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Animals under Capitalism (25th of May)
Plenary Speakers:
Dr Robert McKay (Sheffield): ‘The Were-wolf Hunger of Capital’
Professor Kate Soper (London Metropolitan): ‘Amid the alien corn: capitalism and animal life’
1. Animals under Capitalism
Dr John Miller (Sheffield): ‘Natural Capital and Useless Creatures’
Dr Sue Walsh (Reading): ‘Animals and Society’
Dr Maan Barua (Oxford): ‘Lively commodities and encounter value’
2. Capitalism, Theology, Art
Brandi Estey-Burtt (Dalhousie University): ‘The Animal Messiah: Saving the Soul Under
Estela Torres (Independent Artist): ‘From the Passion of Christ to the Calvary of Animals’
Professor Richard Merritt and Professor Scott Hurley (Luther College): ‘Encountering Animal
Bodies: Taxidermy, Art, and Ethics’
3. Legacies
Dr Jonathan Saha (University of Leeds): ‘No Country for Old Crocodiles: Colonial Rule and the
Commodification of Animals in British Burma, c.1880-1940’
Cato Berg and Knut Nustad (University of Oslo’): ‘Trout, temporalities and capitalism in the
Aurland Valley, Western Norway’
Professor Peter Boomgaard (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean
Studies): ‘How Capitalism in Indonesia Stimulated Livestock Numbers per capita, as well as
Tradition through Stockbreeding’
4. Interspecies Relations
Dr Vincent Chapaux (Université libre de Bruxelles): ‘Interspecies Relations in Science-Fiction
Movies and International Law’
Dr Michael Lawrence (Sussex): ‘Cattle Drives, Capitalism and the Hollywood Western: Red River
Nike Dreyer (University of Konstanz): ‘Pigs as Pseudo-Subjects in a Capitalist Regime’
Main page
Kate Soper
By way of some initial reflections on a poem by Derek Mahon, my talk will consider the multiple,
and often conflicting, ways in which capitalism may be said to have impacted on animal
experience. The focus here will be on the specific forms in which capitalism has continued and
intensified a perennial division in human culture between abuse and love, instrumental and
affective responses to animals. From there I will move into a brief survey of the engagement with
animals on the part of leftwing/Marxist critics of capitalism. Here, by and large, there has either
been silence, or the development of naturalist and anti-humanist positions of a kind that have
been carried over into the contemporary post-humanist paradigm, with its emphasis on humananimal affinities and continuities. I myself will put the case for grounding a more animal-friendly
eco-politics in recognition of what is distinctive to human beings, both as agents of environmental
crisis and as alone in a position to take action to counter it. In the process, I shall ask how we
might improve the experience of animals in a post-capitalist, post-consumerist social order, and
sketch a few ways in which that might draw on both traditional/pre-modern and postmodern
modes of production and consumption.
Robert McKay
In his analysis of the tendency to extension of the working day, Marx (no doubt deliberately
reconfiguring the Latin proverb homo homini lupus est) described the production of surplus labour
as capital’s ‘were-wolf hunger’ for accumulation (Capital, vol. 1 ch. 10). The gothicism is arresting
and troubling: for when capital itself is not just lupine but werewolf, the essential violence held
just apart from human nature by the Latin irony returns and attaches to it with uncanny and
ubiquitous force. The Werewolf of Paris, a sensational novel of lycanthropy set against the
background of the Commune of 1871, was written and published in America in 1933 by the
communist and vegetarian Guy Endore (1901-1970). In it, a drama of hyper-excessive
consumption and blurred human/animal boundaries figures what is an intractable problem for
leftist thought after the commune. This is the apparent contradiction between an expansive,
egalitarian spirit of community and individual selfishness, greed and desire—what Thorstein
Veblen in 1923 called the ‘steadfast cupidity’ of humanity that finds its economic realisation in
capitalism. The intractability resides precisely in the ‘nature’ of that contradiction: just how
steadfast is cupidity? how ‘natural’ is human greed? The novel’s focus on consumption raises
difficult questions in the politics of eating—and not just because it is written in the context of
Marxian explanations of capitalism’s responsibility for the widespread famine created by the Great
Depression. If the progressive thesis is that not only the difference between surfeit and suplus but
consumption and competition per se are political-economic effects of capitalism, suppressing
humanity’s more essential communal spirit, then how do we make sense of the apparently ‘natural’
acts of consumption (of meat) that condition human relations with animals? Might not the solution
to the were-wolf hunger of capital be a strict vegetarian diet? This talk will think through these
questions, reading Endore’s novel in the context of ideas about animals and equality in radical left
thought from the Paris Communards to Endore’s American contemporaries, and those of a
dissenting Sigmund Freud.
