The other day I was asked what I thought were the key readings in critical animal studies (CAS). For purposes of brevity, let’s refer to CAS as “animal studies” plus an “ethical orientation” that sees the (merely instrumental) use of animals by humans as morally unjustifiable. My sense is that few people read CAS and then adopt a viewpoint or perspective commensurate with that. Rather, my sense is that people fall into CAS through other means; for instance, that they are already vegan or already have an interest in the treatment of animals. Contrary to what some might claim, I don’t think that, for instance, Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation converted anyone. Rather, upon becoming vegetarian or vegan, they picked up the book out of interest. Having said that, if someone wanted to orient themselves within the field, there are a few important texts, divided into sorts (please add any that you feel I’ve missed):
1. Historical accounts of human/animal relations: historical accounts of human/animal relations are not unique to CAS nor does doing such historical/historical sociology work make something CAS. Indeed, the major histories were written well before anyone came up with the term. In this category, I’d put Keith Thomas Man and the Natural World: A History of Modern Sensibility (Pantheon, 1983), Yi-Fu Tuan Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets (Yale, 1984), Harriet Ritvo The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard 1987), Adrian Franklin Animals and Modern Cultures: A Sociology of Human-Animal Relations in Modernity and Richard W. Bulliet Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships (Columbia, 2008). None of these are, strictly speaking, CAS, but they form the basis of any historical and sociological appreciation for the field.
2. Intersectional analyses: one of the key insights of CAS is that the oppression and domination of animals is tied into the oppression and domination of humans. Here it is essential to read Marjorie Spiegel The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (Mirror Books, 1988), Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (Continuum, 1990), and Charles Patterson Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust (Lantern Books, 2002). The idea of intersectionality derives from Patricia Hill Collins’ classic Black Feminist Thought (Routledge, 2000, Rev. Ed.).
3. Moral theories: as I’ve written before, I am not especially convinced by the extent animal ethics literature: the utilitarian literature leads to absurd consequences and the deontological literature rests upon dubious theoretical foundations. Having said that, the main texts in animal ethics should none the less be read: Peter Singer Animal Liberation, Tom Regan The Case for Animal Rights, and Gary Francione’s Introduction to Animal Rights. While a rather marginal literature at this point, I think more satisfactory answers to ethical questions will ultimately emerge out of the papers collected in Philosophy & Animal Life (Columbia, 2008) and the replies to Paola Cavalieri’s The Death of the Animal (Columbia, 2009)–although Cavalieri’s own contribution is rather unhelpful.
4. Non-academic writing: because CAS has a close relationship with activism, we should not discount the important of non-academic writing, including literature, even if it itself is not CAS: Eric Schlosser Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), Jonathan Safran Foer Eating Animals (Little, Brown, & Co., 2009), J.M. Coetzee The Lives of Animals (Princeton, 1999) and Elizabeth Costello (Secker & Warburg, 2003), and Upton Sinclaire The Jungle (Penguin, 2006).
A fairly good introduction to CAS can be found in Erica Fudge’s Animal (Reaktion Books, 2002) and Pets (Acumen, 2008).