CFP: Radicalizing the politics of ‘living with’: enacting race, ethnicity, and difference in animal geography scholarship

Annual Meeting of Association of American Geographers, Boston MA, April 5-9, 2017

Sponsored by the Cultural Geography Specialty Group, Animal Geography Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group

The 2016 shooting of the gorilla Harambe by Cincinnati zoo officials inspired racially-inflected outrage among many who claimed to speak for the silverback, from “Gorilla Lives Matter” memes to assertions that Harambe, in his final moments, gave better care to the child of color who had fallen into his enclosure than the child’s mother, also a person of color. This incident is but one of the more recent in which popular “animal rights” discourses seemed to value animal lives above those of human groups already marginalized in society in general as well as in environmental politics. Indeed, racism and white supremacy influenced the very origins of the humane movement and wildlife preservation in American society and other cultures. For example, early-twentieth-century zoologist William Hornaday vilified immigrant and African-American hunters for decimating endangered game (Dehler, 2013).

Animal geographers and other scholars of human-animal relationships seem well-positioned to intervene in the disconnection between animal rights discourse and racial justice, yet these scholars have tended to adopt either an animal rights frame that elides human politics and difference, or a political ecology frame that is more attuned to human inequalities and less so to justice for animals. Furthermore, there has been a lack of diversity in the kinds of animals that receive the most attention from animal geographers, with much scholarship focusing on livestock, pets, and charismatic species on urban fringes, and few works on animals whom we might deem harder to love, and who often endanger humans. This session seeks to explore possibilities for scholarship that deeply values the lives and differences among humans and non-humans in all of our points of contact. Furthermore, we seek to highlight the ways in which race and animality are not separate, static categories but are in fact (re)produced through, among other things, the politics of animal rights, wildlife conservation, and daily interactions among humans and non-humans (Chen, 2012, Neo, 2012).

We seek papers that call into question how normative approaches to rights, justice, and ethics of care extended beyond the human tend to value certain forms of life over others at the expense of more marginalized and minority human communities, especially the urban and rural poor and people of color. Our aim here is not to suggest that animal lives do not matter, but that there is a danger in advancing animal geography scholarship that at times seems to suggest that ‘all lives matter’ without considering how this framing ignores the empirical realities that many lives enmeshed in the world of global capitalism and structural racism are fundamentally made to matter less than others. We invite contributions to this session that grapple with and shed light on the ways in which life, a relational quality shared by humans and animals alike, comes to be valued and politicized differently within multispecies geographies–both within diverse empirical contexts as well as within our own scholarship.

Please submit paper title, abstract (no more than 250 words) and PIN (personal identification number) to session organizers: Dawn Biehler (, Jared Margulies ( and John-Henry Pitas ( by October 20, 2016. Authors must first submit the paper abstract first through the AAG website to obtain their PIN. Guidelines for preparing abstracts are available at:


Chen, M. Y. (2012). Animacies: Biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect. Duke University Press.

Dehler, G. J. (2013). The most defiant devil: William Temple Hornaday and his controversial crusade to save American wildlife. University of Virginia Press.

Neo, H. (2012). “They hate pigs, Chinese farmers… everything!” Beastly Racialization in Multiethnic Malaysia. Antipode, 44(3), 950-970.