The State of Human-Animal Studies

Kenneth Shapiro
Editor’s Introduction
The State of Human-Animal Studies: Solid, at the Margin!
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of Society and Animals, we present a set of 14
papers obtained through individual invitations and
a general call for papers on the state of Human- Animal Studies (HAS). For the purposes of this exercise, we deÂŽned HAS broadly as the remit of S&A
as it has evolved over the 10 years to include empirical investigations and conceptual analyses of human- animal relationships in both the social sciences and
the humanities. We asked contributors to respond to two questions:
What has your ÂŽeld contributed to animal studies
thus far? What does your ÂŽeld need to do to advance
animal studies? The ÂŽelds represented in the anniversary issue are psychology, sociology, anthropology,
criminology, geography, political science, economics, history, postcolonial studies, and feminist studies.
In addition to these papers, guest editor introductions address the state of human-animal studies in
four special S&A theme issues: consumer sociology,
(4, 2, 1996); geography, (6, 2, 1998); religion, (8, 3,
Society & Animals 10:4
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2002
2000): and representational arts, (9, 3, 2001). One other paper of interest
discusses a recent effort to assess the strength and scope of the intellectual
infrastructure of the Animal Rights Movement (Shapiro, 2000).
Scope and Reach of HAS
In the inaugural issue of S&A (1, 1, 1993), I called for the development of an
academic ÂŽeld to investigate all aspects of HAS, respecting animals other
than humans by treating them as beings with their own experience and
interests—not exclusively as cultural artifacts, symbols, models, or com- modities in a largely human-centered world. Doing so would secure the place
of animals other than humans in the “moral landscape,” to use Wolch’s phrase.
This second criterion for HAS is important but perhaps controversial and certainly muddy in its application. It bears discussion here. Some ÂŽelds rarely
include animals other than humans and, presumably, we all are working to
expand their scope. However, others traditionally have included, or are begin- ning to include, animals other than humans, but in ways that remain reductive and disrespectful.
Consider the following examples:
1. Ethological study of a species other than humans;
2. Anthropological study of the role of a domesticated species in the econ- omy of a human subculture;
3. Literary study of an animal as a symbol of a human trait; and
4. Clinical study of a person treated through animal-assisted therapy.
The ÂŽrst example is not a study of a human-animal relation and so is not
part of HAS. However, what would happen if the authors applied that
information to understand further an existing or even possible human- animal relation?
The second study describes animals as commodities. Arguably, animal-ascommodity is a form of human-animal relation (cf. human slavery). But if
the study exclusively describes the impact of that commodity in human eco- nomic terms, is it part of HAS?
The third and fourth studies could stay on an exclusively human level—
describing, respectively, how a particular symbol works in the literary text
332 • Kenneth Shapiro
to illuminate human being or how a form of psychological treatment impacts
on a particular human disorder. Do these cases contribute to our understanding of a human-animal relation? If they do, is it in a way in which
the animal is treated as a being with his or her own experience and interests? Or, are these studies more akin to a laboratory-based study of an ani- mal model of a human being where the animal is a human stand-in or
At the time of the inaugural issue, our initial goal was to expand the reach
of HAS by forming a small core of scholars in each of the existing social sciences committed to its emergence. Through the existing journal Anthrozoös, which began publishing in 1987, a good start already had been made.
Appraisal of HAS
This issue is an attempt to assess our progress. My general impression is that
our gains are modest. I must admit that the set of papers as a whole are less
positive in their assessments than I had anticipated, and I have changed my
view accordingly. I invite readers to submit comments on HAS as a whole
or within any given discipline of interest.
In terms of the goal of a core set of scholars in existing disciplines, we have
made some progress. In the ÂŽelds of sociology, psychology, and geography, we have such a core. Currently, the ÂŽrst two of these are attempting to form
a section or division within the respective major professional organizations. Although neither yet has been successful, both have made good progress
and, in the process, have identiÂŽed a larger group of scholars interested in
HAS. However, in political science, history, criminology, feminist studies, and
post-colonial studies only a very few scholars are working in HAS. In eco- nomics, there is, to date, only a programmatic call for HAS studies.
Turning to the papers in this issue, Gerbasi, Anderson, Gerbasi, and Coultis
report progress in HAS as measured by doctoral dissertations completed in
HAS in the 1980s versus the 1990s. (See list at On the positive side, numbers increased more in the 1990s
and at a faster rate than the increase in numbers of all dissertations. However,
the authors also found a diffused distribution of university sites and advisors. In other words, HAS is not Žnding institutional-based homes—sites that
Introduction • 333
provide robust and ongoing research programs. Related to this is the relative
lack of academic programs within the purview of HAS. By contrast, there are
at least 650 women’s studies programs or departments in U.S. institutions
Running through many of the papers on speciŽc Želds is the view that HAS, at best, has attained marginal standing. Raupp speaks of a “furry ceiling” in
clinical psychology. Arluke refers to the “lack of interest within sociology of
animal studies.” Although noting an increased visibility in criminology, Beirne
refers to “professional marginalization.” In political science, Garner sees HAS
as a “peripheral part of the mainstream;” and Birke speaks of the “absence” of animals other than humans in feminist studies. Clearly, the goal of a committed core of scholars in various Želds, to the limited degree achieved to date, has had limited impact. HAS gains in the past
decade, however, include access to publication venues. Many major publishing houses published several books in the ÂŽeld; we have a number of
dedicated book series; and HAS is the devoted topic of courses in a number
of ÂŽelds (Balcombe, 1999) and part of the syllabus in many other courses. Yet, we have only occasional access to the primary journal venues in many
ÂŽelds, and we have established only a small number of dedicated academic
Obstacles to HAS
How do we get from the margin to the main body of the text? What are the
obstacles to a more robust, established, and politically inuential HAS? Arluke
attributes a signiÂŽcant block to the impoverishment in the theoretical inno- vations of contributions to HAS and to the androcentric bias in the existing
modest efforts at theorizing. At the same time, he and others call for more
direct attention to potential applications of the contributions. Herzog sug- gests adoption of evolution as a theoretical frame, riding the coattails of the
emerging ÂŽeld of evolutionary psychology.
