Saturday, December 13, 2014

Our Children and Other Animals: Socializing Speciesism through Children's Media

This new book critically examines the socialization of the human domination of other animals, with a focus on the socialization sites of the family, mass media, formal education system and digital media. While the book focuses on the contemporary UK, it also attends to the historical formation of children’s relations with other animals in Britain, and to the inflection of UK popular culture by global giants in the construction of animal iconography, such as Disney and Nintendo.

A central argument of the book is that children’s ethical capacities are systematically distorted by the capitalist imperative to commodify nonhuman animals (as food, experimental tools, objects of entertainment and so on) and that an elective affinity therefore exists between the practices of commodification and the cultural products that distract children’s attention from those practices, at the same time as subtly legitimating them. The instrumentalizing imperative penetrates every aspect of the socialization process, disguised by the ‘cute’ anthropomorphic iconography of children’s culture, which can be found in food packaging, clothing, movies, magazines, teaching materials and online games that feature nonhumans as ‘pets’ or ‘farmed’ animals. This iconography paints a veneer of affectivity over human-nonhuman animal relations that allow the socialization of domination to proceed smoothly, focusing children’s affective concern for animals on fictional characters or relatively protected nonhumans, such as animal companions or members of iconic free-living species. Children’s unwitting complicity with the exploitation and violence that characterizes human uses of other animals is thereby facilitated.

The book also considers how these kinds of anthroparchal inter-species relations intersect with intra-human inequalities, especially of gender and age: ethical concern for other animals is initially encouraged in the socialization process, but is thereafter associated both with human infancy itself as an immature stage of human relationships with other animals, but also with femininity through the construction of a ‘fluffy nexus of sentimentality’ that articulates affective relations with ‘cute’ animals with girlhood. In this linking of infancy, femininity and affectivity for other animals, we argue that the seeds are sown of an anthroparchal, patriarchal and ageist adult culture’s disparagement of the animal rights and vegan movement as infantile, irrational and trivial. The book ends with a consideration of how the vegan movement is responding to the challenge of anthroparchal socialization, through the analysis of the emerging genre of vegan children’s literature. This new cultural development offers some hope that the socialization of the normality of domination can be challenged and that children’s capacities to forge ethical relations with nonhuman animals can flourish in a post-anthroparchal environment.

We hope that the book will interest critical animal studies and human-animal studies scholars across a range of disciplines, but especially within sociology. We are active members of the BSA (British Sociological Association) Animal/Human Studies Group (AHSG), regularly presenting our work at the BSA annual conference. We are pleased to report that attendance at ASHG panels and ad hoc sessions about animals are becoming better attended year on year, and we look forward to building on that momentum in 2015, when we’ll once again be panellists at the BSA conference, discussing some of the ideas from the book. One of our ambitions for the book is that it will foster connections with sociologists working in different areas of the discipline, especially childhood studies, the sociology of the family, education, popular culture as well as social theorists.

ASA members who are interested in the book can download the introduction chapter from the publisher’s website, free of charge. A podcast of us discussing the book, with fellow sociologist Dr Roger Yates, is available by clicking here.  A review by Corey Wrenn is available by clicking here.

We would be delighted to hear from any ASA members who are interested in our work and we can be contacted at:

Dr Matthew Cole, The Open University, UK:
Dr Kate Stewart, University of Nottingham, UK:

1 comment: