Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Pets: A Provocation for Uncanny Ethics

I call the two cats that live with me my pets. I cringe a little when people refer to their pets as if they were their children. I cringe even more when people call their pets their roommates. Are these cringes fair? Probably not. Pets are a complicated matter.

Those who have read Deleuze and Guattari probably know about their infamous cry that "Anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool," (ATP p. 240, emphasis in the original). This rejection of domestic pets is something found not just throughout A Thousand Plateaus, but also in the opening discussion of L’Abécédaire. He explains there that despite having a cat in his household, he hates having a human relationship, and instead wants an animal relationship to animals. His concern, in both texts, is less with the animal herself, and more with how the domesticated pet oedipalizes humans. In other words, he is interested in the ways that pets are used as immunization against our own animality. I find that interesting, but that is not what makes me cringe. Instead, I want to focus on how our human relationships to pets, our decisions to make them one of the family, immunizes ourselves not against our shared animality, but rather our non-shared sovereignty. We take what should be an entirely uncanny, disturbing ethical relationship, and we, well, domesticate it. As usual, a complex ethical situation is suppressed for the desire of the innocence in roommates or children.

Why is the ethical relationship to pets one that should disturb? That should be uncanny? In a recent interview with 3:AM Magazine, Lori Gruen discussed the ethics of captivity. Her argument, that our pets are really also our captives, is important. I quote at length:
The ethical issues around captivity are remarkably complex and it is surprising how little philosophical attention has been paid to them. [...] When we start thinking about pets or “companion animals” as captives then we may start reflecting in new ways on how we treat them. Clare Palmer and Peter Sandoe wrote a provocative chapter in the book that questions the received wisdom that routinely confining cats indoors promotes their well-being. Cats may be happy with our affections and their lives may be longer if we keep them safe indoors, but there is a loss here, to their freedom to go where they want and interact with and shape their larger environment. In captive contexts, the trade-offs, between safety and freedom, protection and choice, are often obscured. [...] Seeing pets as captives, I think, does bring some of the complexities of captivity into sharper focus. [...] One justification for keeping individuals captive has been that captivity is better for them. In the context of companion animals and zoo animals, for example, one often hears that they will live longer lives and they won’t have to worry about injury or predation or hunger. The sense is that they are better off having lost their freedom. The same sorts of justifications were also heard in the case of slaves. Captors wanted to believe that slaves were better off, became more civilized, more human, because of their captivity. Of course, this is odious in the case of human beings, and there are some who argue that this attitude is equally objectionable in the case of other animals. Comparing captivity to a type of slavery, some animal advocates are opposed to all forms of captivity, even keeping pets. They take the label “abolitionist” as a way of linking their views to earlier abolitionist struggles to end slavery. But I think our relationships with other animals (of course humans, but also nonhumans) are a central part of what makes lives meaningful. Rather than thinking we must end all captivity and thus all our relationships with other animals, we’d do better working to improve those relationships by being more perceptive of and more responsive to others’ needs and interests and sensibilities. Since we are already, inevitably, in relationships, rather than ending them we might try to figure out how to make them better, more meaningful, and more mutually satisfying. Importantly, by recognizing that we are inevitably in relationships to other animals, replete with vulnerability, dependency, and even some instrumentalization, and working to understand and improve these relationships, I’m not condoning exploitation. Acknowledging that we are in relationships doesn’t mean that all relationships are equally defensible or should stay as they are. Relationships of exploitation or complete instrumentalization are precisely the sorts of relationships that should change. And this is where an exploration of conditions of captivity and the complexity of the individual captives’ interests comes in. Some animals, like whales and elephants, cannot thrive in captive conditions. As much as we might want to have closer relationships with them, it isn’t good for them. Others, like dogs and chimpanzees, can live meaningful lives in captivity but only if the conditions they are captive in are conducive to their flourishing and they are respected. Part of the problem with captivity is the relationship of domination that it tends to maintain. By re-evaluating captivity (and for many in our non-ideal situation, there is no real alternative) we can start to ask questions about whether and how captive conditions can, while denying certain freedoms, still promote the dignity of the captives.

