A CONVERSATION ON THE FERAL
Dinesh Joseph Wadiwel and Chloë Taylor
Chloë: Thank you, Dinesh, for agreeing to engage in this conversation on the feral for Feral Feminisms. I wondered if you could start by telling us a bit about the work you have done to date in the area of Critical Animal Studies. Do you see any of this work relating to the theme of the feral?
Dinesh: Thanks so much Chloë for this opportunity to chat about my work. I have been working on questions relating to animals for about 15 years. Much of my early work was focused on biopolitics, sovereignty, and exception, framed through Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. I have published a monograph, The War against Animals (Wadiwel 2015), which blends this early work with newer research on domination, violence, and power, with a particular interest in Foucault’s 1975-76 lectures on biopolitics, and the understanding of politics as war pursued by other means (Foucault 2004). As I discuss in The War against Animals, Foucault’s perspective is useful for understanding human domination of animals and resonates with conceptualizations of violence and domination found in other social movements, such as the radical feminist critique of sexual violence as constituting a “war against women.” At present, I am writing a second monograph on animals under capitalism and, as part of this project, rethinking Karl Marx in relation to animals. In some ways, all of these different phases in my thinking on animals have something to say on questions of the feral. Firstly, biopolitics and exception are very useful ways to understand animals who have been constructed as feral. If the task of biopolitics is to construct populations that are fostered and, simultaneously, those which must be made to diminish, then feral animals are precisely those animals who are understood as an existential threat to favoured populations, and then subject to a range of violent management techniques to limit or eradicate these animals in quite exceptional ways. In some senses—and this relates to the second phase of my work—this reveals the logic of human utilisation of animals which is framed around the systemic concerted management of violence in order to bend the wills of animals to our own. The threat of feral animals is that they do not conform to this agenda, and this is perhaps why they are subject to the most frightening and uncompromising forms of human violence. In The War against Animals, I discuss the militarised tactics used to eradicate feral goats, and the ways in which this reproduces a certain violent governmental logic that tells us something about our fundamental relationships with animals. Finally, my recent work on Marx has offered some different ways to think about this problem, from the perspective of value. On one hand, feral animals are subject to so much arbitrary violence because they are constructed as valueless, or alternatively as a threat to value itself (e.g. in impacting the profitability of animal agribusinesses). However, there are perversities here to understand. For example, kangaroos in Australia can be treated as pests (when they interfere with agricultural interests) and subject to extraordinary violence. Simultaneously, this violence can be converted to a source of potential revenue (that is valorized), for example for meat and skin industries. Very recently, California reinstated a ban on kangaroo skin and meat, partly on welfare grounds, and partly because of concern about the iconic status of Australian kangaroos (Jacobs 2015)—this seems to demonstrate the complex politics of value that circulates feral animals.
Chloë: You live in Australia, where there has recently been some controversy over former Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to cull millions of feral cats who are hunting indigenous species of animals to extinction (Milman 2015). In a memorable phrase, Hunt called feral cats “tsunamis of violence for Australia’s native species” (ABC News 2015). Earlier cat culls have occurred in Australia to protect native species of animals such as bilbies (Arthur 2013). It is interesting to think about this discussion from a posthumanist and anticolonial perspective, attending to the fact that people of European descent (such as Hunt) are not indigenous to Australia either, and have also been “tsunamis of violence” for the native populations of Australia, including indigenous human populations. One way in which settler-colonial humans have harmed indigenous Australian populations is by introducing other non-native animals into the Australian ecosystems—and yet, having realized the harm these animals do to indigenous animals, the accountability seems to stop at the nonhuman animals rather than at the humans who introduced them. Can you perhaps speak to the case of the feral cat culls in Australia and intergenerational justice, and perhaps also to the intersections of speciesist and colonial politics that we find in the deployment of the term “feral”?
Dinesh: I suppose an initial response is that this politics that is happening in Australia highlights the importance of thinking about questions of sovereignty. Here I mean sovereignty not just as being about the acquisition of territory or the ruling authority of a nation state, but sovereignty as a claim made over another, often with violence, which is accompanied by a system of truth that naturalises some forms of violence and simultaneously makes other forms of violence imperceptible. I am partly influenced here (again) by Foucault’s discussion of sovereignty in the 1975-76 lectures, where he understands sovereignty as the product of a mass violence which precedes and cements forms of social order: a dominant force invades the world of another utilizing deathly force, and compels an opposition to surrender to less than equal terms. This perspective is of course immensely relevant to understanding the politics of indigenous sovereignty in settler-colonial societies; indeed, in Australia, Aileen Moreton-Robinson has applied this reading of Foucault to understand indigenous sovereignty and the rights project (Moreton-Robinson 2015). My interest here is that for Foucault, sovereignty installs a regime of truth which naturalises and obscures historical violences and continuing forms of violent differentiation. It is not just that sovereignty oppresses with material violence, but that it also sets in train an epistemic or symbolic violence that operates at the level of truth. This knowledge component of power creates frames of naturalised inferiority and superiority, a history of who matters and who does not. Thus, in the language of the colonizer, we are repeatedly told in history classes of white explorers “discovering” continents; of “backward people” who are dying out; of communities today that must be subject to punitary welfare regimes and over-policing “for their own welfare.” In a sense, this resonates strongly with the perspective on epistemic violence that has been put forward by classic postcolonial approaches—for example, Edward Said and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak—which offer explanations for how it is that material violence works in combination with systems of representation to construct “truths” about the non-white other. In terms of thinking about feral animals, it is impossible to not be confronted by how arbitrary and contradictory the rationalities are that underpin violence towards these creatures. For example, as you point out, if feral cats are a problem because they represent a violent threat to “native species,” then obviously the most persistent source of violence against these animals in Australia has not been cats but instead has been the dominant patterns of human land utilisation, farming, and pollution that have followed from white invasion in 1788. Here “truth” is constructed by domination to narrate and naturalise a prevailing order of authority (sovereignty).
