Hypatia Symposium: Introduction: Feminists Encountering Animals by LORI GRUEN and KARI WEIL

In Hypatia 27.3, a special issue on “Animal Others”, leading feminist animal studies scholars, Lori Gruen (author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction) and Kari Weil (author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now) present exciting new work on the intersections of sex, race, gender, and species. As co-editors of the special issue, Gruen and Weil invited six scholars to reflect on some of the lively debates occurring within this burgeoning new field of scholarship. Join the discussion.

Feminists Encountering Animals

Professor, Wesleyan University

Professor, Wesleyan University

Read the full special issue here

Download a PDF of this symposium

See the full list of posts featured in this symposium

In response to the growth of animal studies in the academy, an increasing number of conferences and panels have focused on “the question of the animal” whether from a disciplinary or interdisciplinary perspective. Participating in these conferences over the course of many years we have heard probing comments and contentious murmurs that we thought deserved to be more formally articulated and aired. When we began to read similar comments in some of the referee reports on submissions for this special issue, we were convinced we wanted to encourage these rumblings to be written up so that discussion and debate surrounding the history and reception of feminist animal studies could become more focused and more public. The comments, in some ways, reminded us of old battlegrounds among feminists—debates about just how personal the political should be, conflicts over erotic desire and political commitment, as well as those over strategies for alliance. So we thought it would be informative and productive to invite a number of feminist scholars working in animal studies—those who have been in the field for quite a while and those who have only recently begun to work in it—to voice their thoughts, concerns, and hopes. We prompted them with a set of questions:

  • Is animal studies gendered, and if so, to what effect?
  • Is so-called animal “theory” at odds with affective and/or feminist political engagement? Do you see a gap between the personal and the political (or theoretical) in animal studies and, if so, how is it manifesting?
  • Have the insights of feminists/ecofeminists been overlooked/unacknowledged in animal studies, and if so, what is lost and what should be done to acknowledge and reclaim their insights?

We told those who agreed to have their musings included here that we were not necessarily looking for direct responses to these questions, but rather were hoping they might use these questions to provoke written reflection. As you will see in the essays that follow, the authors may not have needed much prompting.

Not surprisingly, there is contention among the views expressed in this symposium, but there are also common themes. One clear commonality is the need to maintain feminist, ethical, and political commitments within animal studies—commitments to reflexivity, responsibility, engagement with the experiences of other animals, and sensitivity to the intersectional contexts in which we encounter them. Such commitments are at the core of a second, related area of common concern, that of the relationship between theory and practice. Animal bodies, we can all agree, must not be “absent referents” in animal studies (Adams 1990/2010). But what is the role of theory produced by those whose personal practices might be challenged on ethical or political grounds, even as it helps us to articulate important ideas? Throughout this symposium, as in this special issue as a whole, the importance of affect in feminist animal studies is noted. We know that we touch the lives of other animals and that they touch ours in a myriad of ways, but there remains disagreement about the positive and negative effects of these encounters.

Of course, the conclusions drawn in the musings that follow are by no means the last words on these complex topics. Our hope is that constructive discussion and debate will follow from them.

Click here to see the full list of posts featured in this symposium.
(links will be updated when the posts go live)

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