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The Contested Space of Animals in Education: A Response to the “Animal Turn” in Education for Sustainable Development



The so-called “animal turn”, having been on the agenda for around 15 years in the humanities and social sciences, is gaining force also in the educational sciences, typically with an orientation toward posthumanist ontologies. One particular space where educational “more-than-human” relations are debated is the field of education for sustainable development (ESD). This paper responds to two recent contributions to this debate, both positioned within ESD frameworks. The purpose of this response is two-fold: First, to give a critical account of the knowledge claims of the two articles, their overlaps and divergences, as well as their implications for pedagogical practice and their potential consequences for the position of animals in education and in society at large. The meaning and usefulness of analytic tools such as “critical pluralism” and “immanent critique” in relation to animals in education is discussed, as well as whose realities are represented in ESD, revealing contested spaces of teaching and learning manifested through an “enlightened distance” to anthropocentrism in-between compliance and change. The second purpose is to sketch a foundation of reflective practice for critical animal pedagogies, offering a critical theory-based form of resistance against recent posthumanist configurations of the “animal question” in education and beyond.
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211; doi:10.3390/educsci9030211
The Contested Space of Animals in Education: A
Response to the “Animal Turn” in Education for
Sustainable Development
Helena Pedersen
Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg,
405 30 Göteborg, Sweden;
Received: 31 May 2019; Accepted: 31 July 2019; Published: 8 August 2019
Abstract: The so-called “animal turn”, having been on the agenda for around 15 years in the
humanities and social sciences, is gaining force also in the educational sciences, typically with an
orientation toward posthumanist ontologies. One particular space where educational “more-than-
human” relations are debated is the field of education for sustainable development (ESD). This
paper responds to two recent contributions to this debate, both positioned within ESD frameworks.
The purpose of this response is two-fold: First, to give a critical account of the knowledge claims of
the two articles, their overlaps and divergences, as well as their implications for pedagogical practice
and their potential consequences for the position of animals in education and in society at large. The
meaning and usefulness of analytic tools such as “critical pluralism” and “immanent critique” in
relation to animals in education is discussed, as well as whose realities are represented in ESD,
revealing contested spaces of teaching and learning manifested through an “enlightened distance”
to anthropocentrism in-between compliance and change. The second purpose is to sketch a
foundation of reflective practice for critical animal pedagogies, offering a critical theory-based form
of resistance against recent posthumanist configurations of the “animal question” in education and
Keywords: education for sustainable development; animals; posthumanism; anthropocentrism;
more-than-human; critical animal pedagogies
1. Introduction
Since its relatively recent inception, the notion of the “animal turn” [1,2] has arguably opened
up new horizons in the humanities, social, and educational sciences, accompanied by a wave of
scholarly attention to what has been termed “more-than-human” [3] worlds, spaces, encounters, and
relations (see, for instance, [4–6]). The “more-than-human” in education research usually refers rather
sweepingly to nonhuman organisms, ecological entities, and natural phenomena. This paper
analyzes implications of addressing human-animal relations as a topic of inquiry in the educational
sciences; specifically in the field of education for sustainable development (ESD).
The use of animals in education is deeply embedded in—and has significant implications for—
society’s relationships with animals more generally [7]. Animals are displayed, classified, studied,
and represented, as well as confined, manipulated, consumed, and killed, in a multitude of forms in
education [8]. They are incorporated in the science curriculum as carriers of scientific knowledge
about laws, conditions, and functions of “nature.” For instance, students are implicitly or explicitly
taught to utilize, dominate, or control other species as dissection specimens for hands-on training of
certain skills in science classrooms, or as other forms of scientific objects in biology and ecology
curricula [9]. In non-invasive human-animal pedagogical situations, such as animal-assisted
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 2 of 11
interventions, animals may be used in the classroom for purposes of enhancing children’s social,
cognitive, or emotional development (for instance, improving their reading skills) [8]. Animals are
furthermore used in some outdoor education practices, and in study visits to zoos (where their
captivity is often normalized and rarely rendered problematic; see [10].) The animal industries also
heavily target schools through materials such as films, books, farm visits with free food samples,
products in the school cafeteria, advertising, vending machines, sponsorships, and even through
offering complete pedagogical plans tailored to fit with the school curriculum and fulfil learning
objectives [11–13]. Although educational institutions are not the only societal actors contributing to
organizing and forming human-animal relationships, the education system occupies a particular
space as norm-(re)producer and legitimizer of certain knowledge forms, social orders, and practices,
where animals figure in asymmetrical power arrangements [10]. The way education theory and
practice explicitly or implicitly acknowledge the problem of animals in education, thus, has
consequences for the life conditions of both animals and humans in and beyond institutionalized
settings of teaching and learning, as well as for fraught society/nature demarcations at large. As we
shall see, this problem complex is made visible in particular ways in contested spaces of ESD.
