Behaving Like Animals: Human Cruelty, Animal Suffering, and American Culture, 1900-present
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CitationMcGrath, Timothy Stephen. 2013. Behaving Like Animals: Human Cruelty, Animal Suffering, and American Culture, 1900-present. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
AbstractWhat does it mean to be cruel to an animal? What does it mean for an animal to suffer? These are the questions embedded in the term "cruelty to animals," which has seemed, at first glance, a well defined term in modern America, in so far as it has been codified in anti-cruelty statutes. Cruelty to animals has been a disputed notion, though. What some groups call cruel, others call business, science, culture, worship, and art. Contests over the humane treatment of animals have therefore been contests over history, ideology, culture, and knowledge in which a variety of social actors-- animal scientists, cockfighters, filmmakers, FBI agents, members of Congress, members of PETA, and many, many others--try to decide which harms against animals and which forms of animal suffering are justifiable. Behaving Like Animals examines these contests in the United States from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present, focusing on four practices that modern American animal advocates have labeled cruel: malicious animal abuse, cockfighting, intensive animal agriculture, and the harming of animals on film. These case studies broadly trace the contours of American attitudes toward human cruelty and animal suffering over the last century. They also trace the historical
evolution of the ideas embedded in the term “cruelty to animals.” Cruelty to animals has been the structuring logic of animal advocacy for two centuries, and historians have followed its development through the nineteenth century as a constellation of ideas about human and animal natures, about cruelty and kindness, and about suffering and sentience—very old ideas rooted in western intellectual thought and given shape by nineteenth-century sentimental culture. Behaving Like Animals follows this historical and intellectual thread into the twenty-first century, and reveals how these old ideas adapted to modern and evolving regimes of knowledge, science, and law, as they became
thickly knotted in America’s varied and transforming social, cultural, intellectual, political, and legal contexts. That process has had varied and far-reaching implications in modern American culture, structuring social relations among Americans while shaping understandings of the place of animals in American society. Behaving Like Animals tells this history.
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