In studying the lives and livelihoods of human beings, the social sciences and humanities often find their lines of inquiry tugged in the direction of other, nonhuman beings. When Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963) suggested that “thinking with” animals was relevant and fruitful to the study of humankind, scholars began to follow these leads with academic rigor, enthusiasm, and creativity. Propelled into the new millennium by the passion of the environmental movement, compounded by natural and anthropogenic disaster, and now entrenched in the discourse of the Anthropocene, recent scholarship has simultaneously called into question the validity of human exceptionalism and expanded our social and political worlds to include animals and myriad other nonhuman beings. This move is paradoxical: as the significance of human action on this planet has increased, the category of the human is continually challenged and redrawn. While contemporary posthumanist critique rethinks the importance of animals and strives to destabilize long-standing ontological exceptions, it does so just as the effects of human presence overwhelmingly single out our species as the dominant agents of planetary change (see Chakrabarty 2009; Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill 2007).
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