The Journal of Critical Animinal Studies
The Journal for Critical Animal Studies is the first and only peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to interdisciplinary and international writing on topics related to animal rights, animal liberation, animal advocacy, and animal studies. We are happy to see the worldwide growth of animal studies, such as evident in the increase of books, articles, conferences, departments, courses, and centers related to this topic. As these developments point to a change toward more progressive ethics and laws, they nonetheless stem from the sociopolitical mainstream, the strengths of which are more than matched by its weakness and limitations, and underscore the uniqueness of our own institution.
The Institute for Critical Animal Studies emerged and matured in the post-9/11 era and the frightening turns toward conservativism, conformity, and persecution of dissent, rampant throughout academia and society as a whole. Unlike other animal studies approaches, the Institute for Critical Animal Studies engages controversial issues relating to radical theory, tactics, and politics. In mainstream human rights, animal advocacy, and environmental movements, discussion of issues such as sabotage, violence, armed struggle, global capitalism, and revolutionary struggle against corporate domination is verboten. Anyone with political experience knows that activists across the spectrum of causes are captive to the dogma of pacifism that see nonviolence as the sole correct philosophy and tactic, rather than one approach among many, each pertinent to different contexts and situations. As a system of dogma, fundamentalist pacifism is inherently problematic in its refusal to countenance other perspectives in a rational and open discussion. But pacifists have also revised and whitewashed history such that the diversity leaders, groups, and tactics fusing together to ignite change (e. g., to force the British out of India or to win passage of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964) are reduced to one Prime Mover (e.g., Gandhi, King), thereby reducing the complexity of history and politics to a cartoon or Hollywood narrative.i
Once this complexity is restored, contemporary groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) no longer seem like aberrations or threats to our movement and can be viewed for what they really are: heirs to the militant tactics and approaches indispensable for progressive change throughout the modern era. Awareness of the complexity of historical struggle, of how both “violent” and nonviolent tactics together spawned social change, of how few people know these histories, of how dogmatic pacifism straitjackets thought and hinders effective resistance, the Institute for Critical Animal Studies emerged.
We recognized the need for a less dogmatic and more radical and pluralist approach to animal liberation and animal studies, one that allows engagement of the entire spectrum of theories, politics, and tactics used by past and present liberation movements.
Another unique aspect of our Institute, journal, and conferences is the emphasis on situating animal exploitation within the larger socioeconomic context of global capitalism. While problematic or wrong in many of its theoretical and political positions, Marxism is hardly a “dead” theory, and the key categories of Marxist political economy – such as labor, capital, competition, profit, commodification, exploitation, growth imperatives, and structural contradictions – remain vitally important for analyzing speciesist systems of oppression, as well as other forms of domination such as patriarchy, racism, classism, and statism. The Institute for Critical Animal Studies recognizes that multinational corporations and capitalist markets are the most powerful influences shaping the contemporary world, commodifying nature, animals, and humans alike to stoke the insatiable machines of growth and profit.i Because the exploitation of animal for labor power and profit is a global operation driven by the pharmaceutical and livestock industries, to name just two, and capitalist economies merge with industrial technologies (e.g., factories), a global animal industrial complex has emerged. While much of Marx’s analysis still remains useful to analyze contemporary global capitalism, in searching for a more pluralistic, democratic, and decentralized politics many radicals nonetheless find better alternatives in the anarchist traditions that developed from the nineteenth century to the present.
While animal studies generally is multidisciplinary, theorists in this field typically ignore one key perspective -- political economy -- and fail to mediate culture with the larger structures of capitalism. While some forms of animal studies are apolitical, and others are political in their call for welfare or rights, very few theorists – including the “radical” abolitionists -- recognize the need for the ultimate abolition, that of capitalist domination itself. Animal liberation will never be remotely possible without human liberation from capitalist oppression and until social movements can end corporate control of the state and state hegemony itself. Thus, as many correctly emphasize that human liberation is impossible without animal liberation, it is equally true that animal liberation is impossible without human liberation. The only adequate political position for radical politics today is through building a broad alliance politics, one that connects animal liberation, human liberation, and earth liberation in a global struggle for total liberation.
Thus, in contrast to mainstream animal studies, the Institute for Critical Animal Studies promotes a critical animal studies which is characterized, among other things, by (1) a transdisciplinary perspective that incorporates not only history, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, literature, art, and so on, but also political economy; (2) a normative and engaged position that links theory to practice and critique to politics; (3) a radical political orientation that views capitalism as inherently unsustainable and exploitation; (4) a holistic understanding of the commonality of oppressions, such that speciesism, sexism, racism, ablism, statism, classism, militarism and other oppressive ideologies and institutions are viewed as parts of a larger, interlocking system of domination; (5) a radical alliance politics perspective that attacks all forms of hierarchical domination.
We are only beginning to clarify and develop what a critical animal studies is, in contrast to more academic, apolitical, and conservative forms of animal studies. The inchoate nature of this notion and project can be seen with a Google search of “critical animal studies” which, on our recent effort, turned up only a mention to a small program at the University of Washington and to our own Institute for Critical Animal Studies.
We must emphasize, finally, that the broad characterization of “critical animal studies” in this Introduction is not a party line or the exact characterization that all our members would provide. Nor is it a touchstone or checklist of theoretically and politically correct criteria that every writer must meet in every detail before publishing in our journal. One will find, indeed, a variety of philosophical and political perspectives in the papers published in this issue and in the past archived issues. Without seeking an impossible (and repressive) consensus on theoretical and political particulars, the goal of the Institute for Critical Animal Studies, broadly put, is to situate animal studies and animal liberation within a larger socioeconomic context; to theorize the linkages of human, animal, and earth liberation movements; and to study a broad range of politics, tactics, and means of struggle.
Steven Best, Chief Editor
Carol Gigliotti, Associate Editor