The humanity of animals and the animality of humans: A view from biological anthropology inspired by J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello

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Abstract

In his novel Elizabeth Costello (2003), J. M. Coetzee's title character espouses philosophical perspectives on cruelty and the human condition in a series of fictionalized lectures. In particular, she takes on the question of human cruelty to animals. As novelist, Coetzee relies on lyrical statements about the nature of cruelty, analogies between the atrocities of fascism and factory farms, and ethical elitism to address these issues. In this article, I use anthropological data to investigate such constructed notions of "human cruelty" and "human nature." I end with a discussion of cross-cultural variation in animal use by humans and of the current animal rights movement. The goal of this article is to engage, anthropologically, perspectives on cruelty in human natures and our relations with other animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-132
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Volume108
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Keywords

  • Biocultural
  • Cruelty
  • Human-animal relations
  • Physiology

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