Geography: Posts

Q&A with Jopi Nyman and Nora Schuurman, Editors of "Affect, Space and Animals"

Jopi Nyman and Nora Schuurman, editors of Affect, Space and Animals, discuss human–animal relationships within the context of their new book.

How is Affect, Space and Animals different from other books in the field?

This book has a special lens on the human–animal relationship; it focuses on encounters between humans and animals in the contexts of affect and space. This is a novel approach within the field of human–animal studies, and one that has been missing from lot of previous work. We emphasize the idea that human and animals share spaces, and their interaction affects both participants in diverse ways.

Why is the study of animals in society so significant?

Animals have long been excluded from the agenda in social and cultural sciences, though they are present everywhere in our societies – we encounter animals in food, clothing, zoos, popular culture, and our backyards, and as companions in our homes. Animals affect the ways we act in our daily lives, choose what to eat, construct our families, and decide where we live and what to do on our holidays. We ourselves are affected by animals, emotionally and materially. The treatment of animals is at the core of our relationship to nature and our survival as a species, and raises serious ethical and political questions. Finally, to understand what we are as humans, we turn to animals and animality, and the understanding of the various forms of the human­–animal boundary is central to finding the place for humans and animals in the post-human world.

What are some of the controversies surrounding the question of animals in society and culture?

There are basically three main controversies addressed in the study of human–animal relations and animals in society. They are related to i) the interpretations of the conceptual boundary and the structural hierarchy between humans and animals, ii) the challenges of representing animals as subjects, agents, and material beings, and iii) the dilemma of portraying animals as similar to humans. Some of the controversies are also political and concern animal welfare and legislation. In our book we emphasize the ways in which the encounters often problematize conventional ideas about “human” subjects and “animal” Others – we show that such a division no longer holds in shared spaces and everyday encounters.

How is the field evolving?

The field of human–animal studies is interdisciplinary, covering disciplines in both social and cultural sciences. It has evolved hugely since the first publications in the 1970s and 1980s and is immensely popular with a growing number of courses taught all over the world, and PhDs constantly written on the topic. The number of publications is expanding, empirical research is made on a wide range of animal-related topics, and theories are developed and revised. While the study of human–animal relations was until recently somewhat the margins, it is now recognized and is about to enter mainstream research in many academic disciplines.

What are some current trends in the field?

During the first phase of development of the field, studies on human–animal relations were often politically oriented, with an emphasis on animal rights, and often identified with activism. In the past few years, however, focusing on the position of animals in human society and culture, without a pronounced political emphasis, has attained increasing interest among scholars. Today human–animal studies is an interdisciplinary field open for questions and topics that have remained unaddressed for decades but need to be asked now to promote new perspectives and knowledge.