Kaori Nagai, Karen Jones, Donna Landry, Monica Mattfield, Caroline Rooney, and Charlotte Sleigh (Eds.)
Cosmopolitan Animals. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. xxi, 253 pp.
Cosmopolitan Animals is an edited collection based on a 2012 conference of the same name held in the United Kingdom. The chapters are inspired by the work of Donna Haraway, who, along with Simon Glendinning, was a keynote speaker at the conference and contributed a short preface to the book. Haraway has achieved some prominence in mainstream animal studies, but she has been critiqued for her failure to offer any ethical or political critique of the commodification of nonhuman animals (Sanbonmatsu, 2004, p. 61); for her attacks on animal rights and veganism (Rodriguez, 2014); and as an apologist for animal abuse, providing “ideological cover for such violent practices as animal experimentation, genetic engineering, dog breeding and training, killing animals for food and hunting” (Weisberg, 2009, p. 23). It is not suprising then that the contributors to this book fail to engage with any of the literature coming from a Critical Animal Studies perspective. Instead, most cite not only Haraway but also the usual postmodern panoply and hew to rather non-threatening and apolitical ideas about the interconnectedness of humans with other animals, our coexistence and interactivity with them in a common world.
The fifteen chapters cover quite a diversity of interesting topics, which the editors have arranged into four sections (Cosmopolitics, Hospitality, Companionship and The Postcolonial). These categories seem extremely broad. For example, the section on Companionship includes David Andrew Griffith’s chapter that discusses how some humans with autoimmune disorders and allergies deliberately infest themselves with hookworms as a form of therapy. This is rather entertaining, but the term companionship seems to suggest fellowship and friendship in ways that are rather different than a parasite-host relationship. Griffith’s (Nagai et al., 2015, p. 147) recourse to the Harawayan idea that this involves “more-than-human networks of regard, respect and responsibility” seems to be stretching it: do hookworms respect those who ingest them? Do the humans who do so feel a responsibility for their hookworms?
In other chapters, particularly Ma Veronica De Haro De San Mateo’s and Garry Marvin’s essay on Spanish bullfighting, the results are not simply forced but sinister. Their chapter presents the perspective of bullfight aficionados and those involved in the industry, repeating their preposterous claims that the animals understand and “desire” the suffering that humans inflict upon them and that such violence is in fact a respectful celebration of the bull’s nature as well as a beautiful artistic performance. Editor Charlotte Sleigh (Nagai et al., 2015, p. 77) proposes in her introduction to the Hospitality section that the two authors present these views “without judgement” but that is untrue, as they clearly endorse them, just as Marvin (2013) has elsewhere praised hunting as an honored tradition and complicated ritual, winning him approval from the Countryside Alliance, while Haro De San Mateo runs a Bullfight Journalism Program in Madrid (Nagai et al., 2015, Notes on Contributors).
The most successful chapters are those which only fleetingly cite Haraway’s ideas but describe some significant forms of human interaction with other animals. For example, in one of these stronger chapters, Anuradha Ramanujan examines the social construction of street dogs in India and their demonization as anti-modern menaces in the context of neoliberal globalization. Nadia Berenstein writes on the dangers posed to migratory birds by urban growth, electric light, skyscrapers, and plate glass, noting estimates of up to 1 billion birds killed in collisions per year. Samanatha Hurn points out some contradictions in ideas about conservation as she describes interactions between humans and baboons in South Africa, noting that the baboons’ success in adapting to human-dominated environments has made them the subject of wildlife management practices. Juliette Singh’s chapter examines the ambiguous position of animals in Gandhi’s thought and politics, with his openness towards them conflicting with his struggles in regard to vegetarianism and his inability to conceptualize them outside an anthropocentric, hierarchical, and paternalistic framework.
As the range of topics covered in this book indicate, certainly there are many fascinating and important things to be said about our relationships with other animals. However, it is unfortunate that none of the contributors attempted to examine the flaws in Haraway’s own postmodern conceptual framework and to challenge this approach for its inability to produce an effective politics to challenge the oppression of nonhuman animals.
Marvin, G. (2013). Hunting is a complex ritual performance (Interview by B. Fanshaw & J. Barrington). Countryside Alliance, Winter, 26–27. https://www.scribd.com/document/193861656/Countryside-Alliance-2013-Winter-Magazine.
Rodriguez, S. (2014). Interview by John Sanbonmatsu. Direct Action Everywhere. December 1. directactioneverywhere.com/theliberationist/2014/12/1/interview-with-john-sanbonmatsu-associate-professor-of-philosophy-at-worcester-polytechnic-institute.