There is certainly scope for intersectional politics between pro-animal and anticolonial scholars. Indeed, I am aware that at least some postcolonial and critical race scholarship has already begun this task: for example, Joseph Pugliese’s impressive book, State Violence and the Execution of Law (Pugliese 2013), and new work by scholars such as Maneesha Deckha (Deckha 2012), Fiona Probyn-Rapsey (Probyn-Rapsey 2015), and of course Claire Jean Kim (Kim 2015). I also agree with Billy-Ray Belcourt’s challenge to Critical Animal Studies scholars to situate their discussions of pro-animal politics within the broader frame of racialized colonial geopolitics (Belcourt 2015). This seems an urgent task. However, I think we need a lot of caution at the same time, making sure we articulate both the resonances and intersections between different social movements and (most importantly) their differences and histories. In simple terms, this might mean taking the time to understand the differences between how “feral” is constituted within the terrain of human utilisation of animals, and how “feral” might be oriented (perhaps differently) within the scope of racialization. I suppose this makes me reluctant to rush into proposing a way forward for a shared politics around feral animals, even though I think there is lots of scope for pro-animal and antiracist social movements to collaborate (for example, around the hyper-exploitation of predominantly precarious migrant labour forces in large-scale meat production industries).
I have more thoughts on questions of historical justice, but I want to hear more from you, Chloë. You have been engaging with a number of areas of intersectional scholarship relevant to Critical Animal Studies, including in relation to feminist theory. Reflecting on this work, are there some useful ways forward from your perspective?
Chloë: My thoughts on ferality are still in a very fledgling state, but I became interested in the concept of the feral when I was teaching a course on Humans and Animals in 2014—which was the course for which Billy-Ray Belcourt wrote the important paper you mentioned, “Animal Bodies, Colonial Subjects” (Belcourt 2015). In that class, we read Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka’s book, Zoopolis (Donaldson and Kymlicka 2011; see also Wadiwel 2013) and we discussed the politics of domestication a great deal, including apologetic arguments for domestication such as Haraway’s, and the idea of a “domesticated animal contract” (Palmer 1997). We also discussed domestication as it intersects with gender: for instance Kant’s and Hegel’s view that the first domesticated animals were women, and Gayle Rubin’s and Marilyn Frye’s arguments that the breaking and training of female humans is how they became gendered, or became “women.” We were reading Donaldson and Kymlicka’s chapter on liminal animals, which includes their discussion of feral animals, when I went to a conference in New Orleans and heard Jack Halberstam talking about his idea of “wild theory.” Although his argument that we should replace the word “queer” with “wild,” because “queer” has become, as it were, domesticated—or is used interchangeably now with “gay” to refer to homonormalizing political agendas—was made only tangentially in the Q&A, it was this idea that captivated the audience and became the focus of discussion. Listening to that conversation, it struck me that the term he should be using was “feral,” since he is talking not about humans who were never domesticated—who might genuinely be called “wild”—but about humans escaping domesticity, or rejecting domesticity.
Since then I’ve been tracking uses of the term “feral” in political theory and have been continually struck by the frequent use of the term “domestication” to refer to human oppressions—Andrea Smith refers to the domestication of Native Americans (Smith 2015), for instance, and the term is used very often to refer to the breaking of women. One could take any number of examples, but, for instance, most recently I was rereading Foucault’s The Use of Pleasure, and he cites Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, in which wives are described as domesticated animals:
When sheep fare badly, we usually fault the shepherd, and when a horse behaves badly, we usually speak badly of the horseman; as for the woman, if she has been taught the good things by the man and still acts badly, the woman could perhaps justly be held at fault; on the other hand, if he doesn’t reach the fine and good things but makes use of her as though she is quite ignorant of them, wouldn’t the man justly be held at fault? (Foucault 1990, 155)
Or again, Xenophon writes of a woman who has become “accustomed” to her husband or “domesticated to the extent that we could have discussions” (Foucault 1990, 156). This identification of the situation of women and agricultural animals with respect to the male head of the household is of course the origin of the term “animal husbandry”—just as wives are beasts of burden for men, so are agricultural animals the wives of men, with wives understood as animals to be trained, constituted, and managed for the economic profitability of the household. As in the case of human wives, a huge part of this management of agricultural animal wives involves co-opting their sexual and reproductive capacities. And we can of course also think about the role of slaves in Isomachus’ household and of exploited workers today, and the similarities between their situations and those of domesticated animals.
