Exploring the "Animal Turn": Changing perspectives on human-animal relations in science, society and culture
Human and animal lives have always been entangled, and animals are omnipresent in human society. There are animals in our homes and workplaces, in institutions of science, education, media and entertainment – even inside our bodies in the form of friendly or unfriendly micro-organisms, or in the form of processed and consumed meat.
The ways humans interact with, use, and handle animals are complex and embedded in paradoxes. For instance, while the extinction of many wildlife species is reaching unprecedented scales, a globally increasing demand for meat on the other hand sustains large-scale breeding of production animals. Tensions and connections emerge not only between systemic patterns of extinction and production. They are equally present in socio-cultural and intersubjective relations, when we choose to live with some animals as family members and consume others as food, or when we channel our passions and fears onto real and symbolic animals as visual or literary representations in cultural, commercial, and public spaces.
How can our increasing knowledge about the different cultures, biologies, and lifeworlds of animals, and our growing awareness of the complexities of human-animal relations, be developed and critically analysed in the collective formation of an ethically and environmentally sustainable future? Such a task requires a continuous exchange across disciplinary boundaries.
The overarching purpose of the theme ”Exploring the Animal Turn” is to initiate the development of a space for such an exchange. What we aim to create is a platform for research and education capacity building in the field of human-animal studies, with particular focus on the ethical, political and environmental dimensions of humananimal relations.
Following what in the humanities and social sciences has been called an “animal turn”, academic attention toward the need for such initiatives is growing rapidly. The “animal turn” denotes a new nexus of interdisciplinary scholarly interest, manifesting itself in conferences, courses, book series and academic journal themes. At Lund University, the Animal Turn theme responds to a growing interest among students and scholars, and will engage in creative networking with existing related nodes and research groups nationally and internationally.
The Animal Turn theme will explore what kind of knowledge might be produced when the human-animal relation is located at the core of interdisciplinary inquiry. The members of the theme group represent eight different disciplines (literary studies, media studies, education studies, history of science and ideas, archaeology, design, sociology and biology). This means that the creation of a truly interdisciplinary space of scholarly exchange, where these different perspectives may intersect in productive ways, is of key importance.
The work of the Animal Turn theme group will be conducted in the form of seminars, focusing on the following topics of inquiry:
1. The role of the natural sciences visavi other forms of knowledge in human-animal related issues of sustainability and biological diversity.
2. The idea of a human/animal divide and challenges to this divide in social, cultural and scientific practices.
3. The representations of the interests of animals in institutional activities such as education and in policyrelated
and decision-making processes.
The outcome of these discussions will be presented in publications as well as via outreach activities presented and documented on the theme’s webpage. Swedish and international scholars will be invited to give public lectures, including the theme group’s guest scholar Annie Potts from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Annie Potts is Co-founder and Co-director of the Centre for Human-Animal Studies in Christchurch, and has contributed widely to research on topics such as as human-animal interaction in everyday life, animals and natural disasters, and ethical consumption. There will also be open events taking place in the Botanical Gardens and other public spaces in Lund. The theme stretches from the 1st of October until the 31st of May and will conclude with a final conference in the autumn of 2014.