Horkheimer, Habermas and horses: how critical theory helps anthropology take animals more seriously
Helen Wadham (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Paper short abstract:
SDG 15 (Life on land) challenges us to rethink our relationship with other species. This paper offers a critical reflection on human/nonhuman agency by bringing together new materialism and Critical Theory via an ethnographically informed study of human-horse entanglements.
Paper long abstract:
Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on land) challenges us to rethink our relationship with other species. New materialism offers a promising framework for such an analysis by emphasising society as comprising interactions between myriad human and nonhuman actors (e.g. Latour 2007), Ingold; 2008). However, a critical approach requires we consider how this human/nonhuman agency is embedded within broader socio-political networks. This article responds by drawing on longstanding but overlooked ideas from Critical Theory to examine how nonhuman agency intersects with relations of place and power. When combined with recent research into human-animal relations within anthropology and beyond, Critical Theory contributes to the debate in three ways. First, the ideas of Horkheimer and Adorno in particular help us understand the mutual marginalisation of animals and people in industrial society, in a way that enriches our understanding of agency and other concepts like citizenship. Second, Critical Theory provides a framework through which we might challenge that marginalisation. Habermas' notion of deliberation is especially helpful here, enlivened by multispecies research into the role of embodiment and affect. Third, Critical Theory posits an alternative vision of a "good life" for humans and animals, in which ethical relations may be possible even within relations of power. Human relationships with domestic animals are especially distinctive and revealing. In particular, horses hold a unique place in our collective unconscious and I therefore illustrate the analysis throughout with examples of horse-human relationships drawn from existing research and exploratory ethnographic fieldwork in the UK.
Entangled engagements: anthropology's holistic approach to the Global Challenges