Recognizing the wide range of scholarly and scholar-activist work on animals in education (e.g.,
[11,13–27]), the present paper provides a critical response to two particular co-authored contributions
to the nascent area of animals in ESD research: Bruckner and Kowasch’s article “Moralizing meat
consumption: Bringing food and feeling into education for sustainable development” [28], and
Lindgren and Öhman’s article “A posthuman approach to human-animal relationships: advocating
critical pluralism” [29]. I consider these two articles as particularly interesting contributions to the
debate of animals in education for several reasons. Although published in two different journals and
with different methodological orientations (one empirically-based and focusing on ESD in geography
and economy-related subject areas; the other concept-driven and addressing cross-curricular
educational contexts), they both seek to combine ethics, politics, and posthumanist ontology in their
argumentation for the development of a “more-than-human” ESD practice, thereby ontologizing
animals in specific ways (I will get back to this toward the end of this article). Furthermore, both
articles point to how human-animal relations is never an innocent topic of educational inquiry, but
constitutes a profoundly contested terrain (cf. [30]). Without claiming that they are somehow
“representative” of scholarship on animals in ESD research, I argue that the articles appear to capture
some recent tendencies of the “animal turn” in ESD (as indicated above). My purpose here is first to
pursue a critical analysis of the knowledge claims of the two articles, their overlaps and divergences,
as well as their implications for pedagogical practice and their potential consequences for the position
of animals in and beyond educational settings. My methodological approach is a critical theory-
driven comparative analysis of the two articles. While my analysis is not a proper critical discourse
analysis in, for instance, a Foucauldian sense, it does accommodate elements of, and asks questions
inspired by, critical discourse analysis. Drawing on Patricia MacCormacks [19] work on animal
ethics and education, I will then suggest ideas for critical animal pedagogies as an educational
counter-movement against certain ways that posthumanist configurations of the “animal question”
[31] have been picked up and applied in education research. The arguments pursued in this paper
are anchored in a critical animal studies and critical education theory position; both which are in
tension with posthumanist ontologies (see, for instance, [32]). This tension will come to the fore in
my analysis and be approached as a productive site of reflective practice.
2. Animals in ESD Research: “Moralizing Meat Consumption” and “A Posthuman Approach to
Human-Animal Relationships”
The notion of education for sustainable development (ESD) is undergoing a conceptual shift to
environmental and sustainability education (ESE). I have chosen to use ESD consistently throughout
this paper, meaning to include also ESE. ESD as a field of education practice and research is
sometimes viewed as a policy-driven successor to environmental education (EE). Although its origins
can be traced back to traditions in nature studies and nature conservation education since the late
1800s [33], ESD has a relatively brief history largely paralleling the implementation of international
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 3 of 11
policy documents and programs on sustainable development (the Brundtland Report in 1987 by the
World Commission on Environment and Development; The United Nations Decade for Education
for Sustainable Development 2005–2014; followed by the Global Action Programme on ESD and the
Sustainable Development Goals). There are divergent voices within the field, but a core tenet of ESD
has unfolded around a critique of its perceived normativity stipulating what sustainable
development “is” and how education addressing problems of unsustainability “should” be carried
out (see, for instance, [34]). Bruckner and Kowasch [28] (p. 5) even raise a concern that ESD will be
“mis-educative” because “pre-determined actions for a specific future reduce possibilities for
students to act on their own initiative and develop their own ideas and projects.” In a similar vein,
Lindgren and Öhman draw on a tradition of a “pluralistic” approach to ESD, driven by a skepticism
of an education “that serves a specified end” [29] (p. 1), and that rather promotes an “education of
participation” open to conflicting views. From a conventional anthropocentric perspective on
education as a democratic and humanistic project, attentive to the multiple voices of students,
children, parents, educators, and other (human) actors in society at large, this position appears to
make a lot of sense.
