With the advancement of our knowledge about animal behaviors, languages, and societies, the time is ripe to ask the question: what is an animal? Do you consider yourself an animal? Whether it be based on our capacity for language, our supposed superior intelligence, our opposable thumbs, or our ability to walk upright, humans take great effort in distinguishing ourselves from other fellow animals. These distinctions are not innocent differences between two species of animals. Humans are different from squirrels, but so is squid or a crow. What makes nonhuman animals animals and human animals human will be the principal line of inquiry in this course. The stakes in doing this critical exercise cannot be overstated. The unprecedented loss of the biodiversity of our shared planet, the catastrophic changes to Earth systems, including its ability to maintain temperatures amenable to living, and the hidden (yet omnipresent) world of meat production/consumption are only some of the repercussions of our hierarchical relationship with nonhuman animals. Furthermore, the status and definition of animal are also at the root of some of the historical and ongoing intra-human injustices— colonialism, racism, sexism, are often justified by and along with speciesism (that maintains the superiority of certain humans).
In this course, we will examine how animals, both providers of material sustenance and ideological background for human societies, have been defined and excluded from politics. In considering the (non-existent) political status of the nonhuman animals, we will begin with the foundational texts in western political theory to critique the conceptual grounds through which nonhuman animals are marginalized or wholly denied participation in politics. We will also read various concrete cases, fiction, ethnographic studies to imagine various ways that human and nonhuman animals have cohabitated, co-depended, and co-evolved across cultures and historical time.
At the end of this course, you will be able to articulate various statuses held by animals in different human societies: as bearers of moral but not political rights, as companion species, as food, as scientific objects, as revered gods, etc., and the complexities and paradoxes of such designations. Not only will you be familiarized with the nuances in these theoretical debates, but you will also learn how theories are applied or challenged in practice in a local and global setting and be able to formulate your own theoretically informed positions on real-world issues— a transferable skill for both within and outside the college classrooms.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
This course requires no prior experience with political theory or knowledge of animal politics. And, given the diverse approaches that the readings employ, this course stands to benefit and heartily welcomes students from a broad variety of intellectual backgrounds.
Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.