Making Animal Meaning
Publication Year: 2012
An elucidating collection of ten original essays, Making Animal Meaning reconceptualizes methods for researching animal histories and rethinks the contingency of the human-animal relationship. The vibrant and diverse field of animal studies is detailed in these interdisciplinary discussions, which include voices from a broad range of scholars and have an extensive chronological and geographical reach. These exciting discourses capture the most compelling theoretical underpinnings of animal significance while exploring meaning-making through the study of specific spaces, species, and human-animal relations. A deeply thoughtful collection — vital to understanding central questions of agency, kinship, and animal consumption — these essays tackle the history and philosophy of constructing animal meaning.
Published by: Michigan State University Press
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Making Animal Meaning explores how humans construct, configure, and constantly negotiate the meaning of other animals in the social world. This meaning-making is not a new human pastime. We have been struggling with the essence of animals for at least 33,000 years—our earliest known surviving artistic endeavours are drawings of lions and rhinoceroses on cave walls in southern France and carvings of birds and horses from mammoth...
Part 1: Making New Animal Meanings
Animal Writes: Historiography, Disciplinarity, and the Animal Trace
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Those of us who attempt to write about nonhuman animals are all implicated by the pun that appears in the title and throughout the text of Jacques Derrida’s L’Animal que donc je suis.1 I follow or track (suis, from the infinitive suivre) the animals about whom or about which I write, and I also am (suis, from être) an animal—specifically, a writing animal. This doubleness of animal writing—its way of situating us simultaneously as subject and...
Mobility and the Making of Animal Meaning: The Kinetics of “Vermin” and “Wildlife” in Southern Africa
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Microbes, insects, birds, and wild animals (hereafter “the animal”) have played a key role in influencing humans to make contingent environmental decisions in the Limpopo basin of southern Africa from the mid-eighteenth to the late-twentieth centuries. This exploration is part of a larger project examining human deployment of weapons of war—principally guns and poisons—in ways that level different bodies big and small into one...
Cannibalism, Consumption, and Kinship in Animal Studies
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His powerful body is eerily inert. Burly arms, barrel-chest flecked with the silvery gray of age and leadership, the strong face completely still as the villagers soberly carry his body out of the forest and through the sunlit field. His was no accidental death, but a murder, a political killing at the center of civil strife in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The victim described here is the silverback male of the Virunga gorilla...
Part 2: Applying New Animal Meanings
The Renaissance Transformation of Animal Meaning: From Petrarch to Montaigne
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In his influential book Animal Liberation (first edition, 1975), the philosopher Peter Singer raised the idea that the emphasis given in humanistic culture to the dignity of Man, his freedom and his unbound capacities, forcibly led to the decrease of the status of other creatures in Renaissance thought. Singer qualified this generalization by singling out Leonardo da Vinci, Giordano Bruno, and Michel de Montaigne as pioneers in offering...
On the Trail of the Devil Cat: Hunting for the Jaguar in the United States and Mexico
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Few animals capture the human imagination like large mammalian predators. Charismatic megafauna such as bears, wolves, and big cats are frequently present in cultural discourse, working as symbols and proxies for a vast range of beliefs, values, taboos, and anxieties. The largest feline species in the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar (Panthera onca) has long evoked complex and often conflicting emotions of awe, reverence, anger, and fear in neighboring human communities.1 In areas now identified as the southwestern United States...
Animal Deaths and the Written Record of History: The Politics of Pet Obituaries
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black Labrador dog named Bear broke the species barrier and made it into the obituary pages of my local paper a few years ago (see figure 1). He was the first animal ever so commemorated in that newspaper (the Iowa City [Iowa] Press-Citizen). Bear died quietly in his sleep on the morning of April 14, 2003, at thirteen years of age. But if his passing was peaceable, the period after his death was not. His obituary became the cause of bitter...
Golden Retrievers Are White, Pit Bulls Are Black, and Chihuahuas Are Hispanic: Representations of Breeds of Dog and Issues of Race in Popular Culture
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As the buzz surrounding the Obamas’ recently acquired Portuguese water dog shows, choices about dog breed carry political implications having to do with identity and race. Initially, President Obama expressed interest in adopting a shelter or rescue dog—“ Obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me,” he said, using a little anthropomorphic humor to make reference to his own mixed-race heritage.1 But partly because the family’s...
Interspecies Families, Freelance Dogs, and Personhood: Saved Lives and Being One at an Assistance Dog Agency
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My ethnographic informants at a North American assistance dog agency say they can read each other’s minds, have saved each other’s lives, hear for one another, are members of the same family, and are business partners. The clients, assistance dogs, and volunteers at the agency have uniquely intimate and interdependent interspecies relationships, which they cultivate and cherish despite the pervasive assumption of absolute differences...
Animal Meaning in T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
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While there are many studies of animals in children’s narrative fiction, there has been relatively little serious treatment of children’s poetry—something individuals in both the children’s literary and educational communities have expressed disappointment over. Agnes Perkins regrets that “compared with articles on fiction of all sorts, or even on nonfiction, and biographical articles on authors, and pieces on pedagogical methods, the number of...
Animals at the End of the World: Notes toward a Transspecies Eschatology
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From the initial scene of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), issues of empathy, commodity fetishism, and ontological authenticity frame how questions of human and animal being play out in a postapocalyptic world. Deckard, one of few humans remaining on Earth after an apocalypse—ambiguous in its cause if not in its effects—emerges onto the roof of his apartment building...
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Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012