence poses a challenge to many conceptions of environmentally responsible agriculture, including localism, traditionalism, and critiques of modernism and technology. This talk discusses this challenge in detail, specifically engaging with some tensions that this evidence raises for environmentally responsible food production.

“Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight” Timothy Pachirat, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, The New School

 Abstract: I present findings from research into the routine killing of animals for human consumption from the perspective of slaughterhouse employees. Drawing on more than five months of undercover employment as a liver hanger, cattle driver, and quality control worker on the kill floor of a Great Plains slaughter-house where 2,500 cattle are killed per day, I will explore not only the slaughter industry but also how, as a society, we facilitate violent labor and hide away that which we find too repugnant to contemplate.

“This Little Piggy Went to Market: Representing Animal Life & Death in Pork Industry Discourse” Jan Dutkiewicz, PhD Candidate, Department of Politics, The New School

Abstract: In a society where animal mistreatment and animal consumption are becoming increasingly viewed with distaste, producers and vendors of animal products engage in various tactics to distance animals and animal death from end consumers. This trend is most tellingly manifested in the marketing and business discourse undertaken by the meat industry. By examining various forms of communication undertaken by companies throughout the pork value chain, this paper seeks to examine the role of distance, deceit, and denial in propagating and normalizing exploitative inter-species power relations. The analysis focuses on how euphemism, jargon, and omission are strategically deployed to affect different audiences’ perceptions of pig life and death as well as the very nature of animality itself. This paper goes on to suggest that the commodification of nonhumans inherent in the industry is internally justified and normalized through the active and strategic discursive reduction of animals to products.


“Animal Agency” Jeff Sebo, Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow of Animal Studies & Environmental Studies, New York University

Abstract: Many philosophers put a lot of moral weight on the concept agency, or personhood. They think that you need to be an agent in order to have reasons, duties, and many rights, including the right to life and liberty. And, unfortunately for nonhuman animals, many philosophers also have fairly anthropocentric views about agency: they think that you need to be rational, linguistic, and self-aware in order to be an agent, and that most, if not all, nonhuman animals are clearly not rational, linguistic, or self-aware. However, in recent years some philosophers have begun to challenge this conception of agency, for reasons that often have very little to do with nonhuman animals. My goal in this talk is to present an increasingly popular “minimal” conception of agency and argue that this “minimal” conception of agency implies that many nonhuman animals are agents after all. I will then very briefly consider what the moral upshot of this development might be.

“Foie Gras and the Relational Politics of Context” Rafi Youatt, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, The New School

Abstract: This paper discusses the role of relational, context-dependent obligations in steering human political commitments to animals, using the debates over foie gras in Chicago as its point of departure. It shows that political stances in the foie gras debates were generated neither by a context free abstraction about “the animal,” nor by context per se, but rather by moving ideas about animals from one context to another. It then considers how this example bears on recent arguments in political theory that contexts can, and should, determine the kinds of positive rights that animals have.

“Thinking about Animals: How to be hard-headed without being hard (or unimaginative)” Alice Crary, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, The New School

 Abstract: This talk is a philosophical intervention in debates about animals and ethics. Many thinkers who contribute to the animal protectionist movement start from – sometimes unwittingly – philosophical assumptions that block appreciation of how imaginative works can contribute to an ethically relevant understanding of animals’ lives. In this brief commentary, I have two aims: (1) to describe how such philosophical assumptions shape the writings of some prominent animal advocates and (2) to offer illustrations of the sort of imaginative thought about animals that these assumptions exclude. I focus specifically on James Marsh’s 2011 film Project Nim and Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book Eating Animals.

“The Messes Animals Make”, Dale Jamieson, Director of Environmental Studies & Bioethics; Professor of Environmental Studies & Philosophy; Affiliated Professor Law, New York University

 Abstract: In a 1947 paper B.A.G. Fuller pointed out that “animals make a mess in metaphysics.” Philosophical systems are typically constructed without regard to animals, and so “they are such

metaphysical misfits…that the only way of keeping the system in order and man master of it is to shoo them out of the house altogether and stop one’s ears against their scratching at the door.”(p.83). So we get the incredible and unlivable views of Descartes and Malebranche, and from most of the philosophical tradition, an eerie silence.

Animals make messes not only in metaphysics but also in other areas of philosophy including philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, ethics, and legal philosophy. When animals cannot be ignored they are tortured in order to fit into preexisting categories. Rather than being acknowledged for what they are, they are typically discussed in terms of their similarities and differences to humans. Some argue that humans and animals are similar, pointing out that chimps share 97% of their genetic material with humans, asserting that apes can learn language or have a theory of mind, or that rats have empathy. Others claim that animals and humans are dissimilar. They point out that no animals but homo sapiens have ever created anything like New York City with all of its cultural wonders. And as bad as the airlines have become, it would be impossible to survive even a single flight managed and populated by chimpanzees.

The problem, as Nelson Goodman pointed out long ago, is that similarity is cheap, and so these disputes are irresolvable on empirical grounds alone. There are an infinite number of similarities and differences between any two things. The important question is not how many similarities there are between two things, but in what respects two things are similar and how much should we care about these respects. The answer to these questions adverts to our interests and purposes, and so is entwined with our values, presuppositions, and the conceptual framework within which the question is being asked.

For too long investigators have been focused on Human Exceptionalism — some assert it, and others to deny it. What should be rejected is not Human Exceptionalism, but the very idea of Exceptionalism itself. Natural systems express life in a vast array of forms. There is no single (or single class) of exemplars. When things are seen from this perspective the messes disappear. All living things are intrinsic to the natural order in the same way and to the same extent. Taking up this view might require us to confront some truths that are even more inconvenient than that we should give up eating hamburgers and donate the money to PETA. It might force us to rethink who we are.

FOR MORE INFORMATION : http://animalstudies.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/27599/ASI2013ThinkingAnimalsConferenceProgram.pdf