John Miller
For the economist Dieter Helm, ‘conservation is about ... hard choices with economic
consequences’. To ensure a sustainable future, we must place an ‘economic value on nature’.
Without this, the argument runs, environmental catastrophe will continue to accelerate and the
Anthropocene extinction will proceed unabated. So we are poised, in Helm’s analysis, to move
away from that ‘ghastly Marxist dialectic … them versus us, proletariat versus bourgeoisie, the
environment versus the economy, capitalist versus the environment’ into a bold new world of
ecological accounting, heralded by the idea of ‘natural capital’, defined by the UK’s Natural Capital
Committee as ‘the stock of natural ecosystems on Earth including air, land, soil, biodiversity and
geological resources’ (in short, everything). If nature can be valued, nature can be saved, all we
need is a framework within which to initiate what Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley call
capitalism’s ‘ecological phase’.
Although the term has been in circulation at least since the 1990s, the last two or three years have
seen a rapid foregrounding of natural capital in policy debates. To some critics, particularly those
involved in pro-animal movements, the potential consequences are chilling. As Kathryn Yusoff
concludes, ‘[a]ccording to the logic of “natural capital”, the nature that does not … service us has
no place in the world’. As a thought experiment in response to this coming world, I imagine the
ethical call of a perfectly useless creature, one that fails to contribute, even in the most indirect
form, to ecosystem services and economic interests and one entirely unamenable to the dubious
ideological work of cuteness: a being whose inconsequential, bland life achieves nothing except,
ironically, to construct the limit of a politics in which ethics is replaced by auditing.
Main page
Sue Walsh
In this paper I want to turn back to a book published back in 1991, Keith Tester’s Animals and
Society: The Humanity of Animal Rights. I want to return to this text because nearly twenty-five years
ago Tester was already effectively making the argument that Kari Weil makes in Thinking Animals:
Why Animal Studies Now? (2012), which is to say that the recent theoretical turn to animals grows
out of, ‘a weariness with post-structuralism’s linguistic turn and a resulting search for a
postlinguistic and perhaps posthuman sublime and […] an often conflicting turn to ethics that
raises the question of our human responsibility to the animal–other’ (Weil, xx). Tester presciently
noted the history within animal oriented studies and animal advocacy of a suspicion of language
and culture that we can now read as a precursor of the more recent counter-linguistic turn in
theory which has led to a focus on affect as that which can provide access to the reality and truth
behind or beyond the obfuscations of language and culture. Tester’s Animals and Society challenged
animal advocacy to account for itself, and though it was given some recognition at the time of its
publication, and subjected to critique by animal advocacy oriented critics (animal studies not yet
being established as the umbrella term for this field of interest), it still raises questions for animal
studies, particularly through its Foucaultian informed Marxism which asks animal advocacy to
consider that it may be complicit in a capitalist fetishism of the animal.
Main page
Maan Barua
Rendering nonhuman life for sale is a fundamental facet of contemporary capitalism. Political
economy extensively examines how nature is commodified, but fails to analyze the difference
liveliness of animals makes to processes of commodification. Drawing upon empirical work on
lions and elephants in the political economies of tourism and biodiversity conservation in India,
this paper proposes analytics for understanding commodification and accumulation in relational
and less humanist terms. First, it develops Haraway’s concepts of ‘lively commodities’ and
‘encounter value’, foregrounding animal ecologies to rework political economic categories of the
commodity, labour and production in more-than-human terms. Second, it examines how lively
commodities and encounter value configure political economies, mapping their specificities and
economic potential. The paper advances potential diagnostics and vocabularies through which
ecology and non-dualist accounts of agency might be integrated into the nature-as-resources
approach of political economy.
Main page
Brandi Estey-Burtt
In J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, protagonist Elizabeth Costello tells listeners that she is
motivated to oppose factory farming of animals so that she might save her soul. Coetzee’s turn to
animals and animal ethics has been well documented in critical scholarship, as has Costello’s
philosophical and poetic resistance to the commodification of animal bodies in The Lives of Animals.
