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Reviewed by:
  • Political Theory and the Animal/Human Relationship ed. by Judith Grant and Vincent G. Jungkunz
  • Per-Anders Svärd (bio)
Political Theory and the Animal/Human Relationship. Edited by Judith Grant and Vincent G. Jungkunz. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016. 244 pp. Hardback. $80. ISBN 978-1-4384-5990-5.)

In a recent anthology on animals and politics, the editors Marcel Wissenburg and David Schlosberg (2014) note that while there has long been an entire "academic industry on animal rights, welfare and ethics, there has been comparatively little [theorizing of animal/human relations] offered in the political realm" (p. 1). This assessment is no doubt correct. For a long time now, many scholars in the humanities and the social sciences (broadly conceived) have cultivated an interest in the "animal issue," but for some reason political scientists and theorists have been largely reluctant to engage with this topic. From one point of view, this is understandable; politics has traditionally been conceived as an exclusively human affair. At the same time, this very distinction is not naturally given. It is in itself a political construction (hailing back at least to Aristotle's exclusion of animals from the polis in The Politics). Thus, we may have expected political theorists to jump at the opportunity to analyze the maze of conceptual and practical contradictions that make up the human/animal relationship—especially so since many of the most pressing issues having to do with the treatment of animals are precisely political ones (i.e., pertaining to the organization of society, the functioning of its institutions, its power relations, and its dominant logics of production and redistribution) rather than just matters of morality (in the sense of proper norms for individual conduct; see, for example, Wyckoff, 2014). So far, however, the general pattern among students of politics has been to abandon the analysis of animal politics to other disciplines.

This state of things, however, may be about to change with the recent "political turn" in animal ethics and the nascent field of political animal studies (see, for example, Ahlhaus & Niesen, 2015; Boyer, Scotton, Svärd, & Wayne, 2015). The volume under [End Page 231] review, Political Theory and the Animal/Human Relationship, edited by Judith Grant and Vincent G. Jungkunz, is one of the newest contributions to this development.

The book's seven essays are organized into three loosely defined thematic sections. The first section, "Toward Posthumanism," highlights how the traditional subject of humanist discourse was beginning to break apart already in the 19th century. The intellectual giants of the century, it is argued, were already operating in a world where the borders between the human and the animal had been blurred. In Bradley J. Macdonald's chapter about Karl Marx and the human/animal dialectic, the failure of the "human being" to fully constitute itself can be seen in Marx's analysis of capitalist commodity production, a process in which both "man and beast" lose their distinguishing features and figure only as instrumentalized capital. Contrary to other animal rights-informed readings of Marx that have rendered him a prototypical anthropocentric modernist, Macdonald's keen analysis reveals another Marx, one who helps us see how the originary "dialectical dualism" between humans and animals only turns into the kind of "alienated speciesism" we know today under certain social circumstances, namely when the logic of capital accumulation comes to override all other concerns.

Alongside Marx, the latent posthumanist politics of two other towering figures of the 19th century, Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin, are discussed by Judith Grant. Here, the two thinkers are used to illustrate a recurring pattern in Western thought's grappling with the animal issue. On the one hand, both Darwin and Freud accepted a continuity between humans and animals that had quite radical implications, but on the other hand, their rethinking of the human/animal relationship tended to reinscribe the hierarchy between different species and also between different human groups. The most interesting point made by Grant, however, is her observation that Freud's theory of ego formation by separation from the Other is not just a question of separation from and renouncing of a human caretaker (typically the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-1267
Print ISSN
2156-5414
Pages
pp. 231-233
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-07
Open Access
No
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