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Animals and Society

Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies

Margo DeMello
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 488
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  • Book Info
    Animals and Society
    Book Description:

    Considering that much of human society is structured through its interaction with non-human animals, and since human society relies heavily on the exploitation of animals to serve human needs, human--animal studies has become a rapidly expanding field of research, featuring a number of distinct positions, perspectives, and theories that require nuanced explanation and contextualization.

    The first book to provide a full overview of human--animal studies, this volume focuses on the conceptual construction of animals in American culture and the way in which it reinforces and perpetuates hierarchical human relationships rooted in racism, sexism, and class privilege. Margo DeMello considers interactions between humans and animals within the family, the law, the religious and political system, and other major social institutions, and she unpacks the different identities humans fashion for themselves and for others through animals. Essays also cover speciesism and evolutionary continuities; the role and preservation of animals in the wild; the debate over zoos and the use of animals in sports; domestication; agricultural practices such as factory farming; vivisection; animal cruelty; animal activism; the representation of animals in literature and film; and animal ethics. Sidebars highlight contemporary controversies and issues, with recommendations for additional reading, educational films, and related websites. DeMello concludes with an analysis of major philosophical positions on human social policy and the future of human--animal relations.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52676-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    • 1 Human-Animal Studies
      (pp. 3-31)

      IF YOU WERE SURFING the news and popular culture sites on the Internet during the first two weeks of November 2010, you would have heard about the aftermath of the November 2 midterm elections, President Obama’s trip to the G20 financial summit, a devastating volcano in Indonesia, and the spread of cholera in Haiti. But you would have also heard about how comic actor Dick Van Dyke fell asleep on a surfboard in the water off of a Virginia beach a few years back and found himself stranded in the ocean but was saved when a group of porpoises pushed...

    • 2 Animal-Human Borders
      (pp. 32-43)

      One of my favorite websites is, a website featuring lolcats—pictures of cats (and sometimes other animals) with funny captions supposedly said by the cats and written in a form of grammar called “lolspeak.” People not familiar with lolcats may find the idea of attributing human words to cats to be somewhat ridiculous, but the practice of giving nonhuman animals human characteristics is thousands of years old and can be found in the myths, folktales, symbolism, and artwork of peoples around the world (as we will discuss in chapters 14 to 16). On the other hand, much of human...

    • 3 The Social Construction of Animals
      (pp. 44-60)

      WHEN MY FRIEND AND fellow rabbit rescuer Susan Davis and I were researching our book, Stories Rabbits Tell (2003), we became familiar with the Rainbow Bridge—that special place that many animal lovers construe as a sort of heaven for pets, a place where pets (and sometimes their people) go after death. The Internet is full of thousands of sites where people post memorial photos, artwork, and poems and reminisce about their beloved companion animals. What struck us the most about this belief, however, was the realization that people who breed and kill rabbits for meat also recognize the Rainbow...


    • 4 Animals “in the Wild” and in Human Societies
      (pp. 63-83)

      THE MORAL OF THIS TALE, told for thousands of years to children, is that it is “better [to] starve free than [to] be a fat slave.” But it is also an elegant way of summing up the differences between wild and domesticated animals. We discussed in chapter 3 the various systems of classification that humans have used to categorize animals and how those categories then serve as the justification for how we use and treat them. One of the most important categorical distinctions found in the West is that between “wild” and “domesticated” animals, which itself mirrors the nature/culture distinction...

    • 5 The Domestication of Animals
      (pp. 84-98)

      THIS FOLKTALE IS ONE of many similar tales from around the world that purport to explain how the dog became domesticated. In all of such stories that I have found, whether the dog was coerced or manipulated into joining the land of humans (as is common), or whether he voluntarily joined human society, the end result is the same: He chooses to remain with humans, giving up his freedom, his wildness (and, according to this folktale, his place in paradise) for the privilege.

      As has been long noted by archaeologists and historians, animal domestication (as opposed to taming animals) first...

