Australasian Animal Studies Association

Why knowledge of animal cultures is critical.

Carol Gigliotti

The relatively new acceptance of animal cultures has opened the door to a more complex understanding of the self-aware capabilities of animals to make choices that direct the path of their lives. Many defences of human superiority have shattered under recent research on animal emotions, languages, creativity, play, empathy and morality, building abilities, tool use, sexual agency, personality, grief, and spirituality. All these qualities indicate how individual animals make meaning for themselves, their families, geographic populations, and species. Individual animals construct and contribute to their cultures because of the dynamic play of these qualities, what cetacean biologist, Hal Whitehead, calls “how we do things.”  

That animals are individuals, often recognized throughout history, is still one of the most subversive and dangerous ideas in human culture. Human superiority is the central idea of many human cultures. The widespread forms of capitalism and their insistence on the use of animals as human property have intensified their use, even as the resultant devastation of this planet continues. Time is not on the side of animals, or us. How can we not only acknowledge the cultures of all kinds of animals, but also implement this knowledge in attempts to stop those uses and devastation?

About Carol Gigliotti

Carol Gigliotti is an author, artist, animal activist, and scholar whose work focuses on the reality of animals’ lives as important contributors to the biodiversity of this planet. She is Professor Emerita of Design and Dynamic Media and Critical and Cultural Studies at the Emily Carr University of Design, Vancouver, BC. CANADA.Her new book, The Creative Lives of Animals, was published by NYU .

Carol Gigliotti