I am not saying anything that hasn’t already been said by many other feminist Critical Animal Studies scholars since Carol Adams, and I do take your point that we need to attend to the differences between oppressions as well as the similarities, but I’m also struck again by these reasons for solidarity between oppressed humans and domesticated animals, and if the “feral” is the term for nonhuman animals who have escaped domestication, I wanted to explore the potential for women and other marginalized groups of “going feral.” That said, I realize that the “feral” is usually simply a term that has been used to facilitate the executions of those animals who are deemed undesirable—a bit like Judith Butler discusses the use of language to kill in Precarious Life (Butler 2004), where applying a certain label to a human allows them to be detained without trial and tortured in a way that a human given a different label could not be. So the “feral” is a complicated term to appropriate for emancipatory ends. As you argue in your review essay of Zoopolis (Wadiwel 2013), it is ultimately humans who decide—even on Donaldson and Kymlicka’s vision of a zoopolis—who is a citizen, who is a denizen, who is feral, who is a member of a sovereign animal community, and just what are the rights of, and obligations we owe to, members of each group. “Feral” is a term humans deploy in fairly arbitrary ways, most often to mark off certain animals as killable. In light of this, I wonder if you could expand on your discussion of the feral in your response to Donaldson and Kymlicka’s work?
Dinesh: Donaldson and Kymlicka’s book has rightly been praised as a breakthrough, and I do believe that it has significantly moved forward animal-rights theory. However, I have expressed some concerns about the categories they rely on to imagine political recognition for animals—sovereignty, citizenship, and denizen. On one hand, Donaldson and Kymlicka have pragmatically drawn on the tool box that liberal political theory offers us to prove a coherent and comparable set of concepts by which we might imagine animals as recognised members of political communities. This means imagining rights as grounded within a nation-state system that roughly conforms to our contemporary global organisation of sovereignty and rights. This means that their theory is understandable within the conventions of today’s political discourse. I don’t mean to say that Donaldson and Kymlicka advance a conservative vision for what this might look like; far from it. Indeed, they offer significant and potentially radical re-workings of sovereignty, citizenship and denizenship; for example, they put forward a critical notion of denizenship which recognises quite uncompromising fundamental rights for nonhumans who do not belong to any particular sovereign community (as such, their perspective is in line with at least some cosmopolitan citizenship theory).
But the issue I have is that if we are to imagine a world without violence towards animals (something that is, we all must admit, a utopian vision), why would we include the nation-state system in that vision? Remember that the nation-state is a relatively recent formation and not an enduring feature of human political organisation—as Angela Mitropolous plainly states: “Prior to the 20th century, the nation-state was not a world-encompassing system” (see Mitropolous 2003: n.p., para. 10). The nation-state is therefore a historically contingent political formation. The nation-state is only understandable today through a historical perspective on colonial power, race, and the development of global capitalism. While the nation-state has produced prosperity, harmony, and security for many humans globally, it has simultaneously facilitated precarity, misery, exploitation, and arbitrary violence for many other humans (arguably most). The organisation of the world into contained nation-states, secured through coordinated systems of sovereign violence, has underwritten a global economic system which means that a significant proportion of the world’s humans are subject to low wage and/or bonded labour and experience radically different opportunities in terms of health, basic nutrition, and life expectancy. These differences in opportunities and rights depending on where you are born are completely arbitrary; I can’t really see any theory of justice that can defend this radical inequality. Yet the nation-state system acts, through militarized borders, to secure these non-justifiable radical inequalities between different humans, and prevent people from seeking an escape from this arbitrary violence (see Mitropoulos 2015; Mezzadra and Neilson 2013). In this respect, the stateless person is merely a symptom of the violence of the nation-state system, something Hannah Arendt carefully articulates in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In this respect, I find it strange that Donaldson and Kymlicka would rely on the political category of the “denizen,” as the reliance on this figure is only necessary where we remain committed to the nation-state system as an idealized model of political organisation. When we dream of the future, we do not need to remain committed to the nation-state.
