This conference will focus on the representation of animals and human-animal relations in American popular culture, in all its forms, across media, past and present. While we list a few thematic clusters below, proposals that do not fall into these will, of course, also be considered.
The program is organized and hosted in collaboration with the PopMeC Association for US Popular Culture Studies.
Representations of Animals in Popular Culture
Nonhuman animals have been a fixture in film, TV series, comics and graphic novels, music videos, reality TV shows, documentary films and series. These representations tend to establish and perpetuate (or appropriate) shared beliefs about, and stereotypes of, specific species. Anthropomorphic animals roam Disney movies (and other popular culture artifacts), while zoomorphism renders human characters and actors animal-like (see also below). Crucially, animal representations in popular culture do (purportedly) not only target human audiences. For example, the official DOGTV website hails its programming as “the only technology created for dogs with sights and sounds scientifically designed to enrich their environment.” Dogs can watch other dogs sleeping or running around. And the broadcaster’s YouTube channel is filled with content that highlights that “dogs love to watch DOGTV.”
From Animality to Beastiality: The Human as Nonhuman Animal
Animality and bestiality have been used as symbolic tools to exclude selected subjects from the select group of “human” on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Asymmetric power structures and purposeful discrimination have been connected to specific discourses and representations, often relying on zoological metaphors and constructions, as well as the creation of human-animal hybrid monsters transgressing established social mores. At the same time, though, animal symbolism often endows humans (and human characters) with superhuman strength, agility, etc., which is why animal representations (next to Indigenous peoples) are frequently used as sports team names and sports mascots.
Commodification of Nonhuman Animals: Zooculture, Pet Industry, Agribusiness
Animals are integrated into a world ecology that, according to Jason Moore, relies on the “cheapening of nature,” which allows humans to shamelessly exploit nonhuman animals. While discussions of, for example, zoo animals and animals in theme parks are long-established by now, the exploitation of animals has taken different dimensions in recent years that warrant closer examination, such as the exploitation of pets and their keepers’ feelings by the pet industry. Likewise, documentaries such as The Conservation Game have shown how not only the trade in “exotic” animals is booming in the US but how media figures that purportedly publicly represent animal welfare, in fact, profit off animal exploitation.
Animal Science: Research, Experimentation, and Animal-Assisted Therapy
Nonhuman animals have been objects of scientific interest for a variety of reasons and aims, often raising ethical concerns and controversies. Besides their zoological study, animals have been used as research commodities and test subjects in processes that range from drug and beauty product testing to the creation of human-animal hybrids (e.g. xenotransplantation). Animals have also been increasingly used in therapeutic contexts, giving rise to debates on the effectiveness of the practice.
Animals in Popular Discourse
We might be witnessing the first stages of the sixth mass extinction. And while plants, fungi, and other lifeforms also vanish at an alarming rate, popular discourse focuses on the disappearance of animals from Earth. This is just one example of how animals figure in a variety of popular discourses and practices including, but not limited to, wildlife protection vs. agricultural interests, wildlife vs. recreation (e.g. black bears killing hikers and mountain lions snatching mountain bikers off their bikes), domestic cats as invasive species, the Asian “murder hornet” invasion, de-extinction science, animals and climate change, re-wilding, and public science (e.g. photographing sharks to identify them).
Deadline for submissions: April 24, 2022
We accept abstract proposals for individual presentations (c. 300 words) or full panels (3-4 presenters, c. 250-word description of panel plus abstracts of all papers–these abstracts may be shorter than abstracts for individual presentations). Please, email your proposal to firstname.lastname@example.org as a single attachment (.doc, .docx, .odt) including name, affiliation (if any), and contact email.
If you have any doubt or inquiry, feel welcome to drop us a line at email@example.com.
The conference will take place virtually, tentatively on 12-16 September 2022. Since we expect that presenters from all across the globe will participate in the conference, real-time presentations will take place between c. 4 and 9pm Central European Summer Time. A series of virtual keynote events will precede the conference.
Participation fees will be between €10 and €20 (free for PopMeC and AACCP members).
The organizers may decide to pursue a publication project based on the conference.
Organizers: Michael Fuchs and Anna Marta Marini
Assistant organizer: Dina Pedro
Advisory committee: Trang Dang, Ester Díaz, Mónica Fernández Jiménez, Dolores Resano