Loyola University Chicago

The Graduate School

John Hawkins

The Politics of Human-Animal Entanglements in US Fiction and Media

Research Project Description

Working Title: Warm Bodies, Strong Attachments, and the Search for Better Bonds: The Politics of Human-Animal Entanglements in U.S. Fiction and Media

This dissertation project studies the politics of personal relationships between human and non-human animals like dogs and horses in twentieth and twenty-first century U.S. culture.  I am looking for “modes of relation” at specific moments in history, including work animals in modern America and pet-keeping in consumer capitalism.  Though this project deals primarily with fiction, I am also studying relationships as they appear in film, television, scientific studies, and pop culture.  In taking the bonds people share with other animals seriously (including my own complicated friendships with the dog and cat who live with me), I want to tangle with questions of ethical treatment, respect, and reciprocity within significant or intimate personal attachments that begin in power imbalance. 

Ultimately, this project is driven by the hope that the paradigm of kill or be killed, own or be owned, dominate or be abused, etc. is not the only possible structure for survival. Close attention to the way we relate to animals reveals both the difficulty of and the potential for sharing power in liberating ways.  The assistantship is ideal for students interested in the cross-over between animal studies, literature, and women’s and gender studies, humanities majors looking for hands-on experience in graduate work, and those in STEM fields or the social sciences interested in connecting scientific research and behavioral studies to active care for other living beings.      

Summer Goals and Timelines

The most important value for me in setting up summer goals and timelines is attempting to create mutually-beneficial conditions.  The most effective way to do that, I believe, is tailoring the research assignment to the specific student’s needs and interests.  That said, I can see three general approaches to summer work:

A research assistant could:

  1. Choose a specific time period or genre of literature and look for examples and patterns of animal encounters
  2. Collect and organize news stories, film and TV segments, and other cultural examples of depictions of the bonds between humans and other animals
  3. Create a survey of scientific studies on a particular aspect of human-animal relationships

In terms of timelines, I would anticipate meeting several times at the beginning of the project to set realistic goals that seem compelling and manageable for both of us.  Throughout the summer, we would schedule regular check-ins to share findings and ask questions.  I would like to plan at least one on-site research day based on the assistant’s interests, whether at an archive, a zoo, or an event.  By the end of July, I would want to move toward organizing material in a way we can both use for future projects.  Into the semester, I would anticipate providing support for the student, including feedback for writing projects, letters of recommendation, and help in developing presentations.