But the problem I think goes deeper, and this relates to the nature of political community and its philosophical relationship to animality. Many of our working understandings of political organisation are shaped by notions of community membership which create necessary divisions between those who belong and those who do not. In these imaginings of political institutions, the non-member of the political community (e.g. the noncitizen) is constituted as a threat or a parasite which must be excluded in the name of the security of all. The classic model of the polis identified by Aristotle in Politics arguably offers an archetype for this sort of vision for political community. Here the person (or potentially nonhuman) who cannot be accommodated becomes a kind of naturalised villain who is excluded because of who they are: “He who by nature and not by mere accident is without state, is either a bad man or above humanity, he is like the ‘Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,’ whom Homer denounces—the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts” (Aristotle, 1253a). Aristotle is partly speaking here of the stateless person—who is at least one archetype of the “natural outcast”—but he is also quite directly speaking of animals, who are explicitly excluded from his imagined political community. We might extend this further to note that the feral animal might fit Homer’s pronouncement of the “Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one.” These are the animals, after all, who persistently resist human attempts to make them fit into our imagined communities or formations, whether as domesticated animals who submit to our regimes of power, or benign intruders into our spaces who do not threaten our existence, or as valorized “wild” animals whom we have decided we should protect.
Should we seek to be feral? Or does the word feral offer something useful as a way to unite the resistance efforts of nonhumans, animal advocates, or other social movements such as antiracist or queer movements? In one respect I suppose it is useful, in the way that “queer” might have had (or might still have) a use value as a unifying phrase to describe communities of individuals who resist various disciplinary norms and authoritarian vectors of power—in this sense I agree that perhaps it has potential in the way you describe, Chloë. Indeed, as you note, there is a really interesting set of interconnections that the term opens up in relation to the history of animal domestication and its relationship with the genealogy of the governance of human populations.
But I guess the other side of this is that we must also frankly ask: “Who would actually want to be feral?” As you point out, feral implies absolute non-recognition within political institutions except as an entity subject to extreme arbitrary violence (as “killable”). In a similar vein, Hannah Arendt reminds us in The Origins of Totalitarianism that there is nothing romantic or powerful about being a stateless person; on the contrary, this is a space where it is impossible for political action to be recognised or to have effect, where it is impossible for the stateless to take responsibility for their actions since they are condemned for who they are rather than for what they have done, where the stateless person can be subject to the full violence of the state without justice (Arendt 1967). Who would want that?
Chloë: I suppose whether one would want to be feral depends on where one was beforehand and what one’s options were. I think if I were a factory-farmed chicken and my choices were between remaining a factory-farmed chicken and going feral, I would want to be feral, because at least my death at the hands of humans would be a bit less inevitable than if I were to remain on the farm, and at least it might not occur in the form of the Live Hang that you describe in the Introduction to The War Against Animals. I think I would also choose to be a feral chicken over a factory-farmed chicken because my death might occur after some weeks or months or even years of freedom. Although if I had more options, I might prefer to be a wild chicken, or a chicken in a chicken sanctuary, over a feral chicken, these might not be options.
I think likewise with humans, there are situations in which something like ferality might actually be preferable to domestication, and where such ferality may be the only alternative to domestication, even if it is not an ideal alternative. I am thinking first of all of people who are already subject to the full violence of the state without justice, even when they are not officially stateless. Yesterday I watched an indigenous woman being handcuffed and arrested by eight white policemen for the crime of being homeless, of having set up a cardboard-box shelter in a parking lot that I see from my kitchen window, and I think perhaps the large numbers of indigenous people incarcerated in Canada because they are indigenous could be an example. I am also thinking of Butler writing in Undoing Gender about the impossibility of living a gender that is outside the frames of intelligibility of one’s society, and the real risks of violence that living an unintelligible gender entails. And yet at the same time she observes that this impossibility may be preferable to the other impossibility of living a gender that one experiences as utterly oppressive, as unliveable. In that context, one might choose the dangerous ferality of gender unintelligibility over the domestication of living according to an assigned gender that is killing you. There is nothing ideal or romantic about these choices, clearly, but they are still situations in which one might choose ferality over domestication.
This is a quite different case, but one of the times that we commonly use the term “feral” to refer to humans is in the case of so-called “feral children.” Sometimes this term is used to refer to children who have supposedly been raised by wild animals—although whether there are any actual cases of this is unclear. It seems that most if not all of these cases of feral children raised by wolves and bears have been hoaxes. The term is also used, however, to refer to children who have been kept in captivity—such as in a basement or a cell—for years on end, without being socialized into human society, without being educated, and without language acquisition. The term is thus used for children who have been kept alive physically, but whose cognitive and affective lives have been completely neglected. It’s an interesting use of the term since, in some sense, it contradicts the way that we use the term in the case of nonhuman animals. In the case of nonhuman animals, we call them “feral” if they have escaped captivity, or are the descendants of animals who escaped captivity, who are living amongst us but are free of human domination, and yet for children we use the term for those who are kept the most drastically captive. In some sense, these are children who are treated more like certain agricultural animals than other children—and like factory-farmed animals in particular: caged, isolated, all their animal instincts and needs completely denied beyond those of bare survival. At the same time, the term makes sense, as these children have not been domesticated into human society, or trained to conform to the norms of the human. These children, clearly, are no example of the liberatory potential of the feral. In contrast, in his work on the wild, Jack Halberstam takes children as an example of the refusal to be tamed, of the potential to remain anarchic, queer, or wild.
