Becoming Human: Gender Theory and Animals in a More-than-Human World

We have long considered that we shape our humanity through our interactions with other people but increasingly work has recognised that we also shape our humanity through interactions with the more-than-human world. Indeed, the category of "human" has always been contingent on a category of "non-human", and through it lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and ability have been drawn and redrawn.

As ‘the human’ has written it’s biography it has constructed a white, middle class, western, heterosexual, able, male humanity against a bestial, animal "non humanity".  Thus questions about how animals and animality are used in discussions of class, sex, race, gender, ability and ethnicity (for example) become pertinent. But relations have not just been oppositional; humans "become with" other species in a variety of ways. The structures of ‘human’ societies are reliant on animals. Animals provide food and clothing, are used in laboratories and caught up in the production of medical science.  They are crucial for national, local (e.g. rare breeds) and individual identities (e.g. pet keeping). We have always lived in more-than-human worlds.

What this project does is continue this discussion to challenge the categories of "human" and "animal". It uses three case studies to highlight the active role animals play in the definition of "the human":

  1. the first examines transformations between human and animal in Nordic realist prose, reading such motifs, not as merely fantastic insertions but as offering insights into the human-animal relationship,
  2. the second case examines ape language research, not as output but as a departure point for questioning what human animal boundaries are unsettled and made through encounters with language capable bonobos,
  3. the third case engages, in contrast with much animal studies research, the messy politics of encounters with animals we generally do not want to share our social worlds with – parasites.

Researchers: Jacob Bull (project leader), Ann-sofie Lönngren and Pär Segerdahl.

Funded by the Swedish Research Counicl 2012-2017 

Last modified: 2022-10-14