However, the religious connotations of Costello’s statement as well as her claim that “an animal is
an embodied soul” have all but been ignored or even denied. Yet Costello’s repeated invocations
of both her soul and the souls of animals bespeaks a central way of theologically understanding
the lives of animals that profoundly conflicts with the capitalist patterns of commodification she
decries. I read her emphasis on animal souls in connection with the Christian iconographic
tradition of representing Christ as a lamb, in which the animal body does not simply function as a
tool of salvation but as the central image of ethical, redemptive relationships. I therefore argue
that the artistic merging of human and animal in the figure of the Messiah both blurs human and
animal distinctions as well as offers an incarnational vision of the embodied soul of animals that
resists capitalist paradigms of consumption. In particular, I look at Jan van Eyck’s central piece
“Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from the Ghent Altarpiece as well as Francisco de Zurbaran’s
several Agnes Dei paintings to demonstrate how Christian iconography provides a theological
response that challenges capitalism’s predations on the animal body. This artistic tradition
conceives of the animal as a Messiah figure, a conception that highlights useful modes of
relationship based on our mutual enfleshment of souls rather than a denial of the souls of animals.
Main page
Estela Torres
The current environmental crisis is a reflection of the unbalanced relationship man has with nature
and its animals. This can be attributed to the position man ascribes himself, as the center of
creation, and consequently the belief of animals as inferior beings and at man's service. This arises
ethical as well as theological questions about man's role and stewardship regarding animals and
nature. The aim of my recent artwork is to approach these questions and have this two disciplines
come into dialogue. Animal's Passion and The Carrying of the Cross are two series of drawings
started in 2013 in conjunction with the research on Animal Theology, inspired by Andrew Linzey's
Animal Gospel and Animal Theology as well as the orthodox approach to creation. The aim of
these drawings is to translate in images and in discourse the suffering of Christ as a persecuted
innocent put to death, with the suffering of the innocent and the voiceless put to death, which are
the animals. This is done by the confrontation of images taken from internet about animal
mistreatement with those of religious representations taken from the history of art such as scenes
of Crucifixions from Velazquez, Ribera, El Greco etc. My proposal would be to show these two
series with a power point together with a detailed description of the drawings and the theological
Main page
Richard Merritt and Scott Hurley
Artists committed to socially engaged practice confront a significant challenge when trying to
differentiate their work from other artists who use the same media, but do not have the same social
and political commitments. This problem is particularly significant when encountering the work
of conceptually driven artists that make use of taxidermy. Exploring comparatively the work of
artists such as Damien Hirst, Angela Singer, Kate Clark, Pascal Bernier, Amy Stein and Cai Guoqiang, we note instances of superficial similarity, shock aesthetics, and vastly disparate visual
strategies. Underlying this complex network of visuality rests an interconnected web of agendas
sometimes reifying, sometimes questioning, and at other times antagonizing human and nonhuman animal hierarchies.
Historically the use of taxidermy arose out of the colonial tradition of exotification of “otherness,”
treating nonhuman animal bodies as artefacts of colonized nations. Consumed en masse in ‘proto”
museums, sideshows, and Wunderkammer, the animal body was objectified and commodified by
the act of looking, of gazing. In this paper we examine how the tradition of spectacle is transformed
by and also persists in contemporary arts practice.
It is our contention that each of the works we are examining is a societal institution that
constitutes a networked model of human and non-human animal relationships. Central to our
approach is an examination of “the encounter”: How does the spectator’s encounter with the
object of art without knowing the artist’s intentions shape the understanding of the encounter
and its effects? Irrespective of intentionality in what way does the work interrogate human and
non-human animal relationships? What are the ethical questions implicitly posed by the work?
And finally, how does the visceral nature of the art and its practice within a capitalist economic
system informed by speciesist ideology contribute to or challenge the commodification of the
animal body?
Main page
Jonathan Saha
It is impossible to state just how many crocodiles were killed in British Burma with any precision.
But we do know that by 1880 the reptiles were targets for eradication. The colonial state gave
rewards to those who turned in their carcasses. This system proved effective. In fact, it proved too
effective. Rumours circulated that enterprising villagers were breeding crocodiles, killing them as
soon as they hatched, and turned in their bodies in exchange for the bounty.
