ANTHRCUL357: Animality and the Human Question

Course Description: What does it mean to be a human person? What does it mean to be an animal? What happens when those two categories are not as distinct as we might initially think? In this class, we will use the conceptual tools of anthropology—literally, the study of the human being (anthropos)—to understand how “humanhood” and “personhood” have not been self-evident, but rather are statuses fought for and vigilantly defended—by some, more so than others. Around the world, people’s shifting relationships with non-human animals have shaped structures of power and the rhetoric of activism, from Black civil rights to disability liberation. We will learn about how animal breeding practices link with the rise of fascism, how cow protection informs Hindu nationalism, and how metaphors of “pests,” “vermin,” and “swarms” shape the material experiences of belonging and Otherness in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. We will challenge our ideas about individuality, scientific classification and experimentation, and labor rights, among others. We will do so by turning to ethnographic cases where the lines between human and animal life are never straightforward, including factory farming, meat consumption, wildlife conservation, and mass extinction. Overall, this class’ goal is to develop robust conceptual tools for analyzing one of the most pressing political questions of our age: our relationship to other species and, by connection, to each other.

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