With the “animal turn”, however, ESD has taken on board yet another stakeholder: The animal
subject. While (wild) animals have always been relevant to EE/ESD in their capacity of species
representatives and their roles for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, Spannring [26] has
provided a helpful overview on various trajectories through which animals as subjects, rather than
as species representatives, have made their way into the ESD field. One of these trajectories is the
posthumanist approach, which has proliferated across the humanities and social sciences. With
posthumanism, anthropocentrism in education has shifted from being a taken-for-granted normality
to, if not an outright bad word, at least a contested position demanding argumentation, reflection,
and debate. As a shorthand for manifesting an enlightened distance to anthropocentrism, analytic
focus on more-than-human relationships is advocated by an increasing body of scholarship in
education and elsewhere, including the two articles addressed here [28,29].
It is in the above roughly outlined conceptual terrain that we find the two articles “Moralizing
meat consumption: Bringing food and feeling into education for sustainable development” [28] and
“A posthuman approach to human-animal relationships: advocating critical pluralism” [29]. I
anticipate that forcing these two different texts together in a critical review may be perceived as
enacting a form of discursive violence on both. As indicated above, however, I argue that there are
reasons for doing so; reasons that I hope will become clear as my analysis unfolds. I will now take a
closer look at the respective knowledge claims of the articles, their lines of argumentation, and their
Bruckner and Kowasch’s article [28], bringing together food geographies, affect studies, and
ESD, is an empirical investigation of how the topic of meat and meat consumption is addressed in
geography education in Germany and Austria involving students aged 10–18. Data were produced
through geography/economics curricula analyses (comprising eight curricula), a large-scale
quantitative survey (comprising 481 student respondents), and qualitative interviews (individual
and group interviews) with students, teachers, and also with seven meat-producing farmers from
“educational farms”; i.e., farms hosting study visits by school classes. Students participating in group
interviews were also asked to draw their perception of “sustainability” (39 drawings were produced).
An organizing concept and target of critique throughout the study is “moralizing,” approached by
the researchers as a “trap” teachers risk falling into [28] (p. 13); that is, an intrinsically problematic
aspect of ESD in general (for reasons briefly referred to above), and of meat consumption in education
in particular:
Moralizing intensive animal production as ’bad’ is a common societal practice yet, for
many, addressing intensive farming and animal suffering is far from ticking off a simple
sustainability checklist. Furthermore, eating is not a ’rational’ process, but an emotional,
cultural and metabolic act. Thus, ’critical thinking’ alone does not cause students to
consider how food from various production systems ’tastes’, ’feels’ or becomes
’sustainable’. [28] (pp. 5–6)
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 4 of 11
Findings of this study indicate that although meat production and consumption is not explicitly
mentioned in the geography curricula analyzed, survey data suggest that meat appears as a
discussion topic in classrooms. Survey and interview data show, according to the authors, how
“moralizing” occurs in relation to meat production and consumption within an ESD context. One
geography/economics teacher remarked in an interview that “students already come to school with
a ’right-wrong schema’,” prompting the teacher to “show students that there is something in
between.” Moralizing, the researchers argue, promises easy solutions in a reality that is more
complex. This sentiment seems to be backed up by the analyses of student drawings, showing a
“simplified ’good’ versus ’bad’ understanding of animal agriculture” with factory farming and
organic farming in opposition: “Whereas the farmer from the organic farm appears [in one student’s
drawing] smiling in overalls, the other carries bags filled with money.” [28] (p. 11) On the positive
side of this mora lizing on the pa rt of studen ts, the authors remark that the drawings “prove that some
students do connect meat with animals’ lives and consider animal welfare as a key to more
sustainable meat.” [28] (pp. 11–13).
These results resonate, to some extent, with my own upper secondary classroom ethnographies
[10], indicating that some teachers of animal welfare-related topics make great efforts to avoid
communicating in the classroom what they perceive as biased, black-and-white representations of
reality, and also avoid promoting their own views on human-animal relations (at least when these
views are anchored in an animal rights commitment). In Bruckner and Kowasch, the interviews with
local meat producers at “educational farms” centered, according to the researchers, “on
disconnections between /…/ the meat-consuming public and farm realities.” [28] (p. 8) Also this
aspect resonates with my empirical studies of veterinary education practice [7; cf. 35], where the
notion of “disconnections” becomes a way of neutralizing critique toward the animal production
system and downplaying possible antagonistic positions between “the public” and meat producers,
indicating that such conflicts can be overcome through public education. We may, for instance,
ponder this statement made by a cattle farmer interviewed: “If a consumer is motivated to think about
animal welfare, then it’s usually negative … but to consider a better life for the animal, like we aim
for on our farm, few consumers understand that.” [28] (p. 11) This remark on consumers’ perceived
lack of understanding of farming reality is, however, not framed in the analysis in terms of
“moralizing,” which otherwise seems to have guided the interviews and surveys with students and
teachers in Bruckner and Kowasch’s study [28]. This discrepancy raises a number of methodological
questions related to how certain key concepts are used and for what purposes, but perhaps a more
significant issue evoked by these examples is whose “reality” is represented in (ESD) education,
especially in the case of ESD research advocating “more-than-human” approaches.