When we talk about our pets as children or roommates, we are disavowing the fundamental, more confusing relationship we have with our pets. How do we go about undoing this moral sleight of hand? One way can be by focusing on the disconnect between our rhetoric of how we think of other animals, and how we treat our pets. In Kennan Ferguson's wide-ranging and fascinating book, All in the Family: On Community and Incommensurability, he examines the relationships between humans and dogs in his chapter, "I ♥ My Dog." The chapter opens with the predicament of spending money to save your dog's life (or even to make her life more comfortable or happier), versus spending money to give to aid agencies to save the lives of other humans. Despite all of our claims that humans' lives matter more than animals, those of us with pets both do and do not act like this. On the one hand, the money we spend on our pets could easily translate into saving the lives of humans; on the other hand, our relationship to our pet will never be like the relationships with other humans in our household. The pet becomes this sort of strange liminal being. This realization is what moved Erica Fudge to ask, "Is a pet an animal?," which she follows up with this observation, "They are both human and animal; they live with us, but are not us; they have names like us, but cannot call us by our names" (Animal, pp. 27-28). Deleuze's desire that we have animal relationships toward our pets cannot but seem foolish now. After all, you cannot relate to a pet as an animal, or as a human. The pet forms a kind of becoming-human, a minor subject who enters into a becoming of a majoritarian subject. No wonder pets, dogs and cats, constantly haunt the arguments of A Thousand Plateaus. How much easier the world would be for Deleuze if it only had wolves.

As is infamously known since Donna Haraway's When Species Meet, Deleuze and Guattari write:

It is clear that the anomalous is not simply an exceptional individual; that  would be to equate it with the family animal or pet, the Oedipalized animal as psychoanalysis sees it, as the image of the father, etc. Ahab's Moby-Dick is not like the little cat or dog owned by an elderly woman who honors and cherishes it. Lawrence's becoming-tortoise has nothing to do with a sentimental or domestic relation. (ATP p. 244)
Of course, Delezue is trying to invoke a certain image of an "elderly woman" here, but there is another image that an elderly woman with her dog or cat that she honors and cherishes should conjure up for us. 
Regardless of age (but not class), in the witch trials there is a constant identification between female sexuality and bestiality. This is suggested by copulation with the goat-god (one of the representations of the Devil), the infamous kiss sub cauda, and the charge that the witches kept a variety of animals, called "imps" or "familiars," with whom they entertained a particularly intimate relation. These were cats, dogs, hares, frogs the witch cared for, presumably suckling them from special teats; other animals, too, played a crucial part in her life as instruments of the Devil: goats and (night)mares flew her to the Sabbath, toads provided her with poisons for her concoctions – such was the presence of animals in the witches’ world that one must conclude they too were being put on trial. (Federici, Caliban and the Witch, p. 194). 
The witch's familiar represents another vision of our relationship with other animals. These animals, of course, are not the mere pets of the witch, rather, a familiar is a witch's assistant. While I have not done the research to know the history of how we called the witch's animal companions familiars, I cannot help but see the name as being a little ironic. After all, the familiar of the witch's is also uncanny, it is a being that exists in excess of what we imagine defines the being. The familiar is that which "ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light." And what secret is that? Why, that of animal agency. The familiar is not just a pet, but also an actor.

We know that the domestication of other animals have been part and parcel of both settler colonialism and global capitalism. The abolition of domestic relationships seem straightforward when dealing with animals treated as livestock. But, what do we do with pets? Kari Weil, in her Thinking Animals, argues for us to take seriously the agency of other animals when we think about pets. She wants us to take seriously the question "could animals have 'chosen' domestication[?]" (p. 56). This is not some sort of an idea of a social contract or species contract in which animals choose to enter into a pact with humans where we provide for them and treat them humanely and the animals agree for us to eat them. Rather, it is the acknowledgement that other animals have been active participants in their own history, and this might be especially true for the unique intersubjective relationship between pet and human. It is an affirmation that not all domestication has been conscious, and that humans can be domesticated by animals as much as animals are domesticated by humans. And this brings us back to that uncomfortable truth that Gruen raises for us. Namely, that many domesticated animals, including many pets, would no longer exist outside of their relationships with humans.

The animal abolitionist wants to destroy the property status of other animals. And when we think of the animals trapped in abattoirs and factory farms and laboratories, this makes perfect sense. But what do we do with our cats and our dogs, what becomes of our pets? The usual abolitionist line is that we love and care for these animals as best as possible, and we work hard to make sure they are the last generation (through spaying and neutering). It would be too easy to wave my hand at this point, and gesture toward the absurdity of loving animals to death, of loving animals to extinction. But there is a real love here. When I think of the turkey, so changed and transformed she can no longer reproduce of her own, when I think of her body that grows so large it crushes her bones and organs, I cannot help but think we should love and care for these turkeys as best as possible, and work hard to make sure they are the last generation. Our tendency to breed animals with the thought of the corpse backwards, so that life is but preservation for the animal's flesh, has made it so that there are some animals that are no longer born living, but born deading.  But most dogs and cats? They are still born living. But they are also born dependent on humans for a good life. The abolitionist desire here seems clear enough, better that an animal no longer exist than for her to be born a slave. But is this really true? I can't help but believe the abolitionist desire to no longer have pets is a bit like the person who claims their pet is their child. They are both disavowals of the great asymmetry in our intersubjective relationship. They are both claims toward innocence rather than facing the hard work of ethics.