These types of duplicitous practices were often reported in the colony. Indeed, they appear to be
common to many colonial contexts. In this paper I argue that they were the unintended
consequences of state policies intended to encourage the commodification of wildlife. This
argument means opening up new historiographic ground. Whilst imperial representations of
animals have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years, what has been neglected
in this literature is the emergence another powerful mode of representation: the rendering of
animals into exchange values. Responding to Nicole Shukin’s call for researchers to excavate the
material histories of economic and symbolic power rendered innate in the fetishized bodies of
animals, this paper uncovers how animals became commodities for exchange in colonial Burma
through an analysis of everyday interactions with the state. It pays particular attention to the
granting of of rewards to encourage the slaughter of some animals and the use of licences to
regulate the preservation of others. By exploring the commodification of animals through their
entanglement with these artefacts of state authority, the paper offers a more-than-human history
of colonial rule.
Main page
Cato Berg and Knut Nustad
The shifting relationship between people and fish in the Aurland River of western Norway enacts
temporality at different scales. Up until the 1880s human-fish relations formed part of subsistence
engagements for the many small farms in the valley. With the arrival of British fishermen, new
relations between fish and people were established, redefining human-fish relations as sport. The
subsequent recasting of the river as the largest hydroelectric project in Norway from 1969 was
hailed as a triumph of industrial and capitalist progress. While this sequentialisation evokes notions
of time as progressing, there are other temporalities at work here as well. Disillusionments with
narratives of progress led to longings for ‘nature:’ the river as it was first encountered by the British
sport fishers, before its capitalist transformation. But the fish that make this river home are part
of other temporalities as well. Most contemporary fishermen consume fish as sport through catch
and release, evoking two different and entangled scales of temporality: fish are released into the
river to fulfil their cycles of reproduction, they are caught at the end of the season to obtain their
roe and milt, and the river is restocked with fry. These practices in turn enable human-fish relations
that are meant to evoke another temporality, that of a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist, non-regulated
natural river. These processes in turn go hand in hand with the ever-increasing reliance on capitalist
modes of production and distribution of objects, technologies and knowledge. The paper seeks to
examine these intertwined relations by comparing pre-capitalists to later capitalist perceptions of
the river and its non-human actors, though a focus on different temporalities, both progressive
and cyclical, and further by connecting these to debates on capitalism, climate and landscapes.
Main page
Peter Boomgaard
For many Asian countries, stockbreeding in the past is a badly documented phenomenon. Much
of it occurred in out-of-the-way places, and statistics prior to 1900 are often absent or of
questionable reliability. Relatively good figures are available for Java (Indonesia), and
developments regarding that island will be at the centre of our discussion.
In all likelihood, the growth of the number of horses in Java was higher than that of the population
between 1600 and 1850. Much of this growth was linked to the activities of the VOC, the Dutch
East India Company, and became more pronounced from the late eighteenth century. VOC and
other merchants needed horses for transport, both of people (horse riding, carriages) and trade
commodities. The latter use increased strongly after 1800. After 1850 the trend reversed.
In Java growth of the number of buffalo between 1800 and 1850 also outstripped the increase in
the number of people. This was also linked to increased demand for transport, but also to the need
for animal traction of ploughs, linked to increased population growth, which, in turn was
stimulated by Dutch colonial policies. The number of cattle increased as well in this period, but
not as fast as that of the buffalo. After 1850 the growth of cattle numbers accelerated, while that
of buffalo slowed down.
Finally, outside Java, for instance in Sulawesi (Celebes), the growing number of buffaloes appear
to have been used mainly in sacrifices, as conspicuous consumption. This phenomenon as such
was much older than 1800, a local tradition, but the growing involvement of local people in
international Capitalist trade enabled them to slaughter larger numbers of buffalo during the death
ceremonies of the well-to-do.
Main page
Vincent Chapaux
International law, as a normative order, is often seen as very “animal friendly”. The most famous
international norms regarding the animals are usually explicitly drafted to protect them from
“commercial predation” (e.g. Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals or the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Even when it comes to animal
welfare, international agreements are often depicted as being ahead of most domestic systems
(see. e.g. the welfare provisions of the Lisbon treaty of 2007, art. 13).