At this point, let me shift attention toward the other ESD article of concern here: “A posthuman
approach to human-animal relationships: advocating critical pluralism” [29]. This article, in itself a
response to another article analyzing the blatant anthropocentrism in pluralistic ESD research
traditions [17], resembles Bruckner and Kowasch’s [28] contribution above by speaking positively
about more-than-human relationalities in education, while at the same time eschewing the idea of
moralizing about human-animal relations. This position is made clear already in the introduction of
the article: “Our critical pluralist approach does not start in moral or animal rights arguments, but
focuses on how the bodies and agency of nonhuman animals can enable humans to act in political
and ethical life.” [29] (p. 2) Throughout the article, the authors keep reasserting their distance from
“idealizing”, and thus moralizing, human-animal relationships [29] (pp. 3–4, 9–10), and the problem
of animal rights, here flattened out as a (flawed) instantiation of moralization, is re-emphasized
further on in the text:
To conclude, what is suggested is a more critical pluralist perspective, where educational
practice pays attention to our already existing (and often abusive) entanglement with the
more than human world. But when we approach these ’more than human’ relationships in
education, it does not have to be seen as a linear process that aims to fulfil the ethical
demands of all nonhuman beings. Instead, these relationships can be approached as
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 5 of 11
contingent and ’characterized by difficulties, contradictions and detours’ (Spannring 2017,
8). [29] (p. 11)
The purpose of the article is, thus, to advocate a “critical pluralist approach” that recognizes
animal difference (rather than their presumed sameness with humans, here viewed as a problematic
“moral-extensionist” vantage point) through an emphasis on animal agency. This line of
argumentation is pursued through a theoretically driven discussion, engaging works of ecofeminist
(Val Plumwood) and posthumanist feminist (Rosi Braidotti) scholars, as well as empirical examples
from other research (including my own). This “critical pluralist approach” seeks to address human-
animal power relations and develop an “immanent critique” useful for this purpose. Immanent
critique is here put to work not fully adhering to its Hegelian-Marxist origins (to confront existing
societal orders with the claims of their own conceptual principles and thus reveal their inherent
contradictions), but rather as a didactic practice, to encourage students ”to ask who they will become
in relation to ’the animal’” [29] (p. 7) and to “’unmask’ the underlying ethical, political and ecological
dimensions in education.” [29] (p. 12) The authors furthermore propose a “stay in conflict” in
controversial educational situations addressing the situation of animals in human society on the
grounds that “the idea of a predetermined change that automatically would transform
conflictual/confrontational views and opinions into consensual agreements is problematic” [29] (p.
10, emphasis in original). Perhaps more remarkably, considering the “more-than-human” claims of
this article, “stay in conflict” as an educational approach is motivated by “the impossibility of a
consensual agreement over what an abusive treatment of animals really is (Eating meat or drinking
milk? Having animals at zoos or use in sports? Animal experimentation? etc.) and how/if education
has a responsibility to change this.” [29] (p. 10). Although this “stay in conflict” approach seems to
differ from Bruckner and Kowasch’s [28] emphasis on reconciliation between presumably conflictual
positions, the question emerges here as well whose reality is actually taken into consideration, and
how the subjects in focus in Lindgren and Öhman’s article—presumably the animals—are, at the
same time, rendered curiously marginalized (cf. [36]).