A couple nights ago I watched the recent Hungarian film, White God (Mundruczó 2014), which has been reviewed by Dylan Hallingstad O’Brien in this issue of Feral Feminisms. The film tells the story of a domesticated dog, Hagen, and his human, an adolescent girl named Lili. When Lili’s mother leaves her and Hagen with Lili’s father for three months, the father is reluctant to have Hagen in his apartment. When it turns out that he has to pay a fine for having a “mongrel” dog, he decides instead to abandon Hagen on a road in the middle of the city. There is a traumatic scene in which Lili witnesses her father violently dragging her dog out of the car and dumping him on the side of a freeway, shoves her back into the car screaming and crying, and drives off, with the car doors locked. Hagen runs after the car and Lili watches him through the car window, but there’s nothing she can do. Hagen is then pursued by dog catchers from the pound, and escapes them only to be caught by a human who sells him to dog fighters. The dog fighters abuse Hagen to build up his aggression so that he will kill other dogs. Hagen eventually escapes the dog fighters, but only to be caught by the dog catchers and to end up at the pound, where it is quickly decided that he should be killed because of his aggression. On the way to his death, however, Hagen manages to kill the pound employee just when that employee is opening a gate to an enclosure full of condemned dogs. This allows not only Hagen to escape, but the hundreds of other dogs in the enclosure as well. They form an army of dogs, led by Hagen, who terrorize the human inhabitants in the city, and kill the humans who are apparently on Hagen’s hit list—all the humans who have abused him since the time he was abandoned by Lili’s father.
I thought about this film in terms of your work on the war against animals, since the dogs in the film ultimately respond to their situation in a warlike way, by forming an army and fighting back. Watching the film, one is on the side of the dogs. I was also struck by the relationship between children and feral animals again, and between Lili and Hagen. In a sense it’s a film about a feral dog and a feral girl—or a domesticated dog and a domesticated girl who both end up feral. Although clearly not to the same degree, Lili is also oppressed by humans in the film—by her father, by her music teacher—and after Hagen is abandoned by her father, she is also wandering the streets alone, desperate, looking for him. Like Hagen, she has few options—he has nowhere to go at all, whereas she ultimately has nowhere to go but back to her father; but this is a horrible choice and there are uncomfortable scenes in the film where it seems that the father is beginning to treat Lili romantically, kneeling down to put on her shoes, intimate scenes of them sharing a bedroom, her undressing in his presence. I’m not sure if the director wanted these to be scenes showing increasing filial affection between the father and daughter, or a kind of redemption of the father, but I and the two women with whom I watched the film saw those scenes as depicting a girl trapped in what was quickly becoming an incestuous situation. She is dependent on humans, and especially on her father, to survive, but she is also on the side of the dogs. I think of children who do start out on the side of other animals, and part of their domestication is to break this bond with other animals, to make them into oppressors of animals. Closer to Halberstam, I would like to rethink the idea of feral children to refer to children who are not yet on the side of the humans in the war against animals. As a parent, and as a Critical Animal Studies scholar, do you have any thoughts on feral children—either as we use the word now, or in Halberstam’s sense of wild and anarchic children, or in the sense that I am describing, of children who are not yet on the side of the human in the war against animals?
Dinesh: I take your point, and agree with you that “feral” might be a useful way to describe an experience of freedom—from constraints, norms, disciplines, coercion—which might present as preferable to its alternative (that is, a complete uniform conformity to constraints, norms, disciplines, coercion). I really love the way you situate Butler here too—as you say “one might choose the dangerous ferality of gender unintelligibility over the domestication of living according to an assigned gender that is killing you.” Here being feral is an assertion of a willful freedom against violence and domination; a decision made in the face of extreme constraint. And perhaps in this context, “feral” is useful for thinking about a form of political subjectivity that might belong to a toolbox for interspecies solidarity.
I think this neatly leads to your fascinating comments on children, who might be willful subjects within the terrain of human/animal relations of power. It’s tempting to think of children as not being on the side of the war against animals that I have described in my book for the reasons you suggest, although I am a little hesitant about this in so far as I treat the war against animals as not so much a form of violence that one can choose to be part of (or escape from) in a voluntarist way, but instead as an enveloping institutional and epistemic phenomenon that we are all caught within. Children come into a world that is deeply structured by systemic violence against animals; it is almost impossible to imagine children being exempt from inheriting the spoils derived from this violence. So it is not so much about asking which side children are on, but how might children be situated differently in relation to the war against animals, does this generate political instabilities, and do these instabilities have any political potential? I suppose in this respect, the war against animals is not dissimilar to other enveloping systems of power, knowledge, and violence, such as gender. I think at least that this is what Judith Butler is getting at when she describes the “constitutive instabilities” within the process of reiterating gender norms (Butler 2011, xix). We are all caught within enveloping systems of power; however, these systems of power do not perfectly reproduce themselves, there are continual “gaps and fissures” (Butler 2011, xix). Is the inculcation of children as active components within the war against animals a fraught site of instability for the reproduction of violent relations with animals and accompanying knowledge systems?