These elements are accurate but usually tend to hide the fact that international law, as a system,
has been conceived as (and still mainly is) an anthropocentric order. International norms regarding
property in general, and intellectual property in particular, allow human beings to own not only
animals but entire species (providing that the humans claiming ownership of these species have
modified them sufficiently on a genetic level). The same can be said of international trade law, a
regime that (until recently) had always rejected animal conservation or animal welfare claims. Seen
from the perspective of international law, human domination is by far the most important rule in
the relations between humans and animals. In that sense, international law facilitates rather than
oppose the advanced capitalism of our contemporary societies.
This article confronts the representations of human/nonhuman relations emanating from
international law with those emanating from mainstream science-fiction movies (usually
distributed and broadcasted worldwide). It shows that - aside from survival films – mainstream
science-fiction movies mainly offer an alternative view of interspecies relations, one that is based
on the respect of every intelligent and/or sentient being, regardless of their species. The article
concludes by exploring some hypothesis that might explain the differences between the
anthropocentric logic of international law and the anti-speciesism tendency of these mainstream
and often “global” movies.
Main page
Michael Lawrence
This presentation examines the practical logistics and the promotional tactics associated with the
representation of cattle drives as generic spectacle in the Hollywood Western, focusing on Hawks’
Red River (1948), the most famous depiction of the drives that constituted the ‘Beef Bonanza’ of
the 1860-80s. For Corkin, Red River endorses ‘a system that enables goods to move unimpeded’;
the film adapts ‘frontier mythology’ to endorse ‘corporate capitalism in an international context’
(2000: 76, 89). And for Sklar, the film is about ‘commodity production’; he notes that both the
film’s director and its protagonist are ‘struggling to find a market and gain a return on his
investment of time and toil’ (1996: 153). But the cattle at the centre of both these profit-driven
enterprises—the original drive and the Hollywood production—are rarely privileged in accounts
of the film’s ideological substance and significance, just as they are routinely marginalised in
scholarship on the Western as a genre (exceptions include Calder 1976 and Tompkins 1992). But
Red River was connected to the meat industry at every stage of its production and promotion. The
resourcing and management of the cattle for the shoot resulted in escalating costs: the budget
ballooned by $800, 000. The difficulty of working with recalcitrant cows delayed things further:
Hawks became exasperated by the studio’s concern: ‘Go out and tell fifteen hundred cows what
to do!’ he stated (McCarthy 1997: 423). However, once the drive scenes were completed the cows
used in the film were sent to market, and, in Hawks’ words, they ‘made a hell of a lot of money
selling them after the picture was over’ (McBride 1996 [1982]: 149), thus replicating the sale of the
herd at the end of the film (the cows travel by train to slaughterhouses in Chicago). When Red River
was released, tons of beef were given away as part of the publicity campaign; the steaks were
labelled ‘part of the cast of the forthcoming screen epic’. This paper will focus on the film’s
relationship with capitalism by examining the cattle’s status as bio-capital for both the businessmen
depicted in the film and the businessmen who were making the film, and by reconsidering the
surplus value (the generic spectacle of the stampede) the film generates in the interest of its own
market value.
Main page
Nike Dreyer
I’d like to give an insight into the artistic practice of Wim Delvoye and his Art Farm. On this
farm close to Beijing, the artist farms pigs to tattoo them while anaesthetised. He then harvests
their skins after their natural death. The tattoos on the pigs grow with them; they often depict
Western symbols of tattoo culture. Delvoye stresses the point that the pigs get to live a longer
and potentially more fulfilled life than their fellow pigs in the mass industries.
The pigs in his installation do signify something distinctly different than pigs used to in a time of
pre-modern animal keeping. It is not about their meat, but they become individuals that have
distinct tattoos. Animals have not been subject to this tradition in decorative terms. In a way these
pigs represent the pressing for individualization, that capitalism puts on Western individuals. In
order to be a full-fledged member of capitalist society individuals have to consume and create an
individual style, again based on consumption. Yet Delvoye’s system of individualistic pigs implodes
when he sells their skins and they again become an object of capitalism. Even though one could
argue their lives were not as meagre as the lives of pigs in large scale cattle breeding their inanimate
but colourful skins pose questions. Are we ourselves the pigs that will be skinned in a capitalist
regime? Or do the skins remind us of the fact that pigs have skin the colour of our own – then
why do we still exploit them? I would argue that Delvoye’s work takes a step into the direction of
understanding animals more as individuals. Yet his work is deeply critical of the capitalist system
and he himself employs its methods.
Accommodation and Transport
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