Why Does Human-Animal Studies Matter for Animals?
Human-Animal Studies (also known as anthrozoology or animal studies) is the scholarly study of human/non-human animal relationships, in all of their varieties, from living with companion animals to watching Animal Planet to eating animal products for dinner. It also encompasses how people think about and represent animals -- the ways in which we use animals in religion, art, and literature, how popular animals are on the Internet, and how we form our complicated and often contradictory attitudes about other animals.
Human-Animal Studies (HAS) is a growing academic field, taught in courses in hundreds of colleges and universities, and it forms the basis of a dozen majors, minors and other degree programs around the world. It's the subject of thousands of books and almost two dozen academic journals.
But for most animal lovers, who are neither college students nor scholars, why should this matter? Does HAS actually help animals at all?
I think it does.
When we teach a sociology course on animals and society, an anthropology course on cross-cultural views and uses of animals, a psychology course on the human-animal bond, or an English course on dogs in Victorian literature, we expose students to new ways of seeing other animals. Often, a college course like this is the first time that many students have thought critically, for the first time, about animals at all. For many people, after all, their only interaction with animals is in two venues--through the pets that they live with and the animals that they eat -- and they never really think about these vastly opposing issues.
Students who take HAS courses are exposed to not just the importance of and pervasiveness of other animals in our lives, but the incredible amounts of exploitation to which non-human animals are subject. Because much of that exploitation is invisible, HAS courses have the potential to uncover and make visible that which is hidden, and encourage students to discuss, and understand, why it is so easy for so many of us to overlook, ignore, or even deny so much suffering.
The growth of HAS, and its sister field, the liberationist Critical Animal Studies, has allowed for students to really see animals, and our relationships with them, and while this may not necessarily change their attitudes about them or make them into animal advocates, it is certainly a start. For many, reading about and learning about animals really does make people care about animals.
I know for many students who I've taught, it has done just that.