Friday, July 13, 2012

FEA: Stephanie Jenkins, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and killable subjects

Two quick notes: (1) The "virtual symposium" has been extended until at least July 20th. So, if you haven't had a chance to read and participate, you have longer! (2) The comments are coming more quickly than they were in the first few days. There are several lively and interesting discussions throughout the various posts of the symposiums, and I highly suggest you pop on over there and read the comments, even if you have already read all the initial posts. They are worth your time.

Stephanie Jenkins' contribution is a wonder, and particularly close to my own work. She wants an "an affective feminist practice that views animal others as grievable, vulnerable, and valuable"*. Such an understanding gives us (either contra or pace Warkentin, I am not full sure) a different understanding of veganism. As Jenkins argues: 
When built upon feminist ethics, vegan practice is not a universal obligation or a fantasy of purity but rather a “bodily imperative” (Weiss 1999, 129) to respond to another’s suffering and to reject the everyday embodied practices that make certain animate others killable.
This is a strong contribution to a rethinking of veganism that several of us are trying to produce, in which veganism is neither reducible to another instance in the economies of the sacred and the profane, the pure and the polluted, and the innocent and the damned; but also is not reducible to one more consumer choice, one more boycott, one more instance in the transformation of us into homo economicus.  

Jenkins in interesting in contrasting an ethically engaged animal studies with what she, cleverly, called "hypo-critical animal studies". 
Because it isolates ontological inquiry from ethical practice, hypo-critical animal studies constitute a response to animal suffering that is a nonresponse. These studies do not call upon us to change how we eat, dress, or entertain in the world in regard to our everyday relationships with other animals. 
Hypo-critical animal studies would be what Michael Lundblad terms "animality studies".  

The major target of Jenkins attack is Donna Haraway, and particularly Haraway's notion of "killing well" (a somewhat strange translation of Derrida's eating well). For those who have read When Species Meet, Haraway justifies scientific experimentation on animals, as well as killing and eating animals. Both of which are problematized, but ultimately the conclusions are for our right to kill and eat animals in ways that very, very problematic (and conclusions matter, no matter nuanced we get there). For example, Donna Haraway is okay with killing and eating wild boars in California because they are an invasive species. To tie this back into Kelly Oliver's piece, just as pit bulls are seen sometimes in racialized and criminalized codes, the invasive species occupies a similar ground, bringing in our xenophobia and anxieties over immigration (I want to thank my colleague Kevin Cummings for this insight). After all, the invasive species does not belong, replicates too quickly, drains important resources that should be going to other, 'more natural' species that 'belong'. For Donna Haraway, killing well often means a biopolitical justification of killing, that is of sacrificing the individual for the population's sustainability (I have argued this before). Now, for a brief disagreement with Jenkins. 

Jenkins is concerned with articulating a nonviolent philosophy, one that centralizes the idea of though shalt not kill, as opposed to Haraway's formulation of thou shalt not make killable. I am not at all convinced that nonviolent ethics is truly possible (again, see my discussion of ethics and innocence). And I agree with Haraway that the issue isn't one so much of thou shalt not kill as much as it is one of thou shalt not make killable. Haraway failure, and here I come back to full agreement with Jenkins, is that she doesn't actualize this ethos. Jenkins is passionate in her articulation of why the violence of the vegan and the violence of the omnivore is not the same violence. 

Jenkins ends her short essay with an appeal to Butler's work. (Stephanie, along with Eric Jonas, presented on Butler and animal ethics/ontology/politics at the Sex, Gender, Species conference. Their work on Butler has been essential for my own). Needless to say, I agree, and I encourage to read it (and all of the comments) in full

*I currently don't have the pdf in front of me, with the page numbers. And cutting and pasting from it caused the weird formating issues from earlier posts. So, I don't have page numbers right now. Also, I will keep to calling Stephanie "Jenkins", even though we are friends, and it seems weird. 


adam said...

Scu, did you get around to my reformulation of veganism from last summer? I'm still curious about your thoughts.

sodapopinski51 said...

Why is killing invasive animals reminiscent of xenophobia rather than colonization?

Anonymous said...


You'll find a fairly detailed answer in the work of Banu Subramaniam -

Hope this helps.