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Critical Animal Studies and Animal Standpoint Theory

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Animal Rights Education

Part of the book series: The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series ((PMAES))


“Critical animal studies” emerged in higher education as a result of mainstream animal studies being perceived as having sold out, as having been domesticated, colonised by organisations and individuals without any real or practical commitment to animal rights and liberation, to a vegan and generally anti-speciesist lifestyle, etc. Animal standpoint theory stands alongside other standpoint theories, in their commitment to represent the perspectives and viewpoints of those who have historically been marginalised, oppressed and exploited. Like critical pedagogy and ecopedagogy, however, these candidates for revolutionary education are characterised both by a questionable rejection of individualism and by a logically problematic and practically incoherent adherence to perspectivalism and relativism.

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  1. 1.

    See also Jakubiak (2017: 53): “Politically engaged social science – and by extension politically engaged classroom teaching – must pay heed to human-animal relations”, which “provides insight on how power works in society” and “also draws our attention to potential vectors of change”. Lloro-Bidart and Russell (2017: 47), too, make a normative rather than an empirical point about teaching. They consider “pedagogies that rely on transmission of depoliticised facts” to be problematic.

  2. 2.

    Kahn (2016: 222n.2) quotes from, 2011: “From our education and social experiences we learn to see human characteristics and abilities as the ideal standard against which all others are measured”.

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    Harding’s (and Haraway’s) ideas about “situated knowledges” and “partial perspectives” are also picked up by Humes, in her attempt to merge humane and non-oppressive education into a “liberatory pedagogy”:

    By disrupting grand or meta-narratives, what is considered knowledge, common sense, ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ are all brought into a contested terrain and examined, scrutinised and disrupted allowing for the ‘unknowable’ to surface. … Lessons about oppression include learning to resist the desire to know it, to reject searching for the ‘Truth’ as the end point of knowing. The goal is not a state of final or complete knowledge, a final answer, or the satisfaction that comes with obtaining those, but rather is partial (or ‘situated’) knowledge, the disruption of existing knowledge and the discomfort in not knowing, and desire for more change and for not closing off further learning opportunities … (Humes 2008: 77–78)

    But does “anti-oppression” not constitute just such a “grand or meta-narrative”, and rightfully so? And is liberation from abuse and exploitation not the “final answer” that sincere defenders of all social causes have set as their goal? I find it puzzling that defenders of a strong, unequivocal ethical stance can be so taken by dodgy epistemology, and tacitly embrace relativism about both truth and knowledge.

  4. 4.

    See also Pedersen (2010a: 23), who problematises the idea that “scientific” ways of thinking (for example about animals) are necessarily considered to be “legitimate knowledge”. This indicates both a tautology and a conceptual error. Knowledge comprises not only belief and truth but also justification and is therefore necessarily legitimate. There may be illegitimate and unethical ways of acquiring knowledge (animal experimentation, although still legal, is a prime example of the latter), but this is a matter of the ethics of practice and not of epistemology.

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Correspondence to Kai Horsthemke .

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Horsthemke, K. (2018). Critical Animal Studies and Animal Standpoint Theory. In: Animal Rights Education. The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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