Animal Futures Working Group | From Creaturely Life to the Commodity Form

Sharing short excerpts from his recent book The Animal Claim, as well as a draft of a new essay, “Commodify,” Menely poses two questions. First, how should we understand the relation, conceptual and historical, between the limited forms of animal protection offered by statute law and the imperative of the free market to extract value from animals, between the modern extension of animal rights and the intensification of animal exploitation? Second, in terms of commodification, how might we conceptualize the relation between the dispossession of wildlife and the accommodation of food animals in industrial agriculture, a law of value that both takes life and makes live? What analytic or normative framework allows us to account for both the orangutan whose habitat is expropriated for an oil palm plantation and the sow made to reproduce in a confined feeding operation?


Tobias Menely, “Commodify” from Veer Ecology (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming).

Tobias Menely, Excerpts from The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): pp.80-95, 164-173, 202-205.

Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka, “Wild Animal Sovereignty” from Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011): pp.156-209.

Tobias Menely joined the faculty at UC Davis in 2014, after teaching at Miami University and Willamette University. His teaching and research focus on the long eighteenth century, from the Restoration to Romanticism. In his first book, The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice, Menely links the poetics of sensibility with Enlightenment political theory, humanitarian advocacy, and the debates leading to Britain’s first animal welfare legislation. Some of the perplexities of animal rights as a historical phenomenon, he argues, are resolved if we see rights as neither intrinsic to nature nor contingent on state recognition but as a communicative transaction, a claim—etymologically, a cry or clamor—that precedes the law and yet is only realized in the law. Menely’s current book project is “The Climatological Unconscious: Poetry and Political Economy in the Early Anthropocene.”

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Image: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

Animal Futures Working Group is supported by The Program in Critical Theory and organized by UC Berkeley graduate student Joshua Williams (Ph.D. Candidate, Performance Studies; DE in Critical Theory).