Several authors point to the continuing impact of the traditional categorical
divide between human and other animal being as an underlying block embodied, for example, in the attribution of the reduced category of “property” to
animals other than humans.
334 • Kenneth Shapiro
In the interest of stimulating further discussion, let me add to the description of these blocks, beginning in the more ethereal domain of ideology and
method and moving down to earth to politics. The categorical divide is basic
and extends to how we have named, and the exclusionary way we continue
to interpret, the traditional Želds of study: the “social” in social science, the “homo” in the humanities, and “psycho,” “socio,” “anthropo,” in the respective particular disciplines. No “zo-o’s” need apply. (It is symptomatic of the
power of the divide’s control over language that each of the titles of the two
major HAS journals, Anthrozoös and Society & Animals, commits a related categorical error). Contemporary usage can be forgiven forgetting that “anima”
(enlivenment, life, spirit) is the etymological base of animal while that of
human denotes soil. But how can we deny the modern (re)discovery of the
marvelous capabilities of animals other than humans and, building on that,
the recent extensions of both deontological and utilitarian moral philosophy
to include most animals? The Enlightenment, which valorized human being
to correct for the Medieval preoccupation with God, long ago completed its
work. Let’s move on to a bio-centered perspective within which the study of
human-animal relationships can ÂŽt snugly.
A methodological or, really, epistemological block also is a serious problem.
If HAS requires a more robust being for animals other than humans, can
we know that being within the constraints of scientiÂŽc knowledge? Can we
understand the “world-as-experienced” of these animals and do we need to
to sustain a HAS? Can we know what it is like to be a bat (Nagel, 1974)? Can
we apply traditional social scientiÂŽc methods of inquiry to the study of cats
and dogs (Alger & Alger, 1999)? Or, do we require methodological innovations (Shapiro, 1997)? Will these compromise the reputed rigor of human- based investigatory methods? Can we skirt the powerful psychological tendency
to attribute falsely (project) human characteristics onto animals other than
humans (anthropomorphism)? Can we bare the many layers of meanings
in our constructions of animals? Should these meanings be bracketed to
obtain an understanding of human-animal relations, or do they constitute
those relations?
The sophistication of postmodern interpretative methods (deconstruction, hermeneutics, ethnomethodology) suggest that we explicate and properly
evaluate these meanings. The melding of technology that allows noninvasive
Introduction • 335
in vivo observation of brain/behavior relations in animals of various species
also is a promising possibility. On the ground, the blocks are more political and economic. Within the academy, many point to HAS’s limitation as an interdisciplinary Želd competing
for resources in institutions largely structured and funded as distinct Želds. But both Women’s and African-American Studies have gained signiŽcant
ÂŽnancial support. Also, it is not clear that HAS needs to be interdisciplinary.
It could stake out a claim within various given ÂŽelds, each of which would
treat HAS as subjects—a group of animals as a social group or subculture,
respectively, in sociology and anthropology—or even simply as topics—the
role of animals in the socialization of children, in developmental psychology.
It is a strategic decision whether HAS should be developed as a distinct ÂŽeld
or program and whether such is an ultimate goal or transitional to the larger
goal of assimilation of HAS into current disciplinary structures of the academy. Mutatis mutandis, should S&A and Anthrozoös work to put themselves
out of business, with the ÂŽnal goal of the assimilation of studies of human- animal relations into extant mainstream journals?
Politics outside the academy also is a critical contributor to the well-being of
HAS as the twin emergence of the contemporary animal rights movement
(ARM) and HAS historically were, and no doubt will continue to be, intertwined. There are assets and liabilities in this association. For HAS, the association with ARM gives the ÂŽeld a supplementary institutional infra-structure
and audience outside the academy. It also gives it relevance, cachet, and a
compelling set of practical applications and policy implications. On the liability side, the undeserved charge of violence and terrorism, with
all that term currently carries, readily spills over to HAS. More insidiously, HAS is vulnerable to the charge that an ARM agenda biases its investigations and scholarship. As do most movements that challenge basic established practices, in the short term ARM is as volatile as the stock market, with no promise of long-term gain or even continued existence. Again, I invite reader comments on any or all of these papers or on my
reading of them.
* Kenneth Shapiro, Editor
336 • Kenneth Shapiro
1 Correspondence should be addressed to Kenneth Shapiro, Editor, PO Box 1297, Washington Grove, MD 20880. E-mail: [email protected]
Alger, J. & Alger, S. (1999). Cat culture, human culture: An ethnographic study of a
cat shelter. Society and Animals, 7 (3), 199-218.
Balcombe, J. (1999). Animals & society courses: A growing trend in post-secondary
education. Society and Animals, 7 (3), 229-240. Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review, 83, 435-450.
Shapiro, K. (1997). A phenomenological approach to the study of nonhuman animals.
In R. Mitchell, N. Thompson, and H. Miles (Eds.), Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes,
and Animals (pp. 273-291). Albany: SUNY Press. ——. (2000, March/April). It’s academic: The growing Želd of animal studies. Animals’
Agenda, 25-26.
Introduction • 337

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