Before discussing other key convergences between the two articles, I want to take a brief look at
their respective conclusions and recommendations for ESD practice. Bruckner and Kowasch find that
although ESD in practice often leads to simplified (moralizing) conceptions of “right” versus
“wrong,” and that ESD “ignores the interpersonal, relational and more-than-human elements of food
systems” [28] (p. 1), students view animal welfare as an important aspect of sustainability. This,
according to the researchers, opens opportunities for “making students aware of the visceral
(dis)connections they make between taste and political economy” [28] (p. 1). How, then, should this
awareness be promoted through education? Bruckner and Kowasch here turn to the literature on
emancipatory approaches to ESD, with the aim of assisting students to develop “their own ethics of
the gut” [28] (p. 1): a reflective, “nonmoralizing” food practice [28] (p. 14). As inspiration for concrete
educational activities (“more-than-human interventions”), they turn to, among others, my work [37].
Considering the context unfolding throughout their article, most of the suggested activities are,
however, quite far from anything I would propose: Supermarket visits where students are asked to
analyze marketing strategies and plan their own “perfect supermarket” according to their own
preferences; blind tasting of food (including “animal welfare”-certified products); study visits to
farms, slaughterhouses, butchers, and retailers (representing different stages within the meat-
producing system; see [7,38,39] for critical accounts of similar field trips within the veterinary
education program); and working in school gardens that keep animals on their premises. The
overarching pedagogical idea, as articulated by the authors, is to put “critical thinking, feeling and
doing into practice” [28] (p. 14) and move students to “consider animals’ lives in noninstrumental
ways” [28] (p. 15). The presumed connection(s) between educators’ teaching and students’ learning
(if such a connection exists) is not elaborated on in the article; nor is there any discussion on the
implications of these “meat pedagogies” [28] (p. 16) for the actual situation of the animals involved:
In this more-than-human approach to ESD, the animals themselves are, again, rendered curiously
marginalized [36].
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 6 of 11
In Lindgren and Öhman [29], conclusions are more theoretically-driven than in Bruckner and
Kowasch [28], proposing a theoretical framework (critical pluralism) for approaching the “question
of the animal” in education. The posthumanist-oriented recommendations for educational practice
are based on a recognition of nonhuman (animal) agency (here, the authors refer to the agency of
both living and killed animals); i.e., what animals can “do” in educational settings and how they
affect teachers and students. In addition, the authors propose developing an “immanent critique”
through engaging students in discussions on, for instance, why we treat some animals as worth
saving and protecting; others as exploitable in food production systems; the ethical, political, and
ecological consequences of the billion dollar pet business; and animals used in zoos and circuses,
poaching and hunting, and animal experimentation. Examining “the link between meat consumption
and economic growth by asking how different organisations using animals as a commodity consider
ethical quandaries or the ecological impact connected with their ’products’” is another suggested
example of a classroom activity [29] (p. 11). Such attempts of scrutinizing the animal-industrial
complex [40,41] are all necessary components of a critical analysis of human-animal relations in
education [8]. In this context, the authors also make an important point, arguing that “environmental
educators might ask why some of the most important agents of climate change are overlooked, i.e.,
cows, chickens and pigs” [29] (p. 12).
However, Lindgren and Öhman conclude with a reservation: “[W]e do not claim that educators
can undo all power relations or create educational settings in which we can morally include or speak
for all nonhuman species” [29] (p. 12, emphasis in original). Such an ambition is considered altruistic
by the authors, and also a way of disregarding “the political and juridical limitations that restrict a
majority of educational institutions” [29] (p. 12). While this reservation may appear reasonable, it also
“rescues” the position of the human in education on the grounds that it is inescapable and a necessary
condition for political and environmental engagement. As a result, the authors propose Braidotti’s
notion of a “nomadic subject”: “[A]n idea of subjectivity that attempts to transcend an essentialist
separation between humans and nature and extends the traditional subject-object position” [29] (p.
5, emphasis in original). A nomadic subjectivity is, furthermore, “sensitive to the interplay of
ecological destruction and the commodification and capitalisation of animal bodies” [29] (p. 12). Who
is supposed to take on board this alternative subjectivity remains, however, somewhat unclear. It is
suggested that educators consider it, but if also students and ESD researchers, and possibly other
stakeholders in the ESD field are included here is an open question. Nevertheless, proposing a new
subjectivity in education seems to be beyond the realms of “moralizing”.
