Symbiotic anthrozoology: cultivating (or advocating?) ethics of coexistence

Samantha Hurn (University of Exeter)
Room 5
Start time:
15 April, 2015 at 9:15
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Anthrozoological interactions receive considerable anthropological attention. However anthropologists are often reluctant to advocate for their otherthanhuman informants. This panel urges scholars working on trans-species encounters to consider the ethical dimensions and wider impacts of their work.

Long abstract:

Anthrozoological (multi- or trans-species) interactions have received considerable anthropological attention. Debates have focused on how to understand the lives of other-than-human beings, and the methodological and theoretical challenges raised. Far less attention has been paid to the ethical dimensions of these encounters. Human-animal interactions are frequently based on inequalities, raising the question: whose 'voice' or experience should take priority? And what should be done in situations where animals might be 'suffering' from their enrolment in human social lives? Scholars from disciplines such as critical animal studies have been more pro-active in speaking up for the plight of some creatures, but why are anthropologists so reluctant to act as advocates here? Are scholars working on the human-nonhuman interface guilty of 'speciesism' by prioritizing the interests of those others deemed most 'like us' (e.g. other primates) at the expense of those less charismatic families (e.g. arachnids)? Moreover, categories 'animal' or 'other-than-human' are amorphous and heterogeneous, and human constructs with significant implications for how these others are defined and treated. Anthrozoological scholarship has a great deal to contribute not just in advancing theoretical debates but also in terms of improving animal welfare and mitigating trans-species conflict in 'real world' situations yet few anthropologists working in this field take steps to apply their work outside of academia, or to advocate on behalf of their other-than-human informants. This panel urges those scholars working on trans-species encounters to consider the ethical dimensions and impacts of their work.