Animal studies is a recent field born from the deconstructivism of our society, that is to say from post-modernism, post-humanism, Derrida’s “remise en question” of thinking. It is largely influenced by the philosopher Peter Singer who published in 1975 an important book, Animal Liberation. In this book, Singer has demonstrated the existence of physical and psychic sufferings in animals caused by breeding, meat consumption and testing on animals. He questioned the moral legitimacy of certain animal-related practices and called for their abrogation. His writings had an important influence on
society, pressing the emergence of political movements advocating animal liberation, one of them, the Animal Liberation Front, using the direct action. So, animal studies’ developped thanks to the evolution of animal ethics (Jeangène-Vilmer 2009), to animal rights movement (Jasper & Nelkin 1992), and to a general anxiety about animals’ fate essentially reserved to western societies. But they evolved also from the development of mouvements for the protection of animals, born in the XIX century as a reaction against the human domination on animals. Sociologists and anthropologists ended up interested in the subject. Today, for example, more than 100 courses dedicated to this theme are now on the program of North American universities. And from Sciences the topic is now transferred to Humanities.
In this new field, researchers analyse animals as a subject and not as an object, employing various theoretical perspectives and a variety of disciplines, from the art history to the philosophy, to biology, anthropology, psychology, history, neuroscience, just to name a few… In this kind of studies scholars try to avoid the anthropocentrism which generally characterise researches, thinking that animals are as intelligent as humans, that they are able to communicate, to have feelings, knowledge, and intelligence. In a word, animals are as human as us, or better we are as animals as them. This changing of
perspective is quickly prouved by the titles of some of these books (John Bradshaw, Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet. Hennie Viviers, The psychology of animal companionship. In HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 2014). And it also appears in the creation and use of the expression “animal individuals” as opposed to human individuals. Thus, if animals are humans, the science who study them is called « anthrozoology » and “zoocentrism” is the way of thinking from the point of view of animals. It is not coincidence that notions of “animality”, “brutality”, “wildness” are changing very quickly. And that the theory of mind, limited to humans until recently, begins to be applied to animals, and this is a real revolution.
One of the people behind this revolution is Erica Fudge. A Professor at the University of Glasgow, she analyzes the relationships between animals and humans in a variety of points of view. She works in the editorial board of journals like Society and Animals, Humanimalia: a Journal of Human/Animal Interface Studies, The Animal Studies Journal. After Perceiving Animals: Humans and Beasts in Early Modern English Culture (1999) where she tried to reject anthropocentric view of animals, she published Brutal Reasoning suggesting here that animals have intelligence and brain. In her book titled Pets, she explores the reasons why we want to share a home and a life with pets. The last book published in 2018 is Quick Cattle
and Dying Wishes : People and Their Animals in Early Modern England. This book asks questions like how did people feel about and toward the animals that they worked with, tended, and often killed.
In France the researchers of the Museum of Natural History of Paris (specialized in different periods), Michel Pastoureau (an historian specialized in Middle Age who wrote some books on boar, pork, and medieval bestiary), Achille Gauthier (archaeozoologist, specialist of Europe and prehistory, author of Et l’homme créa l’animal) and Jean Pierre Digard (L’homme et les animaux domestiques. Antrohopologie d’une passion) are the most active in renewing the field of research. But the best known and influential French academic is Eric Baratay.
In the classical studies (=Greece, Rome) Animal Studies are getting more and more importance, while in the Ancient Near East, they are still beginners. But can normative and epistemic ambitions of Animal/Human Studies concert with militancy? Can we really forget what we are to think like what we are not? The historical reconstruction is not better if we take it from a single point of view, be it animal or human. So if the Animal/Human Studies could help historians to remember that other points of view are possible, they are welcome. Otherwise, it’s a lure.
Jasper, J. M. & Nelkin, D. 1992. The Animal Rights Crusade: the Growth of a Moral Protest. New York: Free Press.
Jeangène-Vilmer, B. 2009. Éthique animale. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.
Michalon, J. 2017. Les Animal Studies peuvent-elles nous aider à penser l’émergence des épistémès réparatrices? Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances 2017/3: 321-349.
Traïni, C. 2011. La cause animale (1820-1980). Essai de sociologie historique. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.