I love my cats. And it is part of this love that means I am haunted by my cats, and the decisions that I make for them. I am disturbed by keeping them inside in the city, and disturbed by letting them outside in the country. I spay and neuter my cats, and am horrified by people who declaw their cats, and understand the sovereign violence in both decisions. I am haunted by cats, and I wish they were familiars. I wish my black cats came from pacts with the Devil, and that they could speak a language I could understand. But they are not familiars, and all I have is the opaque affective communication of our intersubjective relation. They are not familiars, but are instead that uncanny being, they are pets. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two New Critical Animal Studies Titles

Two recent books published you should check out. 

Rodopi Books just released the second title of their Critical Animal Studies Book Series. “Framing Farming: Communication Strategies for Animal Rights” by Carrie P. Freeman.

"To what extent should animal rights activists promote animal rights when attempting to persuade meat-lovers to stop eating animals?

Contributing to a classic social movement framing debate, Freeman examines the animal rights movement’s struggles over whether to construct farming campaign messages based more on utility (emphasizing animal welfare, reform and reduction, and human self-interest) or ideology (emphasizing animal rights and abolition). Freeman prioritizes the latter, “ideological authenticity,” to promote a needed transformation in worldviews and human animal identity, not just behaviors. This would mean framing “go veg” messages not only around compassion, but also around principles of ecology, liberty, and justice, convincing people “it’s not fair to farm anyone”.

Through a unique frame analysis of vegan campaign materials (from websites, to videos, to bumper stickers) at five prominent U.S. animal rights organizations, and interviews with their leaders, including Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Baur, Freeman answers questions, such as: How is the movement defining core problems and solutions regarding animal farming and fishing? To which values are activists appealing? Why have movement leaders made these visual and rhetorical strategic choices – such as deciding between appealing to human self-interest, environmentalism, or altruism? To what extent is the animal rights movement actually challenging speciesist discrimination and the human/animal dualism?

Appealing to both scholars and activists, Framing Farming distinctively offers practical strategic guidance while remaining grounded in animal ethics and communication theory. It not only describes what 21st century animal rights campaigns are communicating, it also prescribes recommendations for what they should communicate to remain culturally resonant while promoting needed long-term social transformation away from using animals as resources."


Chapter 1: Introduction
Part I. Overview of Animal Rights, Vegetarianism, and Communication
Chapter 2: Ethical Views on Animals as Fellows & as Food
Chapter 3: Activist Communication Strategy & Debates
Part II. How U.S. Animal Rights Organizations Frame Food Campaign Messages
Chapter 4: Defining Problems & Culprits, Proposing Solutions
Chapter 5: Appealing to Values – Constructing a Caring Vegan Identity
Chapter 6: Appealing to Altruism or Self-Interest?
Chapter 7: How Movement Leaders Explain Their Strategic Choices
Part III. Strategic Communication Recommendations For Vegan Activism
Chapter 8: Activists’ Latest Insights & Projections
Chapter 9: My Recommendations for Ideological Authenticity in Framing Animal Rights

Carrie P. Freeman is an Associate Professor of Communication at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Her scholarship on media ethics, activist communication, and representation of animal rights issues has been published in over 15 books and journals. A vegan and grassroots activist for almost two decades, she currently hosts radio programs on animal and environmental protection on WRFG-Radio Free Georgia.

(2) Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed

Religious arguments for animal rights and liberation are fairly common in the literature on the animal question and the animal condition. Meanwhile, arguments considering animal liberation from a deliberately secular perspective are virtually nonexistent. In Animal Liberation and Atheism: Dismantling the Procrustean Bed, Kim Socha initiates the conversation by exploring how the concept of religion is inherently antithetical to animal liberation. She also challenges secularists to view the world differently, free from religion's cultural baggage. Finally, Animal Liberation and Atheism is a call for everyone to consider developing a system of ethics disengaged from anthropocentric and speciesist mythologies so that needless violence against all beings and the environment may diminish.

