Animal Studies Bibliography

Sanders, Clinton R. and Arnold Arluke. 1993. If Lions Could Speak: Investigating the Animal- Human Relationship and the Perspectives of Nonhuman Others. Sociological Quarterly 34(3): 377-390.

Sociologists generally avoid studying animals; when they do, they usually consider companion animals or work that involves animals. Both of these types of research study the ways the humans involved understand the interaction and the animal-other but never consider the perspectives of the animals. This omission is probably due to reliance on the assumption that animals live by instinct or behavioral patterns and therefore do not have real communication, emotions, self-awareness, or planning abilities. In fact, there is much evidence that animals have all these traits (for example, they can sense moods, use established signs to communicate their needs and desires, and invent games with basic rules). This evidence can be uncovered once researchers stop silencing animals and consider their views important, using such techniques as interpretation, phenomenology, and autoethnography. To understand animal perspectives, researchers must interrogate their interactions with animals, taking on their subjectivity and detailing the interaction as they would do any human-human interaction. Besides studying the perspectives of animals, researchers might also examine how people organize patterns of interaction with their pets.

Taking on the animals' perspective requires special techniques. One method to learn to talk in animal idiom is for the researcher to take on the least-human role, using the same gestures and noises s/he has observed the animals using with each other. This technique has been successfully used by both animal trainers and ethologists. Another method is to develop kinesthetic empathy by mixing knowledge of the particular animal, its background, and its social construction of particular social types (383) to understand how the animal moves and behaves.

This area of research will greatly expand sociological understanding of the mind. In focusing on subjective experience, such research would foster a social perspective on the mind--the mind as something created by interactions rather than by internal processes. Thus research on the perspectives of non-human others would produce a rethinking of symbolic interactionist theories. Such research would also help to expand sociological methodologies.

Taking on the perspectives of animals will likely present researchers with ethical dilemmas and the desire to intervene to improve animals' situations. Following the feminist critique of objectivity and neutrality, the authors consider intervention in such circumstances an essential part of the research, particularly because animals have no ability to claim rights for themselves.


Visit the Michigan State University Homepage Return to the Animal Studies Homepage