Privilege – It’s a Dog’s Life

I came across an interesting article at the journal ephemera(1) by Annamari Vänskä(2) Because I Wuv You – Pet Dog Fashion and Emotional Consumption. Although I was initially unsure whether or not it was meant to be a spoof à la Alan Sokal and others, I’m convinced that it is actually meant to be taken at face value.

The article has several lessons:

First, if you Theory things up enough you can make the obvious seem, if not profound, at least pretty complicated and the simply ludicrous sound more deeply so.

Second, certain academics really do debate some crazy stuff. Thus, in true “posthumanist” form(3) the author seriously engages the issue of privilege among animals:

Some argue that pets are privileged animals: that they are favoured, remain close to humans and occupy a hierarchically higher status than other non-human animals (Thomas, 1983: 100-120). Others see pets as degraded animals: while an ‘animal’ is conceptualised as wild and self-sufficient, the ‘pet’ lacks these qualities (Fudge, 2008).

The author aligns herself with the “privileged” school:

The pampered pedigree pooch embodies the triumph of capitalism: it does not only embody the fantasy of nature as controllable and malleable by the human hand, but also the fantasy of a liberated new consumer, a model posthuman citizen who enjoys its postromantic relationships with humans.

She concludes her article with a call for action (in the usual academic sense) – critique and study:

The co-consuming pet dog thus also opens up a space for a critique of animal hierarchies. The pet dog, which is conceptually not an animal, is superior to wild and farm animals. The pet is a privileged animal, favoured due to its similarity to humans.

and

The fashioned pet dog summarises Orwell’s idea that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ and encourages further research that gives tools for undoing the unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.

I’m convinced, of course, but still a little unsure how to overcome those “unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.” Perhaps I’ll stop feeding my dog and let him scrounge like the rest of his less-privileged counterparts. For now, at least, I’ve hung one of those white puzzle pieces on his collar and I expect him to have some serious discussions of the matter with his friends down at the dog park. I know it will be a challenge, but I am hopeful that they will be able to find a way to be good allies to the local coyotes.

Third, and on the serious side, capitalism commodifies and corrupts every relationship – human or otherwise. When I’m done indulging my smug, know-nothing side, I have to admit that the article is not without value. In fact, if one can read around the tiresome posthumanist theorizing, it is still a useful case-study in the way in which the capitalist system permeates and transforms our everyday lives.

(1) ephemera “encourages contributions that explicitly engage with theoretical and conceptual understandings of organizational issues, organizational processes and organizational life.”

(2)The author is, among other things, “the Adjunct Professor of Fashion Studies at the University of Turku and Adjunct Professor of Art History and Gender Studies at the University of Helsinki.” Somehow, I’m not surprised.

(3) As the author tells us: “Posthumanist approaches aim to challenge classical humanist anthropocentrism and its dichotomies – such as human / animal and nature / culture – the uniqueness of ‘the human’ as the crown of the creation, and the position of the human as an autonomous, rational being in contrast to irrational, instinctual ‘animals’ (Wolfe, 2009). In this article, posthumanism is understood as a set of questions and as a tool for dealing with those questions, when ‘the human’ is not the only autonomous, rational being who knows or consumes.”

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