Kim Socha, Ph.D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Women, Destruction, and the Avant-Garde: A Paradigm for Animal Liberation (Rodopi: 2011) and is a contributing editor to Confronting Animal Exploitation: Grassroots Essays on Liberation and Veganism (McFarland Publishing: 2013) and Defining Critical Animal Studies: A Social Justice Approach for Liberation (Peter Lang: 2014). She has also published on topics such as Latino/a literature, surrealism, critical animal studies, and composition pedagogy. Kim is an English professor and activist for animal liberation, drug policy reform, and transformative justice.

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Materialism and Anti-Racism

In a recent facebook thread, there was a discussion about speculative realism and new materialism (and allied groups) relationship to feminism, queer theory, and anti-racist philosophy. In that thread, I pointed out some of the obvious new materialist thinkers working on feminist and/or queer theory fields. What I want to do here is collect the works where thinkers use new materialist insights to think through anti-racism. This list will be incomplete, and I welcome anyone who wants to add to the bibliography (I will edit this post as necessary). Also, by new materialists I am using the term in the broadest sense. I mean here thinkers who are broadly engaged in new materialism, speculative realism, non-representational theory, constructivist philosophy, posthumanism, and generally all the headings that can be thought under the metaphysical/ontological/non-human turn. I have also decided to write some very quick summaries of each text. The summaries are not super great, but should give you a sense of how the text deals with race and new materialism.

Mel Chen: Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Chen explores the ways that we navigate what we consider to be animate, to be living or dead. In so doing she particularly explores the ways that certain material objects come to be racialized, and she explores the ways other beings become de-racialized and neutered.

Michael Hames-García, "How Real is Race?," which can be found either in his book, Identity Complex, or in the edited volume Material Feminisms. In this essay Hames-García engages Barad's work on intra-action in order to think about the ontological realities (and limits) of race.

Donna Jones: The Racial Discourses of Life Philosophy: Négritude, Vitalism, and Modernity. Jones explores how vitalist discourses, including in Nietzsche and Bergson, were implicated in racism and anti-Semitism. She also explores the way that vitalism continues in thinkers like Deleuze and Grosz. Furthermore, Jones explores the way that Négritude cannot be fully understood outside of the vitalist tradition.

Fred Moten: In The Break: The Aesthetics Of The Black Radical Tradition, and his essay, "The Case of Blackness." I talk briefly about these texts in this post. Moten work, principally aesthetic, speaks of an "animative materiality."

Jasbir Puar: Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, and also her essay, "'I'd Rather Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess: Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory." In both, Puar uses assemblage theory to try to challenge and extend the concept of intersectionality.

Arun Saldanha: "Reontologising race: the machinic geography of phenotype." Saldanha is interested in understanding race as a material ontology, and as a machinic assemblage.

Okay, what obvious things did I miss? What non-obvious things did I miss, and also need to make sure I read?


I thought about trying determine what counted as new materialist/ontological turn/etc., and if it really dealt with anti-racism. But I decided it was outside of my scope. I will just post the lists suggested from commentators. When lots of suggestions occur for an author, I randomly just chose one, read the comments for more. A lot of these are great suggestions. Also, I highly suggest reading the comments, there are lots of great stuff in there.

Simone Bignall: Postcolonial Agency: Critique and Constructivism;
Bignall and Patton (Eds.): Deleuze and the Postcolonial
Tony Bennett: Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism
Helen Verran: "A Postcolonial Moment in Science Studies: Alternative Firing Regimes of Environmental Scientists and Aboriginal Landowners."
Mario Blaser: "Ontology and indigeneity: on the political ontology of heterogeneous assemblages."
Marisol de la Cadena: "Indigenous Cosmopilitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections Beyond 'Politics'"
John Law: After Method: Mess in Social Science Research
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul

Carlos Amador:
Arun Saldanha and Jason Adams (Eds): Deleuze and Race.
Michael Taussig: Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing 

Jairus Victor Grove:
Glissant Poetics of Relation
Castro, The Enemy's Point of View
Muecke, Ancient and Modern: Time, Culture and Indigenous Philosophy
João Biehl: Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment
Danny Hoffman's The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Sergio González Rodríguez: The Femicide Machine
Octavia Butler: Bloodchild

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oppression and Thing-Power: Some Thoughts on Robin James' Thoughts on Vibrant Matter

I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects. -- Frantz Fanon, Black Skins/White Masks, p. 77

Robin James has two great posts up over at her place (here and here) on Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, and you need to go read those. It's fine, do it now, we'll wait.

Oh good, you read it? Awesome.

So, I started trying to write one long post responding, and that got unwieldy. So, instead I am going to focus on one argument in her post, and ideally I will go back and respond to other bits of James' post. However, if you go and look through my blog titles, you will see a lot of "Part I"s and very few "Part II"s. So, the likelihood that I get around to responding to every part I want to seems small.