    • 6 Display, Performance, and Sport
      (pp. 99-125)

      Americans love watching animals. We love watching them eat, play, interact with each other, and even sleep. We also love touching them and being as close as possible to them. If we are not watching our own animals, we are birding, whale watching, photographing wildlife, scuba diving, snorkeling, or watching Animal Planet and Webcam footage from zoos and animal sanctuaries.

      One reason modern Americans are so captivated by animals today is the disappearance of animals from our lives. In our post-industrial world, companion animals remain the only form of physical connection that Americans have with animals. Since animal agriculture now...

    • 7 The Making and Consumption of Meat
      (pp. 126-145)

      WHY DO WE CONSIDER it totally normal to eat pig buttocks, yet totally ridiculous to eat human buttocks? In this chapter, we will discuss what “meat” is, how animals are made into meat, and why only some animals can be made into meat.

      For most people in the United States, the only interaction we have with the animals that became our dinner is the preparation and consumption of them. People today eat “meat,” not “animals.” Separated from the production process by geography and the behind-the-scenes nature of meat production, Americans consume billions of animals each year, without even really recognizing...

    • 8 The Pet Animal
      (pp. 146-169)

      THERE HAVE BEEN A number of stories in the news recently that have captured the public’s attention regarding animals. Many of them involve interesting cases of cross-species friendship—the elephant Tara (that lives at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee) that befriended Bella the dog; the deer Bambi that befriended Thumper the rabbit; and Owen the baby hippo that befriended Mzee, the giant tortoise, in the aftermath of the tsunami that devastated the coast Indonesia in 2004. Cross-species friendships, many of which cross the wild/domestic animal border, demonstrate that even animals that would normally have a predator/prey relationship with each...

    • 9 Animals and Science
      (pp. 170-193)

      IN THIS CARTOON BY award-winning cartoonist and painter Dan Piraro, two laboratory rats sit in their cage and wait while a human-size mouse trap, baited with a McDonald’s bag, sits on the floor. Rat one says “Quiet, everyone! The test subject is coming!” while a man, presumably an animal researcher, approaches the door. Like many of Piraro’s cartoons, this one derives its humor from imagining that the situation of animal research being reversed: The rodents are now the experimenters and the scientists are now the test subjects.

      The use of animals in scientific and medical research is one of the...

    • 10 Animal-Assisted Activities
      (pp. 194-214)

      IN ONE OF MY animals and society classes in the fall of 2010, one of my students was a dog. Actually, one of my students was a veteran of the Iraq war with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who brought his psychiatric service dog, Rock, with him to class. Service dogs that assist veterans are able to help men and women cope with problems such as depression, anger, social isolation, nightmares, and panic attacks. Service dogs protect veterans from crowds and situations that might make them anxious. They provide a loving, calming presence to these people, can act as a facilitative...


    • 11 Working with Animals
      (pp. 217-235)

      SINCE THE FIRST WOLVES began partnering with humans, at least 15,000 years ago, humans have worked with nonhuman animals. As we discussed in chapter 10, humans have raised animals for food and have used them as draft animals, for protection, as hunting partners, and for tasks ranging from search and rescue to guiding the blind and disabled. In all of these cases, humans and nonhumans are engaged in a relationship, and even though many of those relationships are not reciprocal, and many are coerced, these relationships do form the basis for many types of humananimal interaction. In this chapter, we...

    • 12 Violence to Animals
      (pp. 236-255)

      ONE WEEK IN THE summer of 2010, two animal-related stories from far-flung locations hit the news, and both quickly went viral on the Internet. The first involved a street-cam video recording of a woman in England who stuffed a cat that she had just finished putting into a trash can. (The cat was rescued 14 hours later by a passerby who heard the cat crying.) The second involved a video of a girl in Bosnia throwing a litter of mewling newborn puppies into a river to their deaths. Both videos were posted on YouTube and both became media sensations, especially...

    • 13 Human Oppression and Animal Suffering
      (pp. 256-280)

      As we have discussed throughout this text, nonhuman animals experience an enormous amount of exploitation by humans. But it is also true that many animals—primarily those animals defined as companion animals—experience a great deal of love, care, and humane treatment. So we can say that not all animals are treated the same. Likewise, not all people are treated the same by other people. Great numbers of people suffer from poverty, disease, warfare, and crime, and about half of all humans on the planet live on less than $2.50 per day. At the same time, a small number of...


