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The Social Skin: Humans and Animals in India

Naisargi Dave

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 4:30pm
Thomson 101

Abstract: There are many affective modalities in animal activism: pity, outrage, disgust, suffering, hopelessness. Indeed it is this affective charge that some point to as a sign of animal activism’s irrationality, its animal-feminine nature, its precarious existence as a human politics. This paper’s first objective is to argue that precarity emerges with the very assertion of human being, for it is with that assertion that we understand, however silently, what it would mean to not be that. This is precarity: trying to remain something that is only what we anxiously say it is, trying to remain human. If this is precarity, then precarity is not a sign of the times and it is not uniquely classed; nor, however, is it everywhere. This paper’s second task is engaging with ways of being and becoming that dissolve the self in relation to its others by disavowing the liberal dictums of rights, hope, agency, and struggle and recognizing instead that we are all co-sufferers in the world, no more man than donkey, pig than child. How does one act when there is no One to act on an Other’s behalf? How does one act after feeling that attachment to one’s human being is the ground of injustice and thus cannot be its redemption? This is not a rousing politics but it is a radical one, and I draw on my work with animal activists in India to show that the future of political life might not be in hope but in nothing at all.

Co-sponsored by Anthropology; CHID; Critical Animal Studies Working Group; Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; and South Asia Center.

Naisargi N. Dave is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her research concerns emergent forms of politics and relationality in India, specifically queer and posthuman. Dave’s articles have appeared in journals such as American Ethnologist, Signs, and Feminist Studies. Her book,Queer Activism in India: A Story in the Anthropology of Ethics is published by Duke University Press and was awarded the 2013 Ruth Benedict Prize. She is currently working on her second book, The Social Skin: Humans and Animals in India.