So, before we go further, I want to say some thing about how I come to this topic. For a while now, I have been trying to think through four different types of philosophical positions. The first is poststructuralist positions found in thinkers like Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Kelly Oliver, etc. The second is new materialist/constructivist positions found in thinkers like Isabelle Stengers, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, etc. The third is decolonial and anti-racist positions found in thinkers like Maria Lugones, Angela Davis, Gloria Anzaldua, etc. And lastly the work of ecofeminists found in thinkers like Lori Gruen, Carol Adams, Chris Cuomo, etc. There are, of course, plenty of thinkers who fit in more than one of those categories (Spivak, Sara Ahmed, Stacy Alaimo, etc.). But the important part is that these four positions often exist in tension with each other, and I don't always have easy answers to those tensions. So, the goal here is to blog out loud about some of the different tensions that James' posts raises for me. One other preliminary point: I am not particularly interested here in some sort of defense of Bennett per se. So, occasionally James' posts seem to move from discussing Bennett and vital materialism, to indicating a criticism of broader understandings of new materialism. And I what I am trying to do here is try to mobilize some of the things I think are helpful or interesting from new materialism (including Bennett). So, this has less to do with disagreeing with James, and more to do with my trying to clarify to myself some of the tensions in my own work. And there is a lot I don't disagree with James about. For example, when James argues:
So while Bennett says “I cannot envision any polity so egalitarian that important human needs, such as health or survival, would not take priority” (104), I’m arguing, via Beauvoir, that precisely what we need to do is de-center the human in practice as well as in theory. And that will probably feel like “death” to those of us accustomed to having our health and survival more-or-less fully supported by the state, by capital, by patriarchal white supremacy, and so on.
I agree in advance.

On the issue of Ideal Theory/Oppression. 

Okay, there is a lot going on here, and I am having trouble with the argument. There seems to be two ways that oppression is working here. One is that oppressed people actually make less of a difference on the world, because of the structures of their oppression. The other concerns this word legible. That would seem to indicate that oppressed people make as much (if not more) difference in the world, it is merely that their difference is disavowed. So, if we take the concrete example given:
For example, women have always practiced creative arts, but for most of history (and arguably even still today) creative genres that were predominantly by and/or for women–needlepoint, chick lit, etc.–have been seen as something other than “real” or “fine” art (see Parker & Pollock’s “Old Mistresses” for an early version of this argument). Women’s work doesn’t really “count” as such–the situation of patriarchy prohibits them from positive development, so to speak.
Okay, so in this example women are producing art, but their art is disavowed as mere craft. This is why there are quotations marks around the word count, right? Because of course important art is being done by women in this example. So, if we mean oppressed people's differences are disavowed, it would strike me that theories that try to undo disavowals of who and what makes a difference would be at least a move in the right direction. So if we follow Beauvoir in saying that oppressed people are turned into things, doesn't the move to talk about thing-power mean that the productions of the oppressed become more legible? This leads us into the discussion of Ranciere's critique post-political consensus.

 Okay, so James makes the following comment after quoting Ranciere:
Universal envoicement actually is “not the liberation” from silencing but the “loss” (Disagreement 102) of political mechanisms for addressing oppression. In giving voice to all matter, is Bennett disappearing vital materialism’s constitutive outside (the out-out-side, so to speak) behind a claim for universal envoicement?
There is something to this, but what does one do with Ranciere's support for declarations of rights? If we look at his article, "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?," we see Ranciere supporting declarations of equality of anyone to anyone. Why? Because, to use a phrase from his On the Shores of Politics, it provides the part that has no part opportunities to create syllogisms of emancipation. The syllogism follows this way, This declaration claims we are all equal, this incident of oppression shows us not being equal, therefore something has to change to make us equal. In other words, universal declarations of equality are important because they allow the chance to produce the logic of tort, to force a recognition of the wrong to come to the fore. This, of course, is also a response to James' critique of the politics of exception. It seems to me that Ranciere would believe that a formal declaration of equality is better than a formal exclusion because at least we would have a better chance of recognizing the wrong in the latter. In the same way, I think that affirming the power of things and nonhuman actors provides us with a chance to recognize those beings who have been disavowed. What matters is refusing to close the political order, and staying open to the reality that our distribution of the sensible needs to change. That there will always exist beings that remain from any account, and that resist the counting order.

