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THEME

Animals, Fiction, Alternatives

AUTHORS

VOLUME NO.
32 [4]

PUBLICATION DATE
2013

ABSTRACT

The last year in Australia has seen the increasing exposure of animal rights and the promotion and validating of animal sentience as a crucial political issue. According to a recent animal rights promotional campaign (Animals Australia 2013: online), we have seen on print and television media and circulating on social media the exposure of puppy farm busts, pressure on retailers to go fur-free, the campaign against live animal exports and the inhumane destruction of unwanted bobby calves in dairy farming. SBS, channel 9 and 10, SBS and ABC news and ABC Lateline have all featured animal rights stories more frequently in the last few years. Large-scale retailers Woolworths and Coles have come to agreements with lobby and consumer groups opposed to cage eggs and pig stall factory farming. Woolworths will remove all cage eggs by 2018 and Coles took their own cage egg brands off shelves in 2013 (Animals Australia 2013: online). Not that Australia should feel particularly proud of these developments, we are merely catching up with much of the rest of the developed world, especially the European Union.

The media exposure of animal cruelty and the refusal of some of the population to accept animal suffering signify the slow movement of animal rights issues from the fringes to mainstream Australian society.1 Questions of animal rights and liberation are part of a long philosophical tradition recognising the right for animals to live a life without human cruelty and without unnecessary suffering caused by human action (for twentieth century seminal examples, see Singer 1983 and Midgley 1983). In the context of humanities and social science scholarship, where this journal is situated, they also signify a shift in the academy to consider animal questions seriously. Questions on the nonhuman animal in relation to the human animal have often found focus through animal studies, which Greg Garrard defines as ‘the analysis of the representation of animals in history and culture’ (Garrard 2012: 146). The difference between animal rights considerations such as the prevention of puppy farming in Victoria and humanities’ cultural focused animal studies concerns both philosophy and politics. Garrard points to a split between philosophical and political considerations of animal rights and thematic and historiographical exploration of animals in human culture (2012: 146). This issue of Social Alternatives seeks to question and suture this split; to find ways in which the philosophical, political and thematic consideration of animals in culture may lead to considerations that open up debate on questions of animal rights, animal agency and animal sentience.

In light of this, the issue, following organisations such as the Animals and Society Institute (2012), develops a more accurate and contemporary definition of animal studies as involving the interstices between thematic and political considerations. Animal studies can be fruitfully complemented with terms such as human-animal studies and critical animal studies to include the study of relationships and interactions between humans and animals and the understanding that animals do not just play perfunctory or peripheral roles in human lives but that we exist in and interrupt their worlds and are perceived by them: Jennifer McDonell’s (2013) first article in this edition and its excellent glossary provides clarification of these terms. The onus in this edition is on tracing the significance of representations of animals in human culture not just in and of themselves but in order to raise new questions and present alternatives to an oppressive human tradition of animal exploitation and objectification. To this end, each author has re-visited familiar literary and cultural expressions of human animal and nonhuman animal interactions to provide new readings and alternatives to existing scholarship. The last two articles presented in this collection reinterpret quite different cultural events. Lesley Kordecki (2013) examines an example of Shakespearean comedy and theatre in new ways and Randy Malamud (2013) examines the service animal phenomena and uses artistic representation to locate depictions where we might see interspecies communication played out.

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