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Animals and Society Class - Discussion 1

Because I'm having to spend so much of my time, at the moment, reading and writing for school and the blog is suffering slightly as a result, I'm going to post what I'm writing for school as a way to keep the blog active. I still intend to post other content as often as possible, but since I have to devote some time to this anyway, why not share? I would love to get feedback/comments on these posts if they provoke any thoughts/feelings for you.


Q: How are animals socially constructed?

A: Both human and non-human animals are just socially constructed concepts, created by human cultures making up narratives which suit themselves. While the different cultures of the world (and throughout history) may have different definitions of which animals are food, which animals provide companionship, or which animals are worthless / dangerous / vermin, the definitions are all just agreed upon by the group. The entire structure is completely arbitrary and created by the cultures themselves. There is, for example, no logical reason why in one culture (Judeo-Christian) snakes are seen as signs of evil while in another (Mesoamerican) feathered serpents are the representation of a prominent god. Just as there is no logical reason why in one culture it is considered normal to eat pigs but not dogs, while in another dogs are fair game for the table.

Q: What are the primary categories of animals?

A: Where individual animals fall in terms of what their perceived purposes and uses are (food, experimentation, pets, entertainment, etc.) seems to vary widely from human culture to human culture. But the commonality of the belief in human exceptionalism seems to be more universal, and something I think is attributable to what the book calls “othering” – defined as “the assignment of different characteristics to different groups” which is then used to “justify the domination” of other living beings (human or otherwise) “based on their supposed essential natures.” (pg 25).

Q: How are animals defined?

A: I just finished a summer course a couple weeks ago about witchcraft and heresy in Medieval Europe, and I cannot help but see tremendous parallels between the “othering” done by that culture and what this book is talking about in relation to humans and animals. Medieval Europeans committed genocide, crushed other civilizations, and commodified human beings based on the perceived ‘otherness’ of their fellow human beings who simply happened to be of other religions, colors, or genders than those with power. The artificial construct of what animals are, their perceived value, and their accepted places in various cultures, seems to be very much based on the same narrow and egotistical viewpoint, that ‘I’, whoever I am, I am somehow the pinnacle of something and everything/everyone else is here to serve my purposes somehow. Whether it is food, companionship, labor, or increased scientific knowledge, we seem to be defining animals based solely on our perceptions of what they can provide us.




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