And that brings us to the amazing opening line of Fred Moten's In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, where he writes, "The history of blackness is testament to the fact that objects can and do resist." In the introduction of that book, Moten speaks of "animative materiality" (p. 7) and "animateriality" (p. 18). I do not think it would be wrong to say that Moten is forwarding an argument that could be read as part of new materialism. I want to forward this argument a little more by looking at a passage from Moten's later essay, "The Case of Blackness." In it, at one point Moten is exploring the Fanon quotation I used as an epigraph to this post. Moten writes:
What if the thing whose meaning or value has never been found finds things, founds things? What if the thing will have founded something against the very possibility of foundation and against all anti- or post-foundational impossibilities? What if the thing sustains itself in that absence or eclipse of meaning that withholds from the thing the horrific honorific of “object”? At the same time, what if the value of that absence or excess is given to us only in and by way of a kind of failure or inadequacy—or, perhaps more precisely, by way of a history of exclusion, serial expulsion, presence’s ongoing taking of leave—so that the non-attainment of meaning or ontology, of source or origin, is the only way to approach the thing in its informal (enformed/enforming, as opposed to formless), material totality? Perhaps this would be cause for black optimism or, at least, some black operations. Perhaps the thing, the black, is tantamount to another, fugitive, sublimity altogether. Some/thing escapes in or through the object’s vestibule; the object vibrates against its frame like a resonator, and troubled air gets out. The air of the thing that escapes enframing is what I’m interested in—an often unattended movement that accompanies largely unthought positions and appositions. (pp. 181-182)
I'm moving too quickly to give the sort of attention that Moten's texts demand, but I would hope that it might be possible to understand an animative materiality. And this might provide a different way of examining the paradox of both a subject and an object, both a thing and not a thing. And it might also remind us that there is always a fugitive, haunted air that escapes in these vibrating objects.

Okay, two counter-arguments to what I wrote above (remember when I said I am just talking aloud about some tensions that I haven't completely answer to myself yet?)

(1) The movement to try and say, "Well, if oppression proceeds by turning marginalized people into things, then we should understand the power of things" reflects a similar problem that occurs in critiques of humanism within critical animal studies. So, in the beginning of Alexander Weheliye's recent Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, he argues that animal studies and posthumanism proceed as if Man is a category that all human beings have equal access too, and that the failure to recognize that is not the case undermines their arguments (pp. 9-11). Now, I think he is being a little too dismissive here, but I also think his main point is a serious one. If we look at the tradition of decolonial philosophers like Fanon, Wynter, Césaire, and Maldonado-Torres we see some of the strongest and best critiques of humanism. We also see, however, a constant move to argue for a better humanism, as well. Those of us on the critical animal studies side are always wanting to say something like, "We agree with the critique of humanism, lets move on from there." And this is something I have talked about before (see, for example, here). I don't have a good answer, but I do think that any movement that does not take seriously questions of dignity alongside questions of who has the protection to be able to declare "I am an animal," or "I am an a thing" are going to end up in bad spaces. But, that is still not an answer.

(2) The other critique to what I wrote is linked with the post I made, "The Right of Obscurity Must Be Respected." Making ourselves more attuned to other beings also needs to take into account the sorts of violences that Glissant understood to happen under the idea of comprehension, and also respond to the problem of what Hartman class hypervisibility. There is a type of violence that can come from refusing intersubjective recognition, but there is also a type of violence that can come from refusing the right of opacity (of that air that escapes).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CFP: Panel for When Species Invade at AAG

Call for Papers: Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting, 21-25 April 2015, Chicago Illinois
Session Title: When Species Invade: Towards a Political Invasion Ecology.
Session Organizer: Matthew Rosenblum (University of Kentucky), Adam Keul (University of Connecticut- Avery Point)

