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Altered Animals: Posthumanism and Technology in 20th and 21st Century Discourse and Narratives

Categories: Interdisciplinary, Popular Culture, Literary Theory, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy, Science, Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2024-02-21 Abstract Due: 2024-02-21

Altered Animals: Posthumanism and Technology in 20th and 21st Century Discourse and Narratives
 
deadline for submissions: 
February 21, 2024
 
full name / name of organization: 
Monica Sousa (York University), Jerika Sanderson (University of Waterloo)
 
contact email: 
alteredanimals@gmail.com
 
DEADLINE EXTENDED: February 21st, 2024

According to Descartes’ views of animals, animals are to be perceived as “automata” and “void of reason” (Discourse on the Method). As he explains, “were there such machines exactly resembling organs and outward form an ape or any other irrational animal, we could have no means of knowing that they were in any respect of a different nature from these animals” (Discourse on the Method). Contemporary animal studies scholars have moved past this outdated approach, instead accepting that animals exhibit cognition, sentience, emotion, and a myriad of demonstrations of intelligence.

Yet, with the rapid development of advanced technologies in the 20th and 21st centuries, we have seen scientists experiment with animal bodies, genes, and minds – in some ways, treating them as the machines that Descartes suggested they essentially are. In medicine, these altered animals include those used as research models like the OncoMouse, and animals that have been genetically modified for organ transplantation. Animals have also been altered for environmental purposes, including in agriculture, such as the Enviropig, and conservation, such as black-footed ferrets. These medical and environmental dimensions intersect in animals like the mosquitoes in Oxitec’s Friendly Aedes Program, which have been genetically modified to limit population size and prevent disease transmission. The use of technology to alter animals has not been limited to medical, agricultural, and environmental applications, either: other examples include Dolly the cloned sheep, Alba the genetically engineered “glowing” rabbit, and the RoboRoach, a wirelessly remote-controlled cockroach. 

This edited collection, tentatively titled Altered Animals: Posthumanism and Technology in 20th and 21st Century Discourse and Narratives, will explore posthumanist theorizations of animals that have been altered using technology. In this contemporary moment, these posthumanist theorizations are possible when, in the words of Rosi Braidotti, we consider what “bio-technologically mediated bodies are capable of doing” (The Posthuman 61). Drawing attention to the interconnections between the studies of animals and technology, this collection seeks posthumanist explorations of what we refer to as “altered animals.” We use this term to refer to a nonhuman animal that has been engineered, manipulated, or altered through various advanced technological practices. In particular, this collection is focused on a few key questions: how the identity of these altered animals is constructed, how these alterations impact the relationships between humans and nonhuman animals, and how depictions of altered animals engage with posthumanism to explore the perspectives of these animals. As Donna Haraway observes in her seminal “A Cyborg Manifesto,” we cannot simply view the machine-organism hybrid in essentialist terms, since “the machine and the organism are each communication systems joined in a symbiosis that transforms both” (180). How are we to view these transformations? How do these transformations not only affect both, but also play a role in human lives? 

Both animals and machines/technology are traditionally seen as separate from humanist constructions regarding the human condition. Therefore, intermingling the two can easily lead to feelings of fear, horror, or repulsion. These new animals are frequently categorized as monstrous or unnatural and therefore deserving of fewer ethical protections. In his discussion of the ethics around biotechnologically altered animals, Mickey Gjerris argues that since the “naturalness” of these animals is often raised in conversations about ethics, it “begs the question why the ‘natural’ automatically should [be seen as] more ethical than the ‘unnatural.’” (“Animal Biotechnology: The Ethical Landscape”  62) In this collection, we hope to consider this question in relation to depictions of technologically altered animals: how does technology impact the identity of these animals? How can literature, film, television, and other types of media ethically draw attention to the identity and experiences of altered animals?

A second key question this edited collection seeks to address is the way that technology is changing our relationships with nonhuman animals. Nola M. Ries asks “[f]or any human health gains we achieve through genetically altering animals for our purposes, do we lose something of our relationship with animals and take another step down a slope that becomes more slippery with each new manipulation of them?” (“Human Health Care: The Promise of Animal Biotechnology” 171). While Ries is describing genetically altered animals in medical contexts, this question can be extended to other technological alterations and applications. Is it the case that the relationships between humans and animals are being progressively eroded the more that animals are altered? Can posthuman theory help us to reconfigure our relationships with these altered animals? And how can depictions of altered animals help us to navigate the complexities of these relationships? 

Posthuman theorists have highlighted the role that literature, art, and culture can play in how we perceive nonhuman beings. In Pramod K. Nayar’s discussion of the connections between critical posthumanism and critical animal studies, he notes the importance of depictions of nonhuman animals, since “[s]pecies borders and our perceptions of (the materiality of) animal and non-human others are increasingly mediated by narratives and representations” (Posthumanism 113). How do literary, artistic, film, and other depictions of altered animals influence our understandings of the animals created through technological practices? What unique approaches have been taken in depicting these animals? 

We seek proposals for chapters that investigate the way that literature (of any genre/ medium), film and television, popular culture, art, and other media explore the intersecting technological and cultural factors that influence nonhuman animal identity. Chapters can explore 20th or 21st century depictions, and, when possible, should draw connections to current issues regarding existing altered animals. Some examples of altered animals for consideration may include:

 

“Robo-animals” or animals that have been “cyborg-ized” with cybernetic/robotic bodily attachments or enhancements
Laboratory animals that have been used as test subjects in medical and scientific experiments 
Animals that have been genetically altered for agricultural purposes 
Human-animal hybrids and chimeras 
Cloned and genetically engineered/modified animals
Animals and computers, brain implants, and/or artificial intelligence   
Animals whose cells have been preserved using cryopreservation and biobanking
Animals that have been used to produce medical materials and products, such as pharmaceuticals
Speculative/hypothetical examples of altered animals with no tangible real-world counterpart (yet)
 

Please send chapter proposals of 300-500 words, a biographical note including institutional affiliation (if any) of 150-200 words, and a bibliography with a minimum of 5 sources to alteredanimals@gmail.com by January 31st. We intend to notify accepted authors by February 23rd. 

We intend to propose the edited collection as part of Routledge’s “Perspectives on the Nonhuman in Literature and Culture” series; the managing editor has expressed interest in seeing the proposal. We expect full-length chapters of roughly 7000 words to be due by September 2024. Thanks!

alteredanimals@gmail.com

Monica and Jerika