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Animals, Society and Culture

What part do animals play in our lives? Do you think of your pets as part of your family? Do you ever wonder how the animals we eat end up on our plates or whether it’s ethical to use animals in scientific experiments? What is it that separates humans from animals and why is it that animals are treated differently from humans? In this module we explore these questions, looking at the place of animals in our daily lives and how this varies cross-culturally and over time.

We consider the importance of animals to the way societies have developed, looking at processes of domestication, the role of animals in industrialisation and how animals are treated as commodities. We also think about the philosophical and moral underpinnings of human-animal relations and whether animal rights and animal welfare movements are improving the situation of animals in today’s societies. Human-Animal studies is a newly-emerging area of study which is particularly exciting because when we take animals into account it challenges not only our understandings of society but also our assumptions about what it is to be human.

You’ll learn how relations between humans and animals have changed over time and the important part animals play in human societies; you’ll develop your ability to think critically about human-animal relations and about sociological explanations that largely ignore the part played by animals in society. The module’s engagement with contemporary issues will give you an understanding of conflicts over animal experimentation, animal welfare and animal ethics and an insight into how societies are based not only on inequalities of class, gender and ‘race’ but also on inequalities between humans and other animals.

Looking at animals will give you the tools to uncover the assumptions underpinning sociology and other humanist disciplines and will make you look at the world differently. This module will appeal to anyone who has lived with a pet animal, wondered about becoming vegetarian, worried about climate change and the contribution of farmed animals to greenhouse gases, or thought that the way animals are treated needs to be changed.

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Module Director:

Nickie Charles

Timing and CATS:

This module will run all year and is worth 30 CATS.