    • 14 Animals in Human Thought
      (pp. 283-300)

      UP UNTIL NOW, THIS textbook has covered the role that real animals play in human lives, and the variety of relationships that have been formed between humans and other animals. But one of the most important ways that animals play a role in human cultures is through their representations. Animals have been portrayed in the art, literature, folklore, religion, and language of human cultures for millennia. As such, they are important symbols that humans use to make sense of our world and ourselves. Biologist Edward Wilson wrote that animals are “agents of nature translated into the symbols of culture” (1984:97)....

    • 15 Animals in Religion and Folklore
      (pp. 301-324)

      Animals play an important role in many of the world’s religions. As symbols, animals help us to understand important religious concepts such as purity, sacrifice, morality, and creation. As such, they play important roles in the myths of cultures around the world. Some religions hold certain animals to be sacred, and some religions worship certain animals, or taboo certain animals for religious purposes. Other cultures hold that some animals are the mythic founders of a group or clan, and have set those animals aside as totems. Finally, religious rituals often make use of animals directly, often as a sacrifice to...

    • 16 Animals in Literature and Film
      (pp. 325-346)

      IN THE CHILDREN’S BOOK Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust (1989), Eve Bunting writes of “The Terrible Things” who come to the forest looking for animals with feathers, which they then take away. The other animals of the forest, the frogs and the rabbits and the squirrels, say that they do not have feathers, and in fact, that they are better than animals with feathers, and in fact, that the forest is better without the birds anyway. Next, the Terrible Things return and remove those animals with bushy tails; those remaining declared that the squirrels, which are now gone,...


    • 17 Animal Behavior Studies and Ethology
      (pp. 349-376)

      HISTORY IS REPLETE WITH stories of animals performing heroic acts, either for other animals or for humans. Those stories have been repeated throughout the years in order to either humanize animals, or sometimes to teach children moral lessons. Today, in the age of YouTube, we do not just hear stories such as this; we can see them with our own eyes. During 2010, a number of such videos went viral on the Internet: from a horse that licked the wounds of another horse that had been shot with an arrow in the English countryside, keeping him alive till help came,...

    • 18 The Moral Status of Animals
      (pp. 377-395)

      IMAGINE THAT ONE DAY a science-fiction film came true. Planet earth has been invaded by extremely intelligent aliens from another solar system that have come to our planet to find new food sources because they have stripped their own planet of resources, and need to look elsewhere. These aliens have decided to colonize earth and to use our resources for their own food. In particular, they have chosen humans as their primary food source. The aliens are technologically and intellectually superior to humans—that is how they made it here in the first place. They use that superiority to justify...

    • 19 The Animal Protection Movement
      (pp. 396-418)

      ASHOKA WAS THE EMPEROR of India in the third century BCE. He converted to Buddhism as emperor and was responsible for the spread of Buddhism out of India into East Asia. During his reign, the world’s first animal protection laws were passed, including a ban on sacrifice. After Ashoka’s death, however, his feelings toward animals disappeared into history, and the world would not see new animal protection laws until almost 2,000 years had passed.

      The animal rights movement is a relatively recent social movement, with roots in the eighteenth century. But before there could be an animal rights movement, there...

    • 20 The Future of the Human-Animal Relationship
      (pp. 419-422)

      WHERE WILL OUR RELATIONSHIP with animals go in the twenty-first century? Even though we no longer need meat, fur, or leather to survive, most people seem unwilling or unable to shed their dependence on the products of animal agriculture. Even more intractable may be our connection to our companion animals. According to a 2002 American Animal Hospital Association pet owners’ survey, 73 percent of Americans have signed a greeting card from their dog, 86 percent include pets in holiday celebrations, 46 percent plan all or most of their free time around their animals, 58 percent include pets in family portraits,...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 423-458)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 459-470)