To an extent, your description of White God I think illustrates some of the uncertainties and resistances children pose to norms of anthropocentricism that shape adult human mainstay practices towards animals. I suppose as a parent I have found it interesting that it can be easier for children to sympathise with the plight of animals because they haven’t had a lifetime of education which treats violence towards animals as benign. We also know that there have been all sorts of moral panics which have followed from a fear of children over-identifying with anthropomorphised animals within child targeted films and literature and subsequently resisting meat-eating cultures—such as that generated by the film Babe (see Nobis 2009). I have also enjoyed watching children engage in relationships with companion animals which resist norms and demonstrate an inventiveness around how we might live with animals differently. There is some danger here, though, of romanticizing the relationship between children and animals. It can be depressing how easy it is for children to be enfolded into practices that involve utilizing animals in uncritical ways: for example, the normalization of meat in school canteens; toys and education about farming and farming practices which treat animals as mere use objects; pet-keeping practices which treat animals as simply living toys; zoos and petting zoos, et cetera.
But your question has also reminded me of the sense that actually caring about animals, being interested in their rights or how they are treated, or wanting animals to enjoy lives without violence, seems to be a somewhat “childish” affectation. I am struck by how animal advocates are frequently treated as non-rational, infantilized, or subject to paternalistic discourses by prevailing systems of knowledge; it’s certainly something I have been exposed to from philosophers and scientists who have responded to my work. As I understand it, Halberstam is signaling towards experimental forms of theorizing that break with disciplinary norms, modes of domestication that produce unpredictable effects (Halberstam 2013). Perhaps we need to become childish in order to imagine these new worlds without violence towards animals? Sara Ahmed also imagines the figure of the child as a willful force: “If authority assumes the right to turn a wish into a command, then willfulness is a diagnosis of the failure to comply with those whose authority is given” (see Ahmed 2014). You have mentioned to me your interest in raccoons. Might they fit the description of willful animals?
Chloë: Yes, this issue of Feral Feminisms features two paintings of raccoons by Cydney Taylor, and I do indeed think that raccoons might be described as willful animals. My understanding is that there have recently been some imported raccoon spottings around the Melbourne campus, but that basically raccoons are unknown in Australia. They are, however, one of the main liminal animals of North America—to use Donaldson and Kymlicka’s term—and Toronto is the “raccoon capital” of the world. There was recently a story in the news about one willful raccoon who came in through a ceiling tile and helped himself to an orange donut in a Toronto café (Morales 2015). Raccoons are interesting liminal animals as they actually thrive better in cities than in the wild, and it has been argued that raccoons’ intelligence has increased and their brains have changed through their human and urban encounters, given all the objects, tools, and problems to solve that we send their way (CBC 2011).
I also came across a story about a childcare centre in British Columbia where the daycare workers are striving to have the children cohabitate with raccoons, instead of having the raccoons exterminated the way most childcare centres do (Pacini-Ketchabaw 2015). The day care workers take a nuanced, anticolonial perspective to the raccoons, seeing the connections between settler colonialism, the civilized/wild divide, and speciesism. Lauren Corman also has an interesting article on raccoons, in which she connects the way these animals are seen as urban pests and invaders to how “coon” has been used as a racialized metaphor (Corman 2011).
In the North American case, most raccoons would not be considered true ferals as they were never domesticated. They are, rather, highly adaptable opportunistic animals who have decided to move from the wild to cities and cohabitate with humans because of the opportunities this provides. But we can speak of feral raccoons in Japan, as baby raccoons were imported in large numbers to Japan as cute pets, due to a Japanese cartoon that featured a raccoon named Rascal. In the cartoon, Rascal was eventually released into the forest, and as real-life pet baby raccoons became troublesome adults this is also what the Japanese did with the imported domesticated raccoons—released them in forests. The now feral raccoons are destroying ancient Japanese temples, however, and are being exterminated. My view would be that although it is sad to see the ancient temples in Japan rapidly being destroyed by raccoons, this should be a cause for humans to regret their own behaviours (importing and domesticating raccoons from North America who should have been left alone and with their mothers), not paid for by raccoons living in Japan today with their lives. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to return to, and to conclude with, the question of historical justice towards nonhuman animals that you set aside before? What is our debt to ferals?