Scholars from a range of fields loosely organized under the banner of ‘political ecology’ have become increasingly attentive to the lives of non-human actors. Political ecologists in geography have situated their research in sites as diverse as the laboratory and the slaughterhouse, spaces where non-human life is made and unmade, to the end of showing the relevance of non-human bodies in socio-spatial processes. The turn toward affect, experimentation, and liveliness in the ecological humanities and social sciences has produced fruitful accounts of the intimacies involved in ‘when species meet’ but has left much about the being ‘out of place,’ the radically contingent, irredeemably destructive, or so-called invasive species, yet to be said. What has been said is often preoccupied with the existing vocabularies of invasiveness and the ways in which the rhetoric of invasion ecology is linked to rhetoric’s of colonialism, nationalism (Olwig 2003, Groning & Wolschke-Bulmahn 2003), xenophobia (Subramaniam 2001), etc. Of course the link between the discourses of the natural sciences and modes of human marginalization is important since such taxonomic strategies have facilitated “beastly behavior toward the animalized and the naturalized” (Coates 2006; 135). But beyond the narcissistic anthropocentrism which problematizes invasion ecology because of its effect on human communities are the violently excluded bodies of the invasive and the feral. In many ways the popular discussions of invasiveness have abounded to the detriment of exploring questions of how metaphor and discourse motivate agents to act upon the world (Bono 2003) and whether or not those actions are commensurate with a worthwhile ethical framework. After all, “the search for a precise lexicon of terms and concepts in invasion ecology is not driven by concerns for just semantics” (Pyšek et al. 2004; 131), it is about action, and surely a process of categorization that is meant to decide which beings belong and which do not has real, felt, material, consequences. While the discursive focus takes furry, leafy, and other invasive bodies as its object, these beings are, ironically absent. Discussions about what nomenclature is best suited to categorize certain forms of nonhuman life have virtually ignored the fact that the practice of invasion ecology implicates humans as well as nonhumans in an economy of violence directed at the attainment of a certain ecological ideal (Robbins & Moore 2013) through the use of “quarantine, eradication, and control” (Elton [1958] 2000; 110). In this light, even many of the most critically aware scholars has failed to ask questions about the value of invasive lives and whether killing them is in line with a truly political ecology, one that views “ecological systems as power-laden rather than politically inert” (Robbins 2012; 13) and one includes non-human lives as subjects of politics rather than objects.

The aim of this session is to move beyond the mere discourse of invasiveness and explore alternative ways of both politicizing the science and practice of invasion ecology and bringing invasive entities, both alive and dead back into the discussions that implicate them. Topics might include, but should not be limited to:
-Queer critiques of ecological futurism

-Emotional geographies of ecological loss

-The ‘invasavore’ movement

-Non-constructivist approaches to invasiveness

-The biopolitics of invasive species management

-New directions in the discussion of the rhetoric of invasiveness

-The conflict between environmental ethics and animal ethics

-Invasiveness and landscape studies

-Animal Diaspora and non-human mobility

-Political ecologies of bordering

-Hunting power

-Invasiveness and the politics of the Anthropocene

-‘Novel ecologies’ and engagements with scientific concepts such as equilibrium, resilience, etc.  

Anyone interested in participating in this session should send a 250 word abstract to Matthew Rosenblum ( by 15 October 2014. We will notify the authors of selected papers by 20 October 2014 and ask them to register on the AAG website and send us their pin by 1 November 2014.

Bono, J. J. "Why Metaphor? Toward a Metaphorics of Scientific Practice." Science Studies: Probing the Dynamics of Scientific Knowledge. Ed. Sabine Maasen and Matthias Winterhager. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2001. 215-33.
Coates, Peter. American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006
Elton, Charles S. The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Chicago: U of Chicago, [1958] 2000.
Groning, Gert, and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn. "The Native Plant Enthusiasm: Ecological Panacea or Xenophobia?" Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 75-88.
Olwig, Kenneth R. "Natives and Aliens in the National Landscape." Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 61-74.
Pyšek, Petr, David M. Richardson, Marcel Rejmánek, Grady L. Webster, Mark Williamson, Jan Kirschner, Petr Pysek, and Marcel Rejmanek. "Alien Plants in Checklists and Floras: Towards Better Communication between Taxonomists and Ecologists." Taxon 53.1 (2004): 131.
Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2012.
Robbins, Paul, and S. A. Moore. "Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene." Cultural Geographies 20.1 (2013): 3-19.
Subramaniam, Banu. "The Aliens Have Landed! Reflections on the Rhetoric of Biological Invasions." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 2.1 (2001): 26-40.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

CFP: 14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North American Conference

