restricted access 1. Introduction: Animal Subjects in a Posthuman World
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The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. —Mahatma Gandhi In an interview in Topia: A Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, cultural theorist Cary Wolfe—author of Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory and editor of Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal 1—argues that in spite of the amount of work being done over the last twenty years in field ecology, animal behaviour, cognition and ethology, and in spite of new social movements concerned with animal rights and welfare, “cultural studies and critical theory have really, really lagged behind…developments in the broader society” in dealing with what Wolfe refers to as the “question of the animal.”2 Following upon the ethical concerns of philosopher Peter Singer, who argued for animal liberation and animal rights in the now-classic Animal Liberation,3 Wolfe maintains that forms of “speciesism”—a term coined in 1970 by Richard D. Ryder, a British psychologist and taken up by Singer4—must be given the same critical attention that has been recruited against sexism and racism in critical race studies, feminism and queer theory. In an attempt to address these concerns, Animal Subjects: An Ethical Reader in a Posthuman World draws together a diverse group of scholars, writers and activists whose work responds to the social and theoretical lag in cultural studies by calling into question the boundaries that divide the animal kingdom from 1 1 Introduction Animal Subjects in a Posthuman World jodey castricano humanity and by exploring the medical, biological, cultural, philosophical , psychological and ethical connections between nonhuman animals and ourselves. The strength of this collection lies in its heterogeneity: while many of the essays constitute significant interventions in their respective fields, others ask sobering questions regarding empathy or the ethical obligations that humans have towards their nonhuman counterparts. In short, this collection is long overdue in cultural studies where critiques of racism, sexism(s) and classism have radically changed the face of the humanities and social sciences but which have also historically withheld the question of ethical treatment from nonhuman animals. The reasons for this lag amount to a disavowal or a withholding that has, as Cary Wolfe argues, served only to reproduce speciesism as an “institution” that would “require… the sacrifice of the ‘animal’and the animalistic” to maintain “that fantasy figure called ‘the human.’”5 In Animal Subjects, contributors address the question of what it is to be “human” by showing that it cannot be separated from what Paola Cavalieri, a contributor to this volume, calls elsewhere “the animal question,” an interrogation of “more than twenty centuries of philosophical tradition aiming at excluding from the ethical domain members of species other than our own.”6 Launching this interrogation, however, is not as easy as it sounds since the borders of cultural studies have proved almost impervious to the question of the nonhuman animal owing to an internalized paradox that has maintained the very status of the human that cultural studies has sought to critique. As Cary Wolfe points out, “debates in the humanities and social sciences between well-intentioned critics of racism, (hetero)sexism, classism and all other -isms that are the stock-in-trade of cultural studies almost always remain locked within an unexamined framework of speciesism,” and this lockdown is exacerbated since “most of us [in cultural studies] remain humanists to the core, even as we claim for our work an epistemological break with humanism itself.”7 This lockdown begs the question of the role played by cultural studies in producing new—or, perhaps, all too familiar—forms of hierarchy and exclusion when critiquing essentialist notions of the “human” subject while maintaining the border that enables that subject’s privileged position through the marginalizing of the nonhuman . If cultural studies is to make good on its challenge to a humanist tradition that has historically determined its identity and its others by virtue of exclusions based on gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and class, it must be willing to follow through—as this collection of essays aims to do—on its commitment to destabilizing essentialist notions of the sub2 Jodey Castricano ject that continue to rely on the hegemonic marginalization of the nonhuman . This collection of essays aims to embody the cultural politics behind the idea of hybridity by drawing attention to the nonhuman animal as the figure that sustains the margins of cultural studies to date.8 In the spirit of...


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Subject Headings

  • Animal welfare.
  • Animal welfare -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Human-animal relationships.
  • Animal rights.
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