Wild and Urban Animals. Violence and Justice at the Human/Animal Threshold
The Anthropocene is the age of the radical modification of the planet by human activity, the age in which geological scars produced by the violence of human civilisations become detectable, and irreversible. If capitalist globalisation has played the key role in dramatically accelerating this process, perhaps its chief driver is the on-going process of planetary urbanisation. In the general context of the XIX ISA World Congress of Sociology, violence is tackled mainly in reference to human beings. In this session, however, we also invite to consider violent outcomes with respect to non-human animals. More precisely, we are interested in exploring how, as result of the dramatic process of global urbanisation, the encounter between the urban and the wild is increasingly amplified, multiplied and made more complex, and what this entails vis-à-vis notions of violence and responsibility, ethics and justice.
Civitas and silva, the city and the forest, the urban and the wild, the civilised and the barbarian, are proverbially assumed as polar opposite, an assumption that has for millennia articulated our understanding of ethics, responsibility and justice. The current process of global urbanisation is making explicit the problem with such dichotomies, literally ingesting and reworking the spaces which we were used to define as ‘wild’. Animals are greatly affected by this process. On the one hand, they are violently victimised, on the other they are forced to re-adapt to contexts of living which, also from their perspective, have lost the clear demarcations they had in the past. Animals inhabit cities in many ways, either as domesticated, stray, or straightforwardly wild creatures. Nonetheless, in the face of the planetary process of urbanisation, directly or indirectly, implicitly or explicitly, all animals are in the process of being (violently) urbanised.
Traditionally, the city has been conceptualised as a space where a new level of human existence can be attained, from which violence should be expunged in order for justice among equals to emerge. Here, the animal should be treated with civility, and without cruelty. The animals, in turn, are expected to behave in a ‘civilised’ manner, embedded as they are, implicitly or explicitly, into social, cultural and legal configurations. Yet, animals are not simply victims of urbanisation – or its successful parasites, as rats, pigeons or mosquitos are often described. In fact, animals also the harbingers of urbanisation, shaping its logics, producing its normativity.
What are the social patterns, the legal frameworks, and the cultural practices produced in the coming-together of animals and humans within a single, shared environment? How do animals exist in – and, in turn, shape – the urban ecology vis-à-vis their owners, exploiters, controllers, victims and exterminators? What are their regimes of existence, their patterns of mobility, their territoriality and interaction with and in the city? Which technologies and protocols are employed to cope with different sorts of animal? What is their status, as individuals or crowds, welcome or despised, protected or feared? These are some of the open questions the session seeks to tackle.