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  • Writer's pictureClaudia Hirtenfelder

Re-Animalization and the Redistribution of Risk

Updated: Mar 18

In the latest episode of The Animal Turn, Krithika Srinivasan joined me to discuss re-animalization, a concept she developed in a recent paper.

Krithika argues that the dominant vision of human wellbeing rests on an idea that humans should be more-than-animal by insulating themselves from the numerous risks that come with living on Earth. Colonialism and development have been mechanisms through which to try and achieve this vision of human wellbeing and they have contributed greatly to inequities and injustice. As such, Krithika argues that there is perhaps a need to re-think what wellbeing means and whether justice should be about the re-distribution of risk, instead of the shoring up of the underprivileged.


Longevity is arguably one of the most basic indicators used to describe human well-being. The longer humans live, the seemingly better their well-being. As such humans, together with some of our domesticated animals, are among the few species who experience ever-expanding life expectancies. This is a clear example of what Krithika means when she argues that human well-being is predicated on being more-than-animal. Not only is an ever-expanding life expectancy not something other animals are expected to achieve but the human pursuit of this goal has resulted in diminishing returns for those upon whom such expansion rests. Developing medicine to lengthen human lives often requires testing on animals. Furthermore, the longer a human lives the more planetary resources they require, thus expanding human consumption on Earth. As Krithika argues, protecting (and ‘improving’) human well-being is predicted on sacrifice. A point Krithika makes clear in her paper when she says:


“From a vision of a good human life premised upon insulation from the vulnerabilities inherent in living on this planet, we need to examine what it means to live as part of nature, as one among other animals. Equally crucial is a fundamental shift in approach to inequities. Instead of addressing social, ecological and animal injustices by ‘shoring up’ and seeking protections for vulnerable human or nonhuman Others, the focus would be on more equitably distributing the risks of living on this earth so that they are not borne primarily by marginal people and nature.” - Krithika Srinivasan, 2022: 361


For Krithika justice should not necessarily be about “shoring up” the seemingly underprivileged to a place of privilege but rather it should be premised on the “retribution of risk.” Framing wellbeing in this way becomes less about how we can have ‘more’ to be ‘well’ but rather requires on how having ‘less’ might come with more risk but be essentially fairer and perhaps more sustainable. To make this possible, the privileged would have to gaze upon themselves and to think about how their lives could be made riskier – how they could be made animal. Animals, for example, pursue their well-being at the scale of the individual, family or community but not at the scale of the species or whole regions. But human well-being is done at the scale of society or species.


“There is an acceptance of the idea that we are animals and that we are part of nature in an ontological sense but not an ethical and political sense and that is why it has not been helpful.” – Krithika, The Animal Turn Podcast 


Krithika’s shift in focus when it comes to well-being is political and following her line of reasoning can lead to some difficult conclusions: That some humans, particularly the most privileged, need to become more comfortable with dying younger and having fewer comforts. That to combat global challenges, such as climate change, will not require shoring up and ‘improved’ development but rather an acceptance of the risks that come with being animals. This kind of talk is tricky, complicated and deeply political especially when one considers the racialized histories of animalization rhetoric and the unequal distribution of risks among human populations.


But, for Krithika, we are not yet at the stage of thinking about the practical ramifications of what re-animalization might mean. Rather, the concept offers an opening to think the unthinkable and stretch the limits of imagination. In this she is building on the work of thinkers like Arturo Escobar who, in Pluriversal Politics, states:


“If developmental aspirations of material insulation from nature have been achieved in some form or the other, there is no reason why re-animalisation should remain in the realm of the ‘unthinkable’, and why it should not become ‘a credible alternative to what exists, and the credible to the achievable’" (Escobar, 2020, p. 131).


Krithika’s concept of re-animalization prompts us to think more about what ‘animalization’ is, to contend with the histories of how it has been used in intra-human violence and to ask, fundamentally, whether Western notions of development and some our most basic ideas of what it means to live a good human life are wrong. “Re-animalization” offers an opening to thinking differently about human-animal relations and to imagining how contextually specific distributions of risk might lead to a more just world.


Krithika Srinivasan is a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Edinburgh. Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of political ecology, post-development politics, animal studies, and nature geographies. Her work draws on research in South Asia to rethink globally established concepts and practices about nature-society relations and reconfigure approaches to multispecies justice. Krithika is the principal investor of the project Remaking One Health Indies. She has published widely, including in journals such as the Sociological Review, Geoforum, and Environment and Planning. Learn more about the ROHIndies project on their website and connect with Krithika on Twitter (@KritCrit).



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