3. Sustaining the Ontologization of Animals-For-Us
The two ESD articles addressed above, despite their divergent methodological approaches to the
“animal question” in education and their different theoretical ambitions, do seem to converge on a
number of points. Both claim a space for human-animal relations in ESD and recognize the ethical
and political nature of this space; however, both also argue for the importance of this space to be free
from any kind of “moralizing” of human-animal relations by educators. Moralizing appears, in both
articles, as a discursive tool through which moves toward radical changes in human-animal
relationships are blocked. Both rely to some extent on posthumanist scholarship (more in the case of
Lindgren and Öhman [29], less in Bruckner and Kowasch [28]). Both also ontologize animals as
accessible for human use, particularly as food products:
Perhaps students lack a more nuanced understanding of the links between care, economy,
the environment and animal welfare but, nonetheless, they do communicate an
interrelation between animal life, meat and sustainability. [28] (p. 13)
Bruckner and Kowasch furthermore propose “bringing students’ attention to the visceral,
relational ethics of a food system that makes animals into meat” [28] (p. 14), disregarding the fact that
the animals are always already ontologized as meat (cf. [42]), and that their own study contributes to
reinforcing this ontologization. Not entirely surprising, perhaps, considering that the research,
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 7 of 11
according to the authors’ own note, is partly supported by an Austrian regional government-funded
project entitled “(Un)Knowing Food” [28] (p. 16). On the website, the project is described as follows:
The Project “(Un)Knowing Food” examines the assemblage, circulation, and performance
of transparency within the pork and beef industry of Styria, Austria. /…/ The results of the
research project will form the basis for collaboration with regional meat producers in Styria, with the
aim of transgressing existing boundaries between spaces of consumption and production.
geography-ii/laufende-projekte/un-knowing-food/, emphasis added)
From the project description above, we can conclude that the “(Un)Knowing Food” project
equals food with meat (derived from pigs and cows), altogether excluding plant-based foods.
Consequently, the premises of the project, as formulated on the website, do not seem to problematize
human consumption of animal bodies, but rather take this normative order for granted. Moreover,
the aim of “collaboration with regional meat producers in Styria” expresses an identical rationale as
the interviews with meat producers at “educational farms” in the empirical data referred to above,
addressing “disconnections between /…/ the meat-consuming public and farm realities” [28] (p. 8).
Framed within an ESD context and more-than-human rhetoric of human-animal relationalities and
ethics, it is difficult to understand the rationale behind the article as anything else than promotion
and support of local meat-producing businesses. This brings an urgent edge to the question of what
is being sustained in education for sustainable development (e.g., [43]). It also raises questions about
the role of education in general, and ESD in particular, in the animal-industrial complex [7].
If the ontologization of animals as food comes across as quite conspicuous in Bruckner and
Kowasch [28], it is less obvious in Lindgren and Öhman [29], as their article does bring forth a critique
of animal commodification, instrumentalization, and abuse, as well as the consequences of our
contradictory relations with animals in society. However, one of their examples of suggested
questions that educators could use to encourage student discussions warrants concern:
Can the human use of animals as living/dead commodities be avoided, or does our ethical
considerations/obligations concerning animal subjects and/or bodies change in different
cases, such as medical research or cosmetics, industrialised meat, locally produced or non-
meat alternatives? [29] (p. 11)
By asking if animal use can be avoided, rather than asking how animal bodies become accessible
for our use in the first place, the ontological status of animals for us remains intact—which is exactly
what needs to be rendered problematic in an immanent critique of human-animal relations in society
and education. Thus, I argue that Lindgren and Öhman’s promotion of a critical pluralism with
regard to animals in ESD is not only wholly inadequate, but also evacuates the notion of “critical” of
its political force. To make my point clear, I cite my book chapter on critical animal studies, co-
authored with Vasile Stănescu [30, cf. 44]:
For us, critical refers not only to engagement with critical theory, but equally a commitment to be
critical of anything that purports to study animals and at the same time fails to engage, support,
protect and stand with the animal herself. [30] (p. 264, emphasis in original)
Critical pluralism fails to “stand with the animal herself,” as this is not its purpose (and I believe
the article authors would agree with me on this point). Even if steeped in posthumanist concepts and
an enlightened distance to anthropocentrism, critical pluralism, at least in this instantiation, is not a
gesture towards a sincere act of solidarity with animals; it is, rather, a commitment to, preoccupation
with, and celebration of human subjectivity. It is about staying in conflict, not standing with the
animal. It is, in other words, not more-than-human but rather more human; that is, more of what
education already is.
