The beauty of beasts

May 26, 1995

SOCIETY AND ANIMALS: SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC STUDIES OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF OTHER ANIMALS Edited by Kenneth Shapiro The White Horse press Twice a year, Pounds 32.00 (institutions), Pounds 16.00 (individuals), Pounds 12.00 (students) ISSN 1063 1119

This book is a timely and useful addition to the rapidly growing literature on human-animal relationships. Its central theme is animal rights and the editor, Ken Shapiro, parallels the recent increase in academic interest in this area with previous developments of thematic fields of research such as women's and environmental studies. All these relatively new disciplines have similarly emerged as multi-disciplinary responses to powerful social movements of the late 20th century. In such politicised fields, of course, there is bound to be some bias of perspective, and Society and Animals is no exception: the majority of articles reflect a pro-animals stance. People entering this small (albeit growing) field of research often, inevitably, do so because they are interested in animals and concerned for their welfare. But the contributors certainly do not come across as dogmatic or extreme in their views.

The stated intention of the journal is to present scholarly, social scientific studies of the human experience of other animals, and as such, the tone comes closer to the conciliatory than the polemical.

Articles in the first three issues have covered a broad range of topics. Several contributors have considered the possible psychological mechanisms and personality factors involved in determining people's views of animals, their rights and their welfare. Others have taken an ethnographic perspective and discussed the views of animals held by particular groups of people such as laboratory scientists, North American Indians, hunters and cockfighters. An historical slant is also in evidence, with discussions of traditional attitudes towards cows as "milking machines", the "disgusting spider", and those remarkable medieval cases of animals being tried and prosecuted for murder and other crimes. More applied issues, pertaining to present day animal use are also tackled, including dissection in schools and problem animals in veterinary clinics.

Although the quality of articles is somewhat mixed, the fact that such a broad and readable range of topics have been covered so early in the journal's "life" bodes well, I think, for its future success. Given the presence of another, similar journal, Anthrozoos (which has been published since 1987), however, I think there is some danger of competition between the two for their own distinctive niches in the still rather small market place of human-animal relationship research. Anthrozoos is generally regarded as focusing primarily on relations between people and companion animals, publishing many articles on the roles of pets in therapy, child development and the like. But Society and Animals has certainly not avoided this area entirely, with a paper in the first issue devoted to an assessment of pet facilitated therapy in a nursing home. On the other hand, some of the most important and scholarly articles published in Anthrozoos have focused on anthropological and psychological assessments of people's attitudes towards animals, their welfare and their rights. If, in the future, it loses such contributions to Society and Animals, its quality as an academic journal may well suffer. Despite this potential competition this field of research is growing fast enough to ensure a good standard of publication in both journals.

Society and Animals is considerably more accessible than the average social science journal. Because human-animal relationship research is essentially a multi-disciplinary, phenomenon-based (rather than discipline or method-based) research field, contributors are obliged to present their ideas and findings in a manner that is free from jargon, and open to readers from other specialisations. This is a refreshing change from the majority of academic journals, most of whose articles are aimed at the few individuals directly involved with that particular microcosm of research.

This accessibility, combined with the fact that many people find animals, and the relationships humans have with them, intrinsically interesting (not least as a result of their own interactions with pets), recommends Society and Animals as an enlightening and inviting read.

Elizabeth Paul is a research fellow, department of psychology, University of Edinburgh.

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