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The Politics of Species: Reshaping Relations With Animals

A new interdisciplinary book contains diverse essays about animals and us

In August 2011 I published an essay called "Animal and Humans: Meaningful Meetings of Common Minds" about a wonderful and inspirational meeting that took place at the Desmond Tutu Center in New York City. I wrote, "Last week I had the pleasure of attending a meeting that was more focused on 'Humans and other apes: Rethinking the species interface'. At this gathering, supported by the Arcus Foundation, an organization concerned with social justice and conservation issues, my colleagues and I were specifically concerned with relationships between humans and other great apes and what we can do to protect these amazing beings from further exploitation by humans in captivity and in the wild (there are about 1000 chimpanzees languishing in laboratories in the United States). The timing of this meeting couldn't have been better, what with the recent appearance of a book on ethics and animalsa new journal devoted to this topic, the opening of new movies focusing on chimpanzees, "Project Nim" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", and a public workshop on the use of chimpanzees in biomedical and behavioral research held in Washington, D. C (see also)."

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At this meeting "my colleagues and I talked about a wide variety of issues in a daunting array of animals (ants to great apes) ranging from ethical concerns centering on the use of animals in research, deeply philosophical issues (see also) including personhoodlegal issues, the keeping of animals in other captive situations, animal behaviorcognitive ethology (the study of animal minds; see also), the emotional and moral lives of animals, human-animal interactions in various areas of the world, ethnoprimatology (see also and), conservation biology and conservation psychology, how we can expand our compassion footprint for animals, including humans, our uniquely destructive ways, and compassionate conservation. While there were differing views, as might be expected when people get together to discuss the broad and challenging issues concerned with human-animal interactions, we all agreed that much can be done to improve the lives of chimpanzees and of course other animals and that it is essential to understand the gaps in our knowledge and how we can and must overcome the barriers to communicating our and other's concerns to a wide audience, outside of the ivory tower. Human exceptionalism and speciesism (see also and) were on the table for frank and open discussions. If one is so bold as to attempt to draw lines between different species, it's clear that the borders are extremely fuzzy and ever changing." 

A lot has happened since this seminal gathering and now all but 60 chimpanzees are being "retired" from being used and abused in biomedical research

At the meeting in New York there was discussion about publishing a book from the talks that were given and we all thought it would be a daunting task to try to produce a coherent volume. We were wrong. A book titled The Politics of Species: Reshaping our Relationships with Other Animals has just been published by Cambridge University Press due to the heroic efforts of the editors, Raymond Corbey and Annette Lanjouw.

 Details about the 20 essays can be found here, and a description of the book reads as follows: The assumption that humans are cognitively and morally superior to other animals is fundamental to social democracies and legal systems worldwide. It legitimises treating members of other animal species as inferior to humans. The last few decades have seen a growing awareness of this issue, as evidence continues to show that individuals of many other species have rich mental, emotional and social lives. Bringing together leading experts from a range of disciplines, this volume identifies the key barriers to a definition of moral respect that includes nonhuman animals. It sets out to increase concern, empathy and inclusiveness by developing strategies that can be used to protect other animals from exploitation in the wild and from suffering in captivity. The chapters link scientific data with normative and philosophical reflections, offering unique insight into controversial issues around the ethical, political and legal status of other species.

I am fully confident this book will change the ways in which people across cultures view and interact with other animals (not because I have an essay in this volume!). It is a major contribution to the growing field of anthrozoology, the study of human-animal interactions, and is perfect for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses and researchers and non-researchers alike. 

(Many of the topics considered in this new book are also discussed in Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation - see also and in Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation - see also.)

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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