Dinesh: My recent work on Marx, systems of value, and animals has made me really interested in the question of what interspecies justice looks like, and what we might owe animals if we acknowledge that we humans have committed a massive injustice towards the animals we use. I think your story about raccoons in Japan is an interesting one, as it illustrates a kind of attitude in which animals are treated as simple use objects that can be deployed for pleasurable purposes, and then eliminated when their utility to humans evaporates (or, as in this case, eliminated when the animals begin to exert a deleterious sideways impact on other valued human use objects). As we know, imagining animals as simply use objects is posing an increasing challenge (or contradiction) for our knowledge systems. In some respects, animal-welfare and animal-rights discourses are perhaps a symptom of this prevailing contemporary contradiction. If it is conceivable that at some point there might be political agreement that animals are not simply use objects and that they are owed more consideration than non-sentient commodities, then it follows that we may not only have to deal with the question of how we adequately value the animals we have in our midst, but also how we provide justice in the face of our previous systematic failure to treat animals as anything more than objects for our use.
Kelly Oliver suggests that our reliance on animals, not only for food but also for how we understand ourselves as human, points towards a “fundamental indebtedness” towards animals that must be acknowledged (Oliver 2009, 21-22; see also Oliver 2012). It is of course one thing to acknowledge a debt, but it is a completely different thing to attempt to reconcile it. The question I am curious about is whether it is possible to materialize this debt? Your story of raccoons in Japan might be one example, where reconciliation of a past debt might include accepting damage to human property. But I have been also interested in whether we can go further in putting a price on the amount we have taken from animals, surplus that is not ours to claim.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been gaining a lot of international attention, in part because the economist demonstrates in monetary terms the perils of inherited wealth and the negative impact this has on democracies. In particular, Piketty is at pains to point out that a society that allows for individuals to accumulate extraordinary wealth through no effort of their own works against the meritocratic principles that underpin the functioning of many democracies. There is an interesting story in here for thinking about animals. Conventional animal-rights approaches have focused on the way that human uses of animals—such as for food or for experimentation—violate assumed fundamental rights, freedoms, or dignities that animals are owed. But a different approach might be the injustice of massive theft: that is, acknowledging the reality that our use of animals relies on extracting value from them without any compensation—in other words, a debt that we systematically refuse to acknowledge.
Connected to this is the reality—and this is where Marx is influencing me—that animals produce value. Animals are, like human workers, a productive, self-valorizing form of capital. But we know that animal workers differ from most human workers in so far as they are denied property rights over themselves. Instead, humans claim complete ownership of the proceeds from the labour that animals provide—including their bodies themselves, for example, to be converted into food—without sharing this wealth with those who produce it. The outcome of this arrogant and violent exchange is that humans extort wealth from animals through little comparable effort of their own. The balance sheets of animal industries allow us to imagine the scale of this human theft of animal generated value. Some estimates suggest that the value of global livestock industries is USD $1.4 trillion (Thornton 2010). If we accept even a minimalist welfare position that animals are not mere living tools for unlimited human exploitation (and certainly, I doubt most policy makers or representatives of animal industries could sustain this view if they were pressed), then we must accept that at least part of this value is generated by animals as living beings. It would represent a peculiar form of anthropocentric conceit to imagine otherwise.
If we can price the value that animals contribute, we can also put a price on what we have stolen, even in an intergenerational context. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century Piketty offers a really remarkable attempt to value human slavery in the south of the United States in the context of global capital (Piketty 2014, 158-163). Is there a similar project that beckons us to price the value of what we have taken from animals? And then, how might we reconcile this debt? Naturally, and as my reference to Piketty’s analysis of slavery indicates, questions of historical injustice and debt, including intergenerational debt, are not limited to our relationships with animals, but are also highly relevant to a range of other struggles, including in relation to what justice might look like after the theft of indigenous sovereignty, or what justice might look like after systematic racism. Any attempt to imagine a society arranged according to just principles (as is typically the approach within liberal social-justice theory) must also reckon with the concrete effects of radical historical injustice (slavery, dispossession, alienation, systemic violence) and organize a future that attempts to repay what was stolen and make amends for suffering and harm imposed.
ABC News. “Brigitte Bardot condemns Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s plan to cull two million feral cats.” July 22, 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-22/brigitte-bardot-condemns-greg-hunt-for-feral-cut-cull-plan/6640846
Aristotle. “Politics.” In The Works of Aristotle. Vol. 2, edited by R. Hutchins. Translated by Benjamin Jowett, 439-548. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952.
Arthur, Chrissy. “Thousands of outback cats culled to save bilbies.” ABC News. July 17, 2013.
Ahmed, Sara. Willful Subjects. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Arendt, Hannah. “The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man.” In Origins of Totalitarianism. 3rd ed, 267-302. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1967.
Belcourt, Billy-Ray. “Animal Bodies, Colonial Subjects: (Re)Locating Animality in Decolonial Thought.” Societies 5, no. 1 (2015): 1-11.
Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” London and New York: Routledge, 2011. First published 1993.
_____. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. New York: Verso, 2004.
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). “Raccoon Nation.” The Nature of Things video. February 24, 2011. http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2670659653
Corman, Lauren. “Getting Their Hands Dirty: Raccoons, Freegans, and Urban ‘Trash.’” Journal for Critical Animal Studies 9, no. 3 (2011): 28-61.
