What are some amazing examples of asymmetry


Gabriela Kompatscher

Ao. Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Gabriela Kompatscher is Associate Professor of Latin Philology at the Leopold Franzens University Innsbruck. Her focus is on Middle Latin language and literature and the inter- and transdisciplinary area of ​​human-animal studies.

The discipline of Human-Animal Studies offers the opportunity to examine relationships, relationships and interactions between humans and other animals in an animal-friendly manner.

An Aboriginal family with dingoes, Northern Territory, Australia. (& copy picture-alliance, Arco Images GmbH)

Relationships between humans and other animals, past and present

Humans and other animals interact with each other in a wide variety of ways and in a wide variety of contexts and constellations: sometimes voluntarily (e.g. out of mutual curiosity), sometimes one of the two sides is forced to do so (e.g. in the area of ​​animal exploitation by humans), sometimes directly ( e.g. by slaughtering or stroking animals, or vice versa, by attacks by animals on people), sometimes indirectly and only starting from one side (e.g. by eating animal meat or by depicting animals in literature and art). In the field of animal use, these encounters and relationships are often characterized by violence, which mostly originates from humans, although the balance of power has probably only shifted in favor of humans since the beginning of agriculture and animal breeding, i.e. between 7000 and 4000 BC in Europe. Chr. (See Nibert 2013: 9-42).

Sustainable phenomena of "Western" culture such as Greek philosophy (e.g. Aristotle, +322 BC) and Christianity have theoretically founded this imbalance by drawing a clear boundary between humans and other animals. This presumptive limit, which is presumed to be presumptive, still proves to be `` practical '' to justify the submission of animals, although zoology and ethology with representatives such as Volker Sommer or Marc Bekoff have meanwhile been able to show that this limit is merely a setting without provable ones Is valid (see Kompatscher 2017, 31-48). However, early on, some philosophers were critical of the assumption that animals were only created for human use: Plutarch (+ around 125 AD), for example, underlines the similarities between humans and animals and leads health, aesthetic and ethical issues Arguments for animal protection, i.e. for vegetarianism. And even if the majority of the surviving evidence from antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times - in accordance with the prevailing anthropocentric attitude - documents asymmetrical human-animal relationships, there is still plenty of evidence of friendly relationships between humans and animals.

Some amazing examples from our culture for sympathy with animals, interest in interactions with them, love for animals and empathy can already be found in early written sources (cf. Kompatscher 2010 and 2014): Poems are written on pets and beloved animals are mourned after their death ; surviving tombstones, such as the one for a dog named Myia from the 2nd century AD, provide eloquent evidence of this up to modern times. Medieval legends tell how sacred animals save from hunger, thirst, cold, hunters, fishermen and butchers and how they enjoy being with animals (Godric, Francis and many more). Epics and novels from the High Middle Ages also describe intimate relationships between animals and humans, such as those between a princely daughter and a tame deer, whose violent death is lamented by the princely family and then bloody avenged (Heinrich von Veldeke, Eneasroman, V. 4585-4689 ).

On the other hand, James Serpell (2003, 43ff.) Carried out a study that spanned the various cultures. For the cultures and ethnic groups studied, past and present, he can give examples of loving treatment of animals: Chinese emperors from various dynasties surround themselves with dogs and offer them every comfort - according to human standards. Shogun Tsunayoshi (17th century) is a known case of Animal Hoarding (a disease in which people "hoard" animals), but at least he is said to have passed a dog protection law. Various communities of Native Americans lived with raccoons, moose, and other animals that they lovingly raised and enjoyed being around. Scattered around the world, people keep animals as pets, such as the Kalapalo in Brazil, monkeys and birds, and treat them, like Aborigines, their dingoes, as family members; i.e. they are given tenderness, given a name and perceived their death as an emotional loss.

This evidence and observations lead to the conclusion that we humans have a corresponding disposition for a benevolent interest in animals, whereby this disposition is shaped by upbringing and society (on the concept of biophilia see Otterstedt 2009, 182): This is how insects become in certain Cultures viewed as food arouse disgust in others and in still others they are considered worthy of protection (for religious reasons e.g. in Jainism, for reasons of species protection e.g. in Central Europe, and here in many cases only popular figures such as ladybugs, bees or butterflies - whereby the sympathy here probably due to the usefulness of these animals for humans).

