This issue of Sloth brings together some impressive contributions that showcase both the quality and the diversity of emerging voices in Human-Animal Studies. The first two essays are complementary in tackling legal definitions of nonhuman animals vis-à-vis human beings and critically exploring key issues around animal rights in law and philosophy. Both also engage in different ways with the complex relationship between legal distinctions and cultural perceptions, and discuss the implications for animal scholarship and activism. The human/animal binary and its reproduction is at the heart of the third, fourth, and fifth essays as well, the first of which discusses a visual arts installation critically addressed to idealized representations of animal farming, particularly those we typically present to children, and which distort and conceal – and thereby perpetuate – the grim realities of our treatment of animals in modern agriculture. The next essay, also a visual presentation, considers what would happen if the binaries broke down and consciousness of the human/animal divide could be suspended, if only during the creative process. The final essay comprises an historical analysis of how cultural constructions of liminal or hybrid human-animal entities manifest anxieties around the fragility of the bounded domain of the human, but also the emancipatory possibilities of its transgression. Taken together the contributions to this edition impressively span the fields of law, philosophy, cultural studies, visual arts, and history. They intersect in fruitful ways around the core themes of boundaries and their reproduction or transgression, both in conceptual terms and in grounded practice and activism, as well as the inter-relationship between legal and wider socio-cultural change.
In her essay, Hope Holtum examines the Nonhuman Rights Project which strives to gain legal personhood for nonhuman animals. She notes that by restricting its efforts to a limited range of the most cognitively complex nonhuman animals, the Project seems to rely on and reinforce a hierarchy of beings based on anthropocentric definitions and measures of intelligence and self-awareness. It is nevertheless justified, Holtum argues, because the activist strategies required for achieving concrete legal change are often distinct from those best suited to promote broader intellectual and cultural shifts. In this way, Holtum’s analysis contributes to a deeper understanding of the relationship between the need to articulate consistently non-anthropocentric ways of thinking and the partial compromises with anthropocentric value-systems that are often strategically necessary in practical-legal struggles. Similarly, Georgia Croucher explores the elements of the legal system that define animal and cruelty, asking us to consider the ways in which laws are elemental to both our intellectual understandings of the other and the lasting consequences of our definition of an animal other, its rights, and its protections. Combining philosophy and law, she illuminates our limitations in proceeding towards a society that sees animal rights as equal to those of humans. Her suggestion to expand professional education in the field on these issues would benefit future lawyers and lawmakers.
The first visual arts entries in Sloth come from Karen Cooper and Susie Marcroft. In an essay explaining her installation, “Kiddie’s Corner,” Cooper examines the contradictory relationships of children with animals and their images. Her main critique is that culturally we have distanced ourselves from meat production. She problematizes the anthropomorphized and cute images of farm animals we present to children as an element of a harmful pastoral imagination that separates food from animal from reality. Importantly, Cooper’s message is not just about children. She believes “we are cosseted like children from the horrors of factory farming and slaughterhouses” suggesting the images we mass produce for ourselves are juvenile attempts at further distancing the processes of meat production from our consciousness. Marcroft walks us through her creative process of “suspended consciousness” in the essay on her sculpture series, “Strange Little Attractors.” Her art suggests the possibilities in suspending binaries during the creative process in order to create new perceptions and metaphors that break down traditional binaries of human/animal and self/other. She suggests that the process of making art can be a way of overcoming such intellectual divisions and tapping into the mind, body, and soul in creating new imagery. In her examination of cultural constructions of animal others, Isabelle Pollentzke explores werewolves in early-modern Europe in an intriguing discussion of how they represented transgressions of perceived borders between binaries. As half man, half wolf, they occupy a liminal space between wilderness and civilization but, as Pollentzke illuminates, they also express uncertainties about religious teachings and anxieties about sexual deviance. Her essay employs a variety of primary sources from the era and represents a sound historical approach to the field of Animal Studies.
From philosophico-legal analyses of the legal status of animals and animal cruelty laws to historical and visual analyses of animal imagery and the binaries they represent, we trust readers will find this issue of Sloth to be of keen interest. The essays by Holtum, Croucher, Cooper, Marcroft, and Pollentzke display some of the top-level work of undergraduates and early-career graduate students, and reflect the diversity of the emerging field of human animal studies in both content and methodology. As we welcome in this new year, Sloth’s editorial staff wishes our readership the best for 2017, and we look forward to reading all our future submissions.
Kelly Enright, Richie Nimmo, and Joel MacClellan