4. Standing With and Staying Away from the Animal in ESD
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The position of the animal in education may be the product of ages of socialization into a society
where animals seem to be forever subordinated and destined for involuntary exposure to human
intervention. Drawing on Cary Wolfe’s Derridean analysis of the question of the animal [31],
education is an institution of speciesism not only enabling, but requiring the sacrifice (or
subordination or killing) of the animal in order for the human to achieve his full potential. In a
different terminology, education is a set of machines producing profoundly unsafe realities for
animals through multiple connections with the animal-industrial complex [7]. Although this order of
things is extraordinarily resilient, it is not naturally given, nor is it predetermined. As educators,
students, and education researchers, we can withdraw. “Standing with the animal” would then
mean, literally and figuratively, “staying away from the animal”: A withdrawal from any claims
made on them; claims on their bodies, behaviors, lives, and emotions, as well as epistemic claims and
urges to extract knowledge from and about them [19,45]). On this point, MacCormack’s argument
(drawing on Michel Serres) aligns with Lindgren and Öhman’s [29] critique of the tendency to
valorize animals’ lives based on their similarity to humans—but the recognition of animal difference,
proposed by the same authors as an alternative ethical approach; indeed any kind of categorization
of animals—is equally problematic, as it always takes the human as reference point. MacCormack
Theorizing “the” animal through examples of species which will always be through human
paradigms, shows the degree of animal use that may seem less or more sinister depending
on the pedagogic goal, but that is underpinned with an inevitable system of signification
which asks the who, the what, the how, and the why. Information about nonhuman lives
leads to evaluation, issues of equivalence, and imposed anthropocentric narratives, not
liberty. [19] (p. 15)
If we take this argument seriously, replacing one form of human subjectivity (human
supremacy) with another (posthumanist, nomadic subjectivity) is not sufficient (if subjectivities can
at all be exchanged in this manner): Rather, we must cease thinking about, acting on, and relating to
animals as if their ontological status is for us (cf. [27]).
Celebrating posthumanist entanglement between humans and animals will, thus, not benefit
animals, as their “entanglement” with us usually means more dependence, more oppression, and
more exposure to human-induced violence. (For an elaborate critique of posthumanism in relation to
critical animal studies, see [32].) There are at least two simple ways that will, through reflective
practice, make it possible to refuse the social, ontological, and educational position of animal-for-us:
One way is, as MacCormack suggests, to refrain from exerting human privilege through the little
word NOT—“not enslaving, not cannibalizing, not torturing” [45]. This can further be transformed
to an exercise that can be easily practiced by most of us in daily life: Not buying them, not breeding
them, not consuming them, not wearing them. Not forcing them, not causing them suffering, not
imposing ourselves, and our humanity, upon them, but rather take a step aside to create a possibility
for them to prosper on their own conditions [19,45]. Another way is to shift pedagogical attention
away from the animals and toward human behavior, institutions, and thought regimes that have
made our appropriation of animals possible. This would mean retaining a position for the human in
education, while at the same time reverting this position. MacCormack frames this attention shift as
“the unmaking of man, subjectivity, humanism, anthropocentrism, and cogito” [19] (p. 15). Snaza
frames it as a critical analysis of texts that force us to grapple with “how the very idea of ’the human’
has led us to misrecognize ourselves and our relations to the world” [25] (p. 50). Sanbonmatsu [44]
frames it with the question, what kind of being are we who construct society in this way, on the basis of
total denigration and violence toward animal life? In such a pedagogical shift, from the animal
toward human behavior, there would be a space for many of Lindgren and Öhman’s [29] examples
of classroom activities referred to above. To these I would add a critical scrutiny of how education
itself, as a particular institution of speciesism [31], has a history of violence toward animals and an
embeddedness in the animal-industrial complex [7].
5. Conclusions
Educ. Sci. 2019, 9, 211 9 of 11
Through a critical comparative analysis of two different, but partly overlapping, positions
regarding animals in education, this article has shown how efforts to manifest an “enlightened
distance” to anthropocentrism in ESD may work in the opposite direction, establishing human
interests firmly at the center of education theory and practice, while rendering animal subjects
curiously marginalized. In both texts analyzed here, this happens primarily through taken-for-
granted negative connotations of the word “moralizing.” The present article may be understood as
making a case for restoring, or reclaiming, a “moralizing” in human-animal education that other
authors seek to distance themselves from. Although such a reclaiming seems both justified and
worthwhile, my main point here is rather to show how moralism is put to work as a discursive tool
that effectively blocks radical transformation of human-animal relations in education, ultimately
reproducing “animals-for-us” pedagogies.
