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Regarding Animals

Regarding Animals

Arnold Arluke
Clinton R. Sanders
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Regarding Animals
    Book Description:

    What is it about Western society, ask the authors, that makes it possible for people to express great affection for animals as sentient creatures and simultaneously turn a blind eye to the most callous behavior toward them? Animals are sold as expensive commodities, used as food and clothing, killed as vermin, and hunted for sport. But they also are treated as members of the family, used as the cause célèbre of social movements, and made the subject of art, film, and poetry. Such contradictions motivate these unique ethnographers to venture into social worlds most people know about only in passing, such as veterinary clinics where companion animals are cared for, animal shelters where dogs and cats are "mercifully" euthanized, and primate labs where monkeys are kept for animal experimentation.

    Arluke and Sanders are not distanced ethnographers. They worked in the clinics, shelters, and laboratories, cleaning cages, assisting in surgery, and participating in "sacrificing" animals for science or helping to provide them with an "easy death." In this book, the people who work with these animals and live through them talk to the authors about the strategies they adopt to cope with the stress of the job.

    This fascinating book combines sociological analysis with ethnographic description to give us insight into the history and practice of how we as human beings construct animals, and by extrapolation, how we construct ourselves and others in relation to them.

    In the seriesAnimals, Culture, and Society, edited by Arnold Arluke and Clinton R. Sanders.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0388-9
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. introduction: Bringing Animals to the Center
    (pp. 1-6)

    The commanding presence of nonhuman animals in our society is largely taken for granted. Most of us have observed that even the harshest people completely change their demeanor when speaking of a cherished companion animal, but we generally explain the inconsistency as a personal quirk. So information that gives some rough measure of our investment in animals is rather startling. What does it mean that zoos draw far more people than professional sporting events (Maple 1995) or that pet owners spend more on animal food than parents spend on baby food (Albert and Bulcroft 1987) or that by the 1980s...

  5. Part I: The Human–Animal Tribe

    • chapter 1 The Human Point of View
      (pp. 9-40)

      Symbolic interactionists have long argued that all meaning is a product of social interaction rather than a quality inherent in the objects themselves. Although animals have a physical being, once in contact with humans, they are given a cultural identity as people try to make sense of them, understand them, use them, or communicate with them. They are brought into civilization and transformed accordingly as their meaning is socially constructed. To say that animals are social constructions means that we have to look beyond what is regarded as innate in animals—beyond their physical appearance, observable behavior, and cognitive abilities—...

    • chapter 2 Learning from Animals
      (pp. 41-58)

      Studying our culture’s attitudes toward animals follows the long-standing ethnographic tradition of documenting the perspective of humans. In this chapter, we explore a less traditional issue: Is it possible to capture the animal’s perspective and, if so, how does one go about it? In weighing this possibility, we need to reexamine certain assumptions underlying conventional sociological thinking about, and fieldwork with, humans. Representing the animal’s perspective requires that investigators become intimately involved with the animal—other and carefully attuned to their emotional experience. This unique research promises to expand our sociological understanding of how “mind” results from social interaction, how...

  6. Part II: Living with Contradiction

    • chapter 3 Speaking for Dogs
      (pp. 61-81)

      Social interaction is a mutual endeavor. It involves taking on the role of the other and, based on the presumptions drawn from this empathic process, adjusting one’s behavior to what is seen as the content of the other’s “mind.” In human-to-human exchanges, judgments about the other’s interests, definition of the situation, short- and long-term goals, and so forth are based, most significantly, on what that personsaysabout these matters. Language is the privileged vehicle for human interaction (Sheets-Johnstone 1992).

      Human social interaction entails, at its simplest, two actors reciprocally oriented toward each other. In his classic discussion of social...

    • chapter 4 The Institutional Self of Shelter Workers
      (pp. 82-106)

      Shoring up the normative order in any culture are attitudes and institutions that provide ways out of the culture’s contradictions by supplying myths to bridge them and techniques to assuage troubled feelings. While researchers interested in contradictory attitudes toward different human groups have long since demonstrated the role of institutions in the perpetuation of racism, a similar focus has been strikingly absent in discussions of contradictory attitudes toward animals. It may be useful, then, to begin to ask how institutions can transform ordinary people, who themselves may own dogs or cats as pets, into workers who can kill members of...

    • chapter 5 Systems of Meaning in Primate Labs
      (pp. 107-131)

      All cultures provide their members with explanations for common occurrences in the human experience, accounting for distinctions between life and death, men and women, good and evil. According to some anthropologists, these explanations tend to be simple and uniform within premodern societies; there is little disagreement about them, because people rarely communicate with members of other societies, and their experiences have been largely the same. To be a member of these relatively homogenous and stable societies is to take for granted that there is only one meaning to reality. Of such societies, Jack Douglas (1971, 17) writes that it is...

    • chapter 6 Boundary Work in Nazi Germany
      (pp. 132-166)

      It is well known that the Nazis treated human beings with extreme cruelty. Grisly “medical” experiments on humans have been carefully documented and analyzed (e.g., Lifton 1986), as has the cold, calculated extermination of millions of people in the Holocaust (e.g., Hilberg 1961). Less well known are the extensive measures taken by the Nazis to ensure humane care and protection of animals. Of course, other societies have also exhibited a disdain for humans while also showing marked concern for animals, but the extent to which humans were brutalized and animals were idolized in Nazi Germany makes the others pale by...

    • chapter 7 The Sociozoologic Scale
      (pp. 167-186)

      Almost forty years ago, C. Wright Mills (1959) spoke of the vitality and power of sociological analysis in his classic work,The Sociological Imagination. To think this way, according to Mills, is to transcend the personal experiences of everyday life, or what he called “troubles,” and locate them in a larger societal or historical context. Look at the falling out and divorce of a married couple. Some would see only their sadness and bitterness. But sociologists also see abstract but nonetheless real cultural forces, such as increased economic pressure on couples or changing sex roles, that explain why divorce rates...

  7. conclusion: Paradox and Change
    (pp. 187-192)

    Ambivalence has always characterized human treatment of animals, and the modern age is certainly no exception. Indeed, our society is shot through with conflicts running across all groups and circumstances. It is true, of course, that more people than ever before suffer conflicts over their use of animals. More people than ever before feel that it matters what we do to animals. And more people than ever before are committed to an ideal of “humaneness” that sees suffering as wrong. Yet, alongside these recent concerns are “inherited practices” that uphold this ambivalence (Midgley 1989, 85) and make it normal. These...

  8. references
    (pp. 193-212)
  9. index
    (pp. 213-218)