Public Philosophy Network

Encouraging and Supporting Publicly Engaged Philosophical Research and Practices

Today's New York Times has an interesting article describing the emergence of courses, programs and conferences on Animal Studies in universities and journals around the country:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/science/animal-studies-move-from-...

For a number of reasons this is not surprising to see -- but it is encouraging. And it puts our discussion group in a larger context.

The amount of scholarly material and the level of concern for this topic, generally, in our society may be reaching a "critical mass" at which the topic becomes "respectable" and relevant in the views of both academic practitioners and ethically concerned citizens.

How many of the members of this forum are aware of or have contributed to courses in animal studies, to journals or conferences on the subject? What have you learned and what is the relation between academic research and discussion in this obviously wide-ranging field (including psychology, biology, anthropology, philosophy and more) and philosophical contributions regarding human and animal relations in a wider "public" sphere?

The NYT article refers to an institue dedicated to academic research and social activism in this field: http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org. It would be interesting to hear from others about the positive or negative impact of this or related organizations.

How can members of the Public Philosophy Network contribute or benefit from the activity in this field? See for example the announcement of this upcoming conference and associated with the Institue for Critical Animal Studies:

http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/conference-for-critical-animal...

And here's another angle: Animal wellfare organizations, such as the Humane Society or the United States; local and national animal shelters and sanctuaries; programs in species' habitat preservation, such as The Jane Goodall Institute, Dian Fossey Fund or African Wildlife Foundation; and environmental organizations such as NRDC,WWF or EDF, clearly receive wide public support today. They are supported by substantial scientific research programs. But is there a comparable level of research and dialog on the ethical and social rationale, benefits and issues that these activities involve or create? Can philosophers contribute to this?

With the recognition that there is a fabric of related studies and groups it also becomes important to identify those making the most substantial and constructive contributions in these fields. Please post your comments and reports on articles, journals, course curricula or conferences with which you are familiar.

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Replies to This Discussion

An interesting discussion, Peter - I enjoyed reading this article too, although most of the programs it mentions (Wesleyan, NYU, MSU) have been in the works for a few years now.

I've taught an animal studies class both at UMass Lowell (which I've taught three times - you can see syllabi and other course info by scrolling down to the bottom of my course wiki, here: http://ikesharpless.pbworks.com) and at the Tufts Experimental College (http://animalethics.pbworks.com).

I'm also a graduate of another program that the NYT piece didn't mention: The Tufts Vet School's Center for Animals and Public Policy - which is more of an applied animal welfare program than a critical animal studies program...this list from Blogger James Stanescu also provides a good overview of some other programs: http://criticalanimal.blogspot.com/2011/11/help-me-generate-list-of.... And here's a recent blog post of mine on some upcoming conferences and calls for papers that might be of interest: http://ikesharpless.com/?p=885

I'd point out, too, that critical animal studies is only one of a number of possible approaches to the issues at hand. I recently applied to PhD programs in political science, and am hoping to study some of these issues through the lens of political theory.

I would love to hear if any other PPN members are directly or indirectly involved in animal studies!

Ike

Ike,

It's great to hear about your goals and the links you provided are very helpful and encouraging.  I had not realized that there are so many programs with specialties in animal studies and the ethics of this area.  I would be very interested to hear from anyone with experience in these programs and to know what are the current critical issues in these fields.

- Peter

Given the field's still-inchoate nature, I suspect there are as many current critical issues under exploration as there are scholars with diverse interests: 'critical animal studies' tends to be more abolitionist in focus (there's a conference coming up soon at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, with a focus on how animal studies overlaps with the Occupy movement and related issues), but there are a wide range of overlapping subdisciplines in various programs (sociology, philosophy, and English all seem reasonably prominent in different ways--political science, my discipline, is less focused on the issue, although some recent works (Donaldson and Kymlicka's Zoopolis, for example) do focus on nonhuman animals. My 'blogroll' (at http://ikesharpless.com/) is just a cut-and-paste of my Google Reader feed, and it includes a number of academic bloggers in the field. The fact that places like NYU and Wesleyan (my undergraduate Alma Mater...) are starting actual animal studies programs is definitely a promising sign, although there still isn't much in the way of actual doctoral programs, other than MSU's. But Scu's blog post (from Critical Animal) indicates that there's at least substantial development within various departments.

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