14th Annual Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference
April 17 – 19, 2015 @ Binghamton University
To SUBMIT: e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to
The 2015 Institute for Critical Animal Studies North America Conference is inviting papers, presentations, and workshops from scholars, activists, and artists working on ethical and political issues concerning non/human animals alongside the socioeconomic concerns that impact human populations. This year’s venue in Binghamton, NY offers a unique opportunity to investigate the intersections of oppression in a community with a rich history of campaigning for social justice for both non/human and human alike.
Critical Animal Studies as a field has become a powerful canopy for many convergent arenas of thought, politics, scholarship, and activism. In partnership with Binghamton University’s nationally ranked speech and debate program, the conference will seek to explore how the law has both served as an impetus and a hindrance to advancing the cause of social justice. The conference also aims to explore the tactics, strategies, and theories that exist outside legal instruments for change. The goal is to create an effective dialog and collaboration between people with differing viewpoints and opinions and not to create an echo chamber for a single-sided viewpoint on how non/human liberation can be achieved.
Presentations should be fifteen to twenty minutes in length. We are receptive to different and innovative formats including but not limited to panels, performances, workshops, and public debates. You may propose individual or group presentations, but please specify the structure of your proposal. To submit e-mail an abstract of no more than 500 words and short bio of no more than 150 words to by January 10th, 2015. Please be sure to include your name(s), title, organizational affiliation(s), field of study or activism, and A/V needs in your submission.
We welcome presentations, panels, and workshops from a variety of academic and non-academic fields, including but not limited to:
Activism and advocacy
Aesthetic are artistic expressions of liberation theory
Biopolitical thought
Bioscience and biotechnology
Critical legal studies
Critical race theory
Cultural studies
Disability studies
Ecology and environmentalism
Ethics (applied and/or philosophical)
Feminist theory
Film and media studies
Intersectional streams of thought
Literary theory
Non/human liberation
Pedagogical approaches to teaching liberation
Political economy
Politics of incarceration
Postcolonial studies
Poststructuralist theory
Queer theory
For any questions concerning submission relevance, conference details, or in general e-mail us at
We are also interested in soliciting people, groups, and organizations who are interested in tabling during the conference. If interested please contact us. More information concerning tabling will be forthcoming.
Please spread and share this information with anyone who may be interested in submitting or attending. Authors who have worked on edited collections are encouraged to submit panel proposals on the books with contributing authors presenting.

Monday, September 15, 2014

CFP: Kentucky's Dimensions of Political Ecology Conference

The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group invites you to participate in the fifth annual


February 26 – February 28, 2015
University of Kentucky | Lexington, Kentucky, USA

Keynote Address: Dr. Kimberly Tallbear (Anthropology, University of Texas)

Plenary Panel: Dr. Irus Braverman (Law & Geography, University of Buffalo), Dr. Jake Kosek (Geography, University of California, Berkeley) & Dr. Shiloh Krupar (Culture & Politics Program, Georgetown University)

Other conference events include: Paper sessions, Workshops, Round-table discussions, Panels, Undergraduate research symposium, Paper competitions and Field trips.

Online conference registration will open Monday, October 6, 2014 and close on Monday, November 17, 2014. The conference registration fee is $35 for graduate students and $70 for faculty and non-academics/practitioners. There is no fee for undergraduate participants.


The University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group strongly encourages participants to organize their own sessions. To organize your own session, please:

1. Draft a call for papers (CFP). For guidance, reference the wide variety of CFPs from last year's conference available via the political ecology working group website.

2. Email your CFP to the political ecology working group at We will help you to circulate your CFP by posting it on our website and via our twitter feed, but you should also distribute it among your colleagues and to relevant disciplinary listservs.

3. When you have finalized the details, please send the Google Form on our website to confirm the final orientation of your panel, including participant names, institutions, abstracts, titles, discussants, organizers, chairs and other relevant information. Please be as detailed as possible and send this information before the final registration deadline, November 17th, 2014.

4. All participants in your session must have registered and paid by the regular registration deadline. As such, we suggest having the deadline to respond to your CFP at least a week prior to the conference registration deadline.

Suggestions and reminders for session organizers:
When thinking about your panel remember that each session is 100 minutes long, and we strictly limit you to two session slots for reasons pertaining to space and time constraints.
Please feel free to think more broadly than traditional paper sessions - consider workshops, panel discussions, lightning talks or other alternative session styles. Please email the political ecology email address if you have questions or concerns about organizing a session.
Also please keep in mind that undergraduates are strongly encouraged to submit their papers to our annual Undergraduate Symposium.
DOPE participants can only present in one paper session, and at the maximum, serve as a discussant or panelist in one additional session. We ask that participants limit themselves to two conference activities at most due to scheduling limitations.


While we strongly encourage participants to submit abstracts in response to CFPs being circulated (see above), we will continue to accept individual abstracts. Abstracts submitted to the conference rather than in response to specific CFPs will be sorted thematically, and are not guaranteed placement in the conference schedule.

Abstracts or proposals should be 200-300 words in length and include titles and three to five keywords.  Please submit only one abstract. The deadline for abstract submissions is the conference registration deadline: Monday, November 17, 2014.

Please visit to register.

Follow us on Twitter at @ukpewg or on Facebook as the University of Kentucky Political Ecology Working Group.

Please send any questions to the DOPE organizing committee at