When Species Meet — Chapters 3 and 4

I don’t really have much commentary on Chapter 4. I saw it as a case study in science studies and caring for animals situated within breeding pedigree dogs. Maybe I’m missing something. As for Chapter 3, I struggled with this chapter more than with other chapters. So first I’m gonna spin out what I got from the chapter (without the nuances, which would add years to this process).

Chapter 3

The chapter is about how we deal ethically with other non-human species, specifically lab animals. “Instrumental action with animals is not the enemy” – sometimes we have to have lab animals. This puts her on very dangerous territory with PETA and animal rights activists, as she says. The crux of this chapter IMO is how to construct a rationale for her position that fits within what is ethical or conscionable to her. Given what she has written thus far about encounter-value, we have to have some sort of response, a “shared suffering,” in order to be ethically in relation to other critters. She turns to the category labor instead of rights to get at this ethical relationship of shared suffering. We could have a discussion about the rights vs. labor framework, but I suspect we’d be preaching to the choir. But the most important thing I get out of the labor approach is not just that these animals are laboring, but that everything is relational, which is the Marxist/Haraway perspective on things.

Key concepts from this chapter that help her set up her framework:

Nonmimetic sharing – This is sharing based on difference and not similarity or analogy. It doesn’t hinge on sacrifice (which is too Christian/humanist for her). This gets into the question of lab animals as in/appropriate models (mimesis) substituting for humans. Difference, asymmetry, and inequality for her are historically contingent and not natural. I’m not explaining this clearly enough, because some differences _are_ natural (dogs and animals are genetically different species), it’s just that those differences aren’t innocent, nor are they mandated by any Great Chain of Being ideologies.

In concrete terms: Nonmimetic suffering is “not to mimic what canines go through in a kind of heroic masochistic fantasy but to do the _work_ of paying attention and making sure that the suffering is minimal, necessary, and consequential (82).”

She also says we do not have a general principle for what “shared suffering” means; it has to be material, practical, and consequential (77).

Copresence – animals have “face” (subjecthood? Subjectivities?); we have to have affective as well as cognitive reasons for what we do to animals. “Felt reason is not sufficient reason, but it is what we mortals have. The grace of felt reason is that it is always open to reconsideration with care.” Another way of saying shared suffering?

Reaction vs. response – to be in response is to recognize copresence in relations of use and therefore to remember that no balance sheet of benefit and cost will suffice. Reaction is for and toward the unfree; response is for and toward the open.

Thou shalt not make killable – it is not killing that gets us into exterminism, but making beings killable; we have to learn to kill responsibly. The mistake is separating the world into those who can be killed and those who can’t and then to pretend to live outside killing. No one lives outside killing (killing is part of the ecology of all mortal beings who live in and through the use of one another’s bodies p.79).

Respect/respecere – looking back, holding in regard, understanding that meeting the look of the other is a condition of having face oneself, shared suffering.

I have two main points in response to this chapter:

First off

I remember Haraway complaining elsewhere that the sort of technical ethics taught in contemporary undergraduate biology classes were highly problematic (and not only because they were sponsored by corporate textbooks). She doesn’t like technical ethics. Because this is a situated ethic, the answer has to be drawn from her examples. The snail example is a good one, but the others were dissatisfying. So, what I really wanted in this chapter was a list of bullet point do’s and don’ts. She gives some, but I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more. What I got from here were the following (from p. 88):

1. I act
2. I do not hide my calculations that motivate the action
3. I own my debts
4. I have response-ability
5. It is calculations (reasons) plus; not just simple calculations/reasons. Sufficient reasons is dangerous. The plus is vague, though.


On p. 89 she goes on to address response-ability and her thoughts gave me great pause. She discusses behavioral trainers for dogs in labs, for instance, to make their lives more comfortable. Now, at one level, this is a great idea. We can do things in labs to make lab animals’ lives more comfortable, richer, more fulfilling. But, it reminded me too much of Foucault’s _Discipline and Punish_, wherein we create docile bodies by articulating them with institutions through objects such as guns (the military), desks (for students), lipstick (for femininity). It reminded me of the “behavioral enhancements” that zoos use to keep the animals happy. For instance, zookeepers will pile up logs for rhinos to knock down. This is something that mimics their behavior “in the wild” (whatever that means), it keeps them entertained, and it gives zoo-goers something to watch. Everybody’s happy with the rhino in the zoo now. The rhino has been articulated as a docile body with the institution of the zoo. Adding “environmental enrichment practitioners,” which is what she calls them, seems to me to be another way of producing docile bodies and creating animals as subjects, yes, but subjects of the state (or the zoo or lab or whatever). I think having these layers of response-ability is great in the context of both the lab and the zoo, but I don’t think it’s as magical and otherworlding as perhaps she does. She ends the chapter by talking about how none of this is ever innocent, and I suppose I’m just substantiating that point with my example.

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  1 comment for “When Species Meet — Chapters 3 and 4

  1. Anonymous
    July 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for blogging about your reading, and David Harvey has been good stuff!

    Happy Birthday, Cyborg 😉


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