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Animal Connections: Literature and Film between Animal Studies and Environmental Humanities

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Organizer: Ursula Heise

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The environmental humanities and critical animal studies/human-animal studies have both established themselves as crucial areas of interdisciplinary studies in literature and culture over the last 30 years. While they converge in their interest in the well-being of nonhumans, the two movements have also often been in conflict over their investments in individual animals vs. species, in domestic vs. wild animals, their approaches to non-native species as well as to cultural practices that range from pet-keeping and meat consumption to religious ritual. In addition, animal-related perceptions and practices vary wildly from culture to culture and over time. This seminar will explore the relation between animal studies and environmental humanities as it plays itself out across different languages and literatures.

We are interested in – but not limited to – the following topics and questions:

  • What theoretical conflicts between animal studies and environmental humanities persist today, and which ones have been resolved?

  • As the fields of animal studies and environmental humanities grow rapidly, how do these endeavors intersect? How do the complex dynamics of structural power that (re-)shape the relationship between animals, humans and the environment matter in these endeavors?

  • What different national and regional articulations have the two approaches undergone?

  • How do narrative, dramatic, and lyrical representations of animals differ between cultural traditions, and why?

  • How do literary texts approach the perceptions, knowledge, sociality, and agency of animals?

  • Do literary representations conform to or seek to resist broader cultural ideas about animals?

  • Which media and genres are hospitable to animal representation, which ones are less so?

  • How are literary representations related to animal advocacy in the social sphere (animal rights, animal welfare, vegetarianism/veganism)?

  • How do fictional and nonfictional representations of animals compare in a given cultural context?

  • In what ways do animal representations form part of or seek to resist particular forms of economic exchange and/or commodification?

  • How do legal and political texts draw on the representation of animals?

  • In what ways do the concepts of biodiversity and biodiversity loss inflect animal representations in different parts of the world?

  • Many cultures that have traditionally revered animals are currently driving them to extinction. What role do animal representations play in the ensuing conflicts?

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