MLA 2024: Rethinking Animal Comparison
January 4-7, 2024
What does it mean to be treated “like an animal”?
Scholars have long understood the comparison between race and species difference as destructive: a dehumanizing trope that excludes the oppressed from the privileged category of the human. In critical race and animal studies alike, theorists have denounced the claim to humanity as a prerequisite for political recognition, subjectivity, and ethical consideration. While recent work by scholars like Joshua Bennett, Anne Anlin Cheng, and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson has deepened critiques of racialized dehumanization, this scholarship proceeds not by rejecting animal comparison, but rather by cultivating traditions of Black and Asian American feminist art and thought that draw on animals, animality, and objecthood as resources for creation, resistance, and personhood beyond the human—alongside care for nonhuman life. Meanwhile, in scholarship and public discourse on queer and trans lives, some activists have turned from critiquing the scientism underlying naturalizations of binary gender and heterosexuality, toward correcting the scientific record on biodiversity and the abundance of genders and sexual behaviors across species — revitalizing, in other words, animal comparison.
This collaborative working group aims to synthesize, extend, and delimit new theories of human-animal comparison, with the ultimate goal of publishing our findings as a special issue in a leading journal. We welcome new insights on the relationship between human inequality and speciesism, as well as theories and case studies that approach animal comparison by bridging literary studies, folkloristics, gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, comparative race and ethnic studies, and/or media history and theory. If approved by the MLA Program Committee, this working group will convene in two or three sessions at MLA to discuss short, precirculated papers. Sessions will involve very brief presentations and focus on discussion.
Papers might address questions including, but not limited to:
Can and should we reconcile animal studies and animality studies? How might we understand the feedback loop between discourses of the animal and ethical-material practices?
Can the history of animality be recuperated in our study of orientalism?
How do historical comparisons between non-normative sex and bestiality reframe queer theory?
How might anthropomorphism help us denature racial stereotyping?
How can a framework for multispecies justice be accountable to racial entanglements?
We seek new methods, theories, metaphors, and frameworks for reconceiving animal comparison. Please send a short abstract (~250 words) and bio (up to 100 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by March 15, 2023. Please also feel free to reach out if you have any questions.