Deckha, Maneesha. “Toward A Postcolonial Posthumanist Feminist Theory: Centralizing Race and Culture in Feminist Work on Nonhuman Animals.” Hypatia: Journal of Feminist Philosophy 27, no. 3 (2012): 527-545.
Donaldson, Sue and Will Kymlicka. Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Foucault, Michel. ‘Society Must Be Defended’: Lectures at the College de France, 1975-76. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
_____. The Use of Pleasure. Vintage: Penguin, 1990.
Halberstam, Jack. “Charming for the Revolution: A Gaga Manifesto.” e-flux (2013): http://www.e-flux.com/journal/charming-for-the-revolution-a-gaga-manifesto/
Jacobs, Steve. “California keeps ban on importing kangaroo products despite Australian lobbying.” The Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2015. http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/california-keeps-ban-on-importing-kangaroo-products-despite-australian-lobbying-20150913-gjlnr0.html
Kim, Claire Jean. Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Mezzadra, Sandro and Brett Neilson. Border as Method, or the Multiplication of Labor. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
Milman, Oliver. “Morrissey attacks Australian plan to cull two million feral cats.” The Guardian, September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/sep/02/morrissey-attacks-australian-plan-to-cull-2-million-feral-cats
Mitropoulos, Angela. “Archipelago of Risk: Uncertainty, Borders and Migration Detention Systems.” New Formations 84 (2015): 163–83.
_____. “The Barbed End of Human Rights.” Borderlands 2, no. 1 (2003).
Morales, Steve. “Sneaky raccoon steals donut in Toronto coffee shop.” Global News, December 30, 2015. http://globalnews.ca/news/2426973/watch-sneaky-raccoon-steals-donut-in-toronto-coffee-shop/
Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. The White Possessive: Property, Power, and Indigenous Sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015.
Mundruczó, Kornél. White God. Hungary: Proton Cinema, Pola Pandora Filmproduktions. Film, 2014.
Nobis, Nathan. “The ‘Babe’ Vegetarians: Bioethics, Animal Minds and Moral Methodology.” In Bioethics at the Movies, edited by S. Shapshay. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
Oliver, Kelly. Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
_____. “Love Bites! Or Taking Ethics to Heart: Response to Critics on Animal Lessons.” Environmental Philosophy 9, no. 2 (2012): 187-199.
Pacini-Ketchabaw, Veronica. “Unruly Raccoons and Troubled Educators: Nature/Culture Divides in a Childcare Centre.” Environmental Humanities (December 2015): https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Veronica_Pacini-Ketchabaw/publication/ 283083922_Unruly_Raccoons_and_Troubled_Educators_NatureCulture_Divides_in_a_ Childcare_Centre/links/56299e6d08ae04c2aeaf179f.pdf
Palmer, Clare. “The Idea of the Domesticated Animal Contract.” Environmental Values 6, no. 4 (November 1997): 411-425.
Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014.
Probyn-Rapsey, Fiona. “Dingoes and Dog-Whistling: A Cultural Politics of Race and Species in Australia.” Animal Studies Journal 4, no. 2 (2015): 55-77.
Pugliese, Joseph. State Violence and the Execution of Law: Biopolitical Caesurae of Torture, Black Sites, Drones. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2013.
Smith, Andrea. “Not-Seeing: State Surveillance, Settler Colonialism, and Gender Violence.” In Feminist Surveillance Studies, edited by Rachel E. Dubrofsky and Shoshana Amielle Magnet, 21-38. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.
Thornton, Phillip K. “Livestock Production: Recent Trends, Future Prospects.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2010): 2853-2867.
Wadiwel, Dinesh Joseph. The War Against Animals. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2015.
_____. “Zoopolis: Challenging Our Conceptualisation of Political Sovereignty through Animal Sovereignties.” Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review 52, no. 4 (2013): 1-10.
Dinesh Wadiwel is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Sydney. His research interests include sovereignty and the nature of rights, violence, race and critical animal studies. He is author of the monograph The War against Animals (Brill, 2015) and co-editor (with Matthew Chrulew) of the edited collection Foucault and Animals (Brill, 2016).
Chloë Taylor is Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Philosophy at the University of Alberta. She has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Toronto and was a Tomlinson postdoctoral fellow in Philosophy at McGill University. She is the author of The Culture of Confession from Augustine to Foucault (Routledge 2008) and The Routledge Guidebook to Foucault’s The History of Sexuality (Routledge 2016), and the co-editor (with Hasana Sharp) of Feminist Philosophies of Life (McGill-Queens University Press 2016) and (with Neil Dalal) Asian Perspectives on Animal Ethics (Routledge 2014). Her research interests include twentieth-century French philosophy, philosophy of sexuality, feminist philosophy, and animal ethics. She has published articles in these areas in journals such as Hypatia, Philosophy Today, Foucault Studies, and Feminist Studies.