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Editors’ Introduction

 

Wildlife has long been entangled with human societies. It is impacted by agriculture, deforestation, road-building, pollution, war, hunting, taming, noise, technologies, fences, and borders. Views about how and when—or whether—the welfare of wildlife is included in the problems facing human society differ through time, space, and culture. Whether we embrace or marginalize wildlife, it is impacted by our actions. The essays in this issue explore various mentalities, methods, and motivations for wildlife conservation and other kinds of animal advocacy. Our emerging scholars dive into the central concerns of the field of human-animal studies. How alike are humans and animals? How do our constructions of likeness and difference determine the treatment of animals? Is wildlife more likely to be protected if it is perceived as distant from humans, or if it is represented in close relation? Through examination of texts and conservation programs, these authors seek answers to the questions confronting the field today and ask how our history of relations can inform models of the future.

Working at the intersection of conservation biology, animal ethics, and environmental ethics, Abigail Robinson’s contribution, “Deforestation and Poaching Consequences on Dwindling Populations of Lions (Panthera leo), Tigers (Panthera tigris), and Jaguars (Panthera onca)” uses the plight of these three species of big cats to occasion a reconsideration of the relationship between members of these species and our societies. As keystone species in their native ranges across Africa, Asia, and South America, lions, tigers, and jaguars are valuable both in themselves and for their ecosystem roles, yet anthropogenic causes such as deforestation and poaching have gravely negative consequences for these animals and the ecosystems they inhabit. Robinson argues that, given the scope and spatial as well as temporal dimensions of this problem, consequentialist moral theory is the best theoretical perspective. However, unlike classical utilitarianism which contains a hedonistic theory of moral value, typically only accounting for consequences to humans at worst, and humans and other animals at best. Robinson argues that we need to jettison hedonism in favor of an ecocentric theory of value of the kind that is nearly universally found in the world’s indigenous cultures, past and present, yet also value-pluralist by emphasizing the value of the lives of individual sentient beings, and not merely valuing ecological relations amongst biotic constituents of ecosystems.

In “The Ecological and Human-Centered Benefits of Wolf Reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park,” Allison Kelley examines the ecological, cultural, and human-centered goals at play in Yellowstone National Park’s conservation strategies. Her focus is on the reintroduction of wolves which successfully increased biodiversity within the park. Tourism, economics, and education are two obvious human-centered goals, but she also addresses the benefits to hunters and the Nez Perce spirituality. Kelley places the Yellowstone Model along a continuum of understandings of wilderness and uses this conservation story to illuminate the interconnectivity of ecosystem and culture – what is good for one, she argues, may well be good for the other. In a parallel vein, Albert Ferkl’s “The Question of Non-Human Animals in Sociology” raises the “animal question” in the context of sociology, tracing the anthropocentric assumptions of early sociology, viz. the study of society was the study of human society. Much like Mary Midgley’s concept of a “mixed community” of humans and other animals, Ferkl problematizes this perspective by noting that societies are always already comprised of more human animals alone. As such, many early sociological analyses are inherently flawed – he argues – for failing to account for many species of community members. Ferkl documents how contemporary sociologists, especially younger generations of scholars, are increasingly discussing other animals as properly social creatures amongst us. He concludes by arguing for animal advocacy within sociology as a force for positive social change, much as earlier generations of sociologists did during the civil rights era.

Human-animal studies as a field has been bound up with various forms of animal advocacy from the beginning, and that relationship is and will remain a key source of its vibrancy and strength. But it is also a rigorous academic field of research and scholarship in its own right, complementary with but irreducible to that advocacy. As scholars in human-animal studies we can all occasionally be tempted into treating those arguments with which we instinctively agree, or which are consistent with our wider beliefs and commitments, somewhat less critically and analytically than arguments from those we might regard as our ‘opponents’. With this in mind, Rory Collins’ article “What Does it Mean to Be Human, and not Animal?” exhibits admirable critical independence in its forensic analysis of Michel de Montaigne’s famous arguments in Man is No Better Than the Animals in which he influentially rejected the making of an absolute human/animal distinction on grounds of language or rationality. In a close examination of how Montaigne’s case is built, Collins argues that at times it rests too heavily upon skillful literary techniques of persuasion rather than robust logical arguments, and also that the very rhetorical agility on display comes close to staging a performative contradiction by so amply demonstrating precisely those features of human language and thought that may be unique to our species. Collins notably does not argue that the human/animal distinction on grounds of language or rationality should therefore be endorsed or accepted, but by being prepared to boldly critique a ‘classic’ of the human-animal studies canon in this way, his essay underlines the need to be constantly and honestly self-critical and to be prepared where necessary to seek the development of better arguments on more solid ground.

This issue is dedicated to Kelly Enright, who was instrumental in setting up Sloth four years ago as a new kind of academic journal designed specifically to provide a forum for publishing outstanding work from emerging scholars in human-animal studies, and who has been pivotal in guiding the journal so effectively through its early years. We wish her all the best in her future career and endeavors.

The Editors.

Back to Sloth, Volume 4, No. 1

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