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Plant and Animal Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches

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Organizer: Patricia Vieira

Co-Organizer: Susan McHugh

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Until recently, plants and animals alike were studiously avoided as serious subjects for academic humanists. Worse, efforts to overcome this neglect sometimes contributed to misperceptions of these fields of study as two mutually exclusive areas of interest for non-scientists. Critical plant studies, which has accelerated in the last decade, was often perceived as having been developed in opposition to animal-centered research in the humanities, which has grown exponentially since the millennial turn. Narratives highlighting the disregard of the vegetal in favor of the animate gained traction particularly in studies that emphasized the western tradition, begging the question: Are plant and animal studies necessarily opposed scholarly endeavors? And, more pointedly, have animal studies scholars actively undermined interests in vegetal life?

The heterogeneity of animal studies – a field variously known as human-animal studies, critical animal studies, or anthrozoology, and home to such diverse offshoots as vegan studies, literary animal studies, and cryptozoology – makes room for such criticisms. But the ever-growing multiplicity of voices espousing interests that bridge animal and plant studies also helps to erode claims that the barriers between them are insurmountable. A pressing issue in both fields remains the over-representation of Anglophone and Euro-American scholarly projects, a bias that an integrated view of plants and animals across places and times can enable us to overcome.

This seminar provides a framework for advancing discussion that both takes stock of the state of both fields, and models interactions that promise to reinvigorate literary and cultural studies and the environmental humanities. How does bringing animal together with plant thinking push traditional humanist thought beyond anthropocentrism, and productively problematize exclusionary invocations of the human? What are the advantages and risks of prioritizing other traditions that integrate concerns for plants, animals, and people, especially for advancing the work of decolonizing literary studies? How can we learn from past mistakes, especially in order to create a robustly welcoming environment for equitable, inclusive, and diverse scholarship across plant and animal studies?

Recognizing that a need for more harmonious forms of coexistence cuts across the most pressing social and environmental issues, we invite proposals that embrace both imaginative critique as well as creative problem solving in order to further our understanding of plant, animal and human life.

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