Zipporah Weisberg is the inaugural Abby Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow in Animal Ethics, working under the supervision of Will Kymlicka. Her research interests include existential phenomenology, critical social theory, and critical animal studies. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Social and Political Thought from York University (Toronto, Canada). Her dissertation, “Animal Dialectics: Towards a Critical Theory of Animals and Society,” drew on the critical theory of the early Frankfurt School, psychoanalytic theory, and existential phenomenology to examine the relationship between animal exploitation and human alienation under late capitalism.
During the fellowship she will be developing two key themes that emerged from her dissertation research. One examines how the entrenchment of animal biotechnology as a standard practice within the agricultural, biomedical, entertainment, and pet industries signals an especially catastrophic stage in the history of animals’ objectification and commodification. Genetic modifications of nonhuman animals—such as the hybridization of different species or the computer manipulation of animals’ movements—effectively constitute an ontological collapse between animal life and the machinery of production. Meanwhile, ethical scrutiny of animal biotechnology is superficial and disingenuous at best and ultimately provides little or no protection for animals against the most egregious cruelties.
A second theme focuses on how ethical phenomenology and cognitive ethology (the non-invasive study of animal behaviour) can jointly inform an interspecies ethics. Marc Bekoff and other ethologists’ discoveries of the complexity of nonhuman animals’ social, emotional, psychological, cognitive experiences help dispel reductive and dualist characterizations of animals which have been invoked over the centuries to justify their mistreatment. Phenomenology relocates subjectivity in the perceptual body and thereby adds yet another dimension to animal subjectivity. With the richness of animal subjectivity thus uncovered, new sets of positive ethical obligations emerge. Not only is it no longer acceptable todeprive animals of their basic needs (for adequate shelter, space, food, stimulation, companionship, and so on), but it is imperative to actively create the conditions for their flourishing and fulfillment.
In the Winter 2015 semester, Zipporah will be teaching a second-year introductory course on animal ethics.