About the Animal Turn 

Placing animals at the centre of our thinking

There are often 'turns' in both the natural and social sciences where a particular subject matter or way of asking and answering questions becomes more apparent, more evident and (dare I say it?) more popular and pressing. While these turns are rarely a quick break they do point to profound, even if sometimes subtle, shifts in thinking.

 

Here we discuss 'the animal turn' and throughout the podcast try to grapple with some of the concepts, research and ways of thinking that are inspired by and simultaneously shape the contours of 'this turn'. I do not, however, have a clean definition for you regarding what 'the animal turn is', or how its boundaries should be defined - exploring these is, after all, one of the underlying projects of the podcast itself. Nonetheless, it is important to think through what it could mean and what better way to do this than by providing the definitions and discussions of others, those who have thought in a deeper, more prolonged way about it than I have. Below are a series of pull quotes from scholars grappling with what is meant by "the animal turn':

"After all, there are many ways of relating to the world, and the human ways constitute only a small subset. Taking this into account has potentially unsettling implications for any academic discipline. The “animal turn,” thus, brings along an alternative outlook on knowledge production that does not only include animals, but places them centre stage as key actors in the innumerable modes of being in, and making sense of, the world" - Page 6

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"We should not forget that humananimal relations are inherently political, having profound material consequences for real individuals and real lives. In this light, perhaps the most important question is not what kind of knowledge we can produce in the “animal turn”, but what we do with this knowledge – that is; how we put it to work, and for whose beneft" (Pederson, page 16)

"...the study of animals has become more respectable and more popular in many disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, but it is far from the recognized core of any of them. It remains marginal in most disciplines, and (not the same thing) it is often on the borderline between disciplines. This awkward location or set of locations is, however, the source of much of its appeal and power. Its very marginality allows the study of animals to challenge settled assumptions and relationships– to re-raise the largest issues–both within the community of scholars and in the larger society to which they and their subjects belong." (Ritvo, On The Animal Turn)

"Animals are our closest physical and cultural point of connection with the non-human world, and human-animal relations are much older than history itself. Yet, while there has always been some degree of interest in the meaning of human relations with animals, it is only in the last two decades or so that this general interest has developed into an inter-disciplinary field of scholarship and enquiry." (Wheeler and Williams - The Animals Turn)

"Theory has gone to the birds . . . and to apes, dogs, and horses" - Weil, 2010