When many of us think of society, animals don’t necessarily come to mind. But, sociologists have recently begun to explore the relationships between human and non-human animals. In the most recent issue of Contexts, Arnold Arluke examines the importance of animals in our everyday lives. All students could find something to resonate with in this piece, whether they associate certain traits with certain animals, have watched television shows about animal hoarders, have lamented that their significant others couldn’t be as “loyal” as their pet, or choose not to eat animals or animal products.
There are many ways this piece could be utilized in the classroom. Students could be asked to find a news story that focuses on animals and reflect on how the animals are portrayed and what Arluke would say the story reflects about our relationships with animals. Or, students could choose a particular species and examine people’s relationships with that species over time. For this example, several international cases would be useful to illustrate the cultural constructions of animals/pets. Along these lines, students could also research the animal cruelty laws that Arluke mentions. They can examine which animals are covered by these laws and discuss why some, like farm animals, are not.
Lastly, you could introduce the idea of “speciesism” and take a look at social movements that strive to achieve animal rights or animal liberation. PETA’s campaigns that juxtapose animal suffering against human slavery and the Holocaust could also spark great discussions, so students could be given the assignment to peruse PETA2’s current Animal Liberation Project’s website.