In contrast to “animals-for-us” pedagogies, moves toward a reflective practice of critical animal
pedagogies have been introduced: A practice of learning how to stay away from the animal [19]. In a
reflective practice of animals in education, staying away from the animal is at the same time to stand
with the animal in ESD (and vice versa), and it is this oscillating between standing with, in solidarity,
and staying away from, in gracious withdrawal [19]—not “meat pedagogies” [28] or “critical
pluralism” [29]—that would form a conceptual and practical basis of critical animal pedagogies (see
[8,21]). The dynamic relation between “standing with—staying away from” enables paying attention
to, and acting on, both the oppressive structures and arrangements organizing collective animal lives
and deaths in human society, as well as the desires and needs of the individual animal under shifting
circumstances in any given moment (to the extent that her desires and needs can ever be imagined
by humans, which, according to MacCormack, they cannot). The aim of critical animal pedagogies is,
thus, not to encourage more interaction or connection with animals in education to find out how they
may affect us as teachers and learners; rather, the aim of critical animal pedagogies is to disentangle
animals from the demands we make on them, and thereby also to free ourselves from our harm-
inflicting behaviors.
This would suggest, through reflective practice, a cessation of relating to animals through our
narcissistic preoccupation with animals-for-us. Exploring such trajectories in ESD and beyond, across
subject-specific curricula and in age-appropriate manners, implies making immanent critique a
foundation and condition for political and environmental engagement in human-animal relations. It
could even imply the practice of a different kind of critical pluralism, in the sense of opening
education to multiple unthought possibilities of unlearning and re-learning our being in the world
as standing with, staying away, and stepping aside.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Acknowledgments: I thank my anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback. I am also grateful to my
colleagues in the ESD Research Group at the Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies,
University of Gothenburg, for their helpful comments offered on a draft of this article. Needless to say, any
remaining errors are my own.
Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.
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Our relations with animals permeate human social life, culture and education. These relations are asymmetrically imbued with power. Although not always explicitly acknowledged, animals are displayed, classified, studied and represented, as well as confined, manipulated, consumed and killed; in a multitude of forms in education, and in other sectors of society. Asymmetric power relations, through which students are implicitly or explicitly taught to utilise, dominate or control other species, permeate not only the use of animals as dissection “specimens” in school laboratories or as food served in the school canteen, but also non-invasive human–animal pedagogical situations such as animal-assisted interventions (AAI), some versions of outdoor education, study visits to zoos and farms, and so on. These situations communicate messages of animals’ instrumental position in human society and their endless accessibility for human purposes (Pedersen, 2010), often under the guise of harmonious interspecies coexistence. As will be made clear throughout our chapter, we view such messages as deeply problematic and counter-productive to any liberatory educational project. How, then, should we teach and learn about animals, and what is the appropriate place of animals in education? Is there an alternative education; a critical animal pedagogy that opens other knowledges of human–animal relations? Put differently, what does education become when humans are not regarded as the only subjects?
Over the past few decades, the increase in public and scholarly attention to human-animal relations has inspired an animal turn in a number of academic disciplines including environmental education research. This paper reviews the literature on animals in environmental education with respect to its theoretical foundations in critical pedagogy, ecofeminism and posthumanism, considers empirical work on formal, nonformal and informal learning spaces and discusses the implications of an animal-focused paradigm for teaching and research. In the conclusion the author suggests some areas for further inquiries from her own research and teaching experience.
Researchers in animal studies examine the cultural, philosophical, economic and social means by which humans and animals interact. The very idea of the human is closely tied up with ideas about animals. This is the introductory chapter of the book, which is a kind of mixed human-animal habitat into which diverse species have been introduced, to intermingle and interbreed, appropriately or not. The essays collected here track the cultural organisms that result, whose flesh is (at least partly) conceptual and textual: paper tigers, beast fables, anthropomorphs, humanimals, l’animot. During the heyday of modernity, Anthropomorphism finding human qualities in nonhuman beings became an epistemological vice, a symptom of knowing animals mistakenly. The whole bestiary of new taxonomies is provided in the book. The essays consider the benefits (and not only for humans) of attempting to know animals differently: more closely, less defenitively, more carefully, less certainly.Keywords: animal studies; anthropomorphism; bestiary; human-animal habitat; humanimals; taxonomy