The HumAnimal Group:
Gender and animals in research
Drawing on a range of approaches from different disciplines Animal Studies recognises the significance of animals in human lives. It highlights how animals have always been oppositional to concepts of “the human” (Butler 2004) and are implicated, though often hidden, within the intersecting issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and ethnicity.
More recent work has also shown how animals are active in human lives as the interdependencies between human and non-human life emphasise the ‘more-than-human’ aspects to our social world (e.g. Whatmore 2002, Harraway 2008). This presence is vast and diverse; from companion species to the animals caught up in intensive systems of production and consumption. From the pigs and rodents that are sacrificed so that humans may extend their lives to the microscopic animals we as humans brush up against on a daily basis. Equally, animals are present in a range of spaces from the laboratory to the street, on farms and in literature, schools, homes and workplaces and are crucial in defining our understandings of space place and identity.
Despite the significance of animals in human lives, the study of human-animal relations is still relatively unexplored research area. One of the reasons why the social sciences and humanities in general have been reluctant in dealing with the issue is the classical nature/culture divide. While “society” consists of humans and their interaction in institutions and culture, other animals become excluded and conceptualised as “nature”.
The presence of animals can thereby, on the one hand, ”decivilize” human activities and urban places. But on the other hand, we have a strong Western tradition of linking the treatment of other animals with degrees of civilization: the more “humane”, the higher the civilisation. Put together, this points to an interesting potential openness of categories and flexibility in the understanding of humans and other animals.
This potential openness creates a space for questioning taken for granted discourses and truths, and this is where the critical potential of animal studies lies. Internationally, human-animal studies is a growing interdisciplinary field with specialized journals, conferences and networks. However, in the Scandinavian context, the existence and activities of a research collaboration such as the Humanimal group has no precedence.
The HumAnimal group currently represent a vast diversity of disciplines and perspectives, from evolutionary biology, through sociology and pedagogy, to arthistory and philosophy. This is not a mere coincident. In line with the overall aims of GenNa, the HumAnimal group finds it an important advantage to cross over the nature/culture divide in science, also in the area of human-animal studies. Thus, interdisciplinarity is a given in the group.
We believe that disciplinary and other differences, can become methodological advantages and present us with new insights, but also new questions and problems. The overall aim is to promote better understanding of human-animal relations in society, science and culture by way of exploration and analysis, to explore the critical potentials of such understanding, and to establish human-animal studies as a field of academic inquiry in Sweden.
Under the heading Research on the left, we will present some of the more specific questions that we are currently addressing.