Human-Animal Studies

In the first part of this article, the following topics were addressed directly or indirectly:
  • Interactions and relationships between humans and animals in the past and present,
  • Power relations in this area,
  • the artificial boundary between humans and other animals,
  • Ethics,
  • the assumption that everything, including animals, exists for humans (anthropocentrism),
  • the power of animals to act on individuals and on our society in general (Agency),
  • the (changing) dualism between "edible" and "inedible" animals (see for example Joy 2013),
  • the discrimination of living beings on the basis of their belonging to a certain species (speciesism),
  • the categorization of animals.
This names some essential areas of a relatively new discipline that examines human-animal relationships: Human-Animal Studies (HAS). Human-animal relationships have long been of interest to science. However, if one used to study animals like objects and thereby try to gain useful knowledge for humans, the requirements for HAS are now completely different.

Since its creation in the 1980s in the Anglo-American region and its spread in Europe since the beginning of the 21st century. the HAS are known under different names (Animal Studies, Anthro (po) zoology, Zoo Anthropology, Animals and Society Studies etc.) and orientations (purely descriptive or political [like Critical Animal Studies]). There is even a different idea of ​​whether this is a separate discipline or simply a new approach to the human-animal topic. A detailed presentation of the HAS in all its facets is not possible due to the limited space available; Instead, the attempt should be made here to present what is new about the HAS, as it corresponds to the understanding of the "Innsbruck School" (cf. Kompatscher et al. 2017 and Shapiro 2008, Chimaira 2011 and DeMello 2012): The approach to the The respective topic should take place in an appropriate and animal-friendly manner, i.e. animals are no longer perceived as objects, but as subjects with influence and agency (Agency; cf. e.g. Wirth 2015) and as individuals with their own experiences, emotions, expectations, etc. The human part tries to avoid any speciesism, to overcome its purely anthropocentric view as possible and to include the perspective of the animals as well as their needs and interests. Arbitrary cultural constructions such as the division of animals into categories ("animals for slaughter", "experimental animals", "pets" etc.) or the human-animal boundary are critically examined and, if possible or necessary, resolved. A special feature of various HAS research organizations, such as the "Innsbruck School", is the inclusion of ethical considerations and the opening up to society in order to contribute to an improvement in human-animal relationships and the precarious living conditions of animals.

The interdisciplinary orientation of the HAS supports this endeavor: psychology, for example, can analyze the mechanisms of meat consumption, sociology those various forms of exploitation, zoology and behavioral research for deconstructing the human-animal boundary, for example, linguistics for animal-friendly language and architecture for animal-friendly urban planning contribute to philosophy, develop and establish a new ethics that also includes animals, educate children and adults in the field of humane education to sensitize children and adults to the needs of animals, etc. (to an illustration of how the most diverse scientific disciplines can be linked with HAS , see clamping ring 2015).

Since the German and Austrian curricula allow some leeway for a wide variety of subjects, human-animal studies can also be incorporated into school lessons. Not only in the subjects of ethics, social studies, social studies, religion, biology, philosophy, economics and social studies, etc., but even in literature lessons, for which some concepts have already been developed (see Schröder / Hayer 2016), pupils can learn the necessary Acquire and develop skills (such as empathy) in order to counteract discrimination and violence in the future and to advocate social justice in the area of ​​human-animal relationships (see Kompatscher 2016, 2018).


Chimaira - Working Group for Human-Animal Studies (ed.), Human-Animal Studies. On the social nature of human-animal relationships, Bielefeld 2011.

DeMello, M., Animals and Society. An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies, New York 2012.

Ferrari, A. / Petrus, K. (ed.), Lexicon of Human-Animal Relationships, Bielefeld 2015.

Joy, M., Why we love dogs, eat pigs and raise cows: Karnismus - an introduction, Münster 2013.

Kompatscher, G. / Classen, A. / Dinzelbacher, P., Animals as Friends in the Middle Ages. An anthology, Badenweiler 2010.

Kompatscher, G. / Römer, F. / Schreiner, S., partners, friends and companions. Human-Animal Relationships in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times in Latin Texts, Vienna 2014.

Kompatscher, G., ‘We kneeled around you, everyone around, / And nobody thought: Only a dog dies there‘ - (F. Avenarius) - Literary companion animals of the 19th century as subjects of animal-sensitive didactics. In: K. Schröder / B. Hayer (eds.), Didactics of the Animal. Suggestions for a literary lesson based on animal ethics (Kola 18), Trier 2016, 17-28.

Kompatscher, G. / Spannring, R. / Schachinger, K., Human-Animal Studies. An introduction for students and teachers, Münster / New York 2017.

Kompatscher, G., Ethical Literary Animal Studies in Latin Classes (forthcoming).

Nibert, D., Animal Oppression and Human Violence. Domesecration, Capitalism, and Global Conflict, New York 2013.

Otterstedt, C. / Rosenberger, M. (ed.), Companions - Competitors - Relatives. The human-animal relationship in scientific thinking