We are excited to share the recent release in the ASI-managed Brill Human-Animal Studies Book Series, Animals Matter: Resistance and Transformation in Animal Commodification, edited by Julien Dugnoille and Elizabeth Vander Meer.
In this book, the term “resistance” is reclaimed by exploring how animals can “resist” their commodification through blocking and allowing human intervention in their lives. In the cases explored in this volume, animals lead humans to rethink their relationship to animals by either blocking and/or allowing human commodification.
ASI’s HAS Program Director, Gala Argent, sat down with the Animals Matter editors to discuss the ways in which animals’ resistance often poses a series of complex moral questions to human commodifiers, sometimes to the point of transforming humans into active members of resistance movements on behalf of animals.
GA: Why did you want to publish this book?
JD & EVM: We wanted to publish Animals Matter to present a reclamation of the concept of resistance in relation to animals. While there are challenges to using the term, based on assumptions of animal intentionality and a human-centered definition, we see the value of such a focus in research, in order to not only capture agency but also power relations, so that animal responses to commodification become more fully visible. As we argue in the book, resistance can take the form of stereotypies, a bodily resistance that is not intentional, or in terms of individuality where animals ultimately resist being grouped into generic species or broader categories because of their unique, individual responses to the contexts within which they find themselves. At the same time, we were keen to expose instances where close relationships with commodified animals, who either block or allow their fate, lead to transformation of human individuals, who may change their commodifying practices as a result, in some cases to the point of becoming advocates for animals. The contributions to the book all explore different aspects of animal resistance, as we define it, and human transformation.
GA: How does the book relate to your background and general areas of interest?
JD & EVM: We have both been researching in anthropology, and more specifically in the field of anthrozoology for many years now, to better understand cultural differences in the treatment of different categories of animals, why these categories exist in the first place. Julien has undertaken research in South Korea, delving into dog and cat meat consumption as well as the developing animal rescue and rights movement within the country, and how it makes sense of and challenges these food traditions. He has also researched farm animal and farmer relationships in France and the UK, and is now looking into animal cemeteries and animal representation in human cemeteries in France. Elizabeth has focused primarily on human-wildlife conflict and coexistence in relation to big predators and primates, as well as researching captive wild animals and their relationships with humans in zoos and circuses, for the latter specifically in the context of France. This book is a natural progression of our ideas and expression of our interests in the field of human-animal studies, and crucially to foreground animal experience.
GA: How is the work situated, and how does it advance debates, within the field of Human-Animal Studies?
JD & EVM: We hope that our book presents a view of resistance and transformation that pushes against anthropocentrism, even within human-animal studies, and makes visible multiple ways in which animals suffer within commodification processes and relationships defined by such commodification; we extend work by Collard (2014) and Shapiro (1989), for instance. Some chapters also provide possible ways forward, to address animals’ ontological vulnerability as commodities, for instance by considering and learning from the creaturely ontogeny and shared citizenship of bovids and humans in Hong Kong, explained by Daisy Bisenieks, and using a lens of deliberation and political voice to move towards interspecies justice, as advocated by Eva Meijer; here work draws from Toren (2002) and Donaldson and Kymlicka (2011). Julien also reveals a Sartrian existential approach (Sartre 1943, 1983) that can explain why some farmers may shift away from practices that commodify animals. Unlike relational approaches (such as Haraway 2008 and Kirksey 2015) that fail to capture asymmetry in human-animal relationships, power dynamics, our conception of resistance does this well. Relational approaches acknowledge animal agency, so that animals are not passive in human-animal interactions, a positive step, but do not go far enough. Haraway’s (2008) relational approach has been criticized for maintaining rather than challenging categories that ensure individual animal’s ontological vulnerability (some animals are killable, some are workers) by not addressing power relations, so we wanted to do that with this book.
GA: What are some of your major messages?
JD & EVM: Our key messages relate to the idea of resistance that we propose/define in the book. First, as explained by Violette Pouillard, we see our approach as flexible and relational, to include a spectrum of behaviours not previously conceived of as animal resistance in contexts of commodification. It is crucial to place front and centre the structural asymmetries, the power dynamics, that ultimately shape human-animal relationships and therefore narrowly define the life worlds of other animals, leading to their bodily resistance in its many individual forms. Secondly, we emphasize the value of close, enduring relationships with other animals that can lead human caregivers or caretakers to ethically question their commodification of individuals; proximity matters and can reveal individual animal personalities and responses, individual suffering and individual ways of coping with grossly diminished captive contexts that hit human commodifiers right in the heart.
GA: Who is your intended audience?
JD & EVM: Research presented in the book is multi-disciplinary and so the audience is wide-ranging. We intended the book for undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers in Anthropology, History, Sociology, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Politics, Geography, Anthrozoology, Psychology, Animal Studies, Animal Welfare, Social Justice, and Animal Law It would also be of value to professionals, for instance in animal NGOs and veterinarians, and more broadly to members of the public interested in animal justice, welfare and human-animal relationships.
GA: What are your goals of your research in terms of welfare and positive policy change?
JD & EVM: Focus on ontological vulnerability of individual animals, and forms of bodily resistance related to this vulnerability, expands the scope of poor welfare to include animal behaviour that has not previously been considered as such. We also provide examples in book chapters of human-animal relationships in particular contexts that have led to positive changes in animal welfare, to learn from, as well as approaches that can give other animals political voice.
Collard, R.-C. (2014). Putting Animals Back Together, Taking Commodities Apart. Annals of the Association of American Geographers,104(1), 151–165.
Donaldson,S. & W.Kymlicka.(2011). Zoopolis: A political theory of animal rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Haraway, D. (2008). When Species Meet. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.
Kirksey, E. (2015). Multispecies Families, Capitalism, and the Law. In Animals, Biopolitics, Law (e-book). Abingdon: Routlege.
Shapiro, Kenneth, J. (1989). The Death of the Animal: Ontological Vulnerability. Philosophy: Between the Species, Fall, 183–94.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. (1943). L’être et le néant: essai d’ontologie phénoménologique. Paris: Gallimard.
———. (1983). L’idiot de la famille: Gustave Flaubert de 1821 à 1857. 1: Collection tel 75. Paris: Gallimard.
Toren, C. 2002.“Comparison and Ontogeny.” In Anthropology, by Comparison., edited by Richard G Fox and Andre Gingrich
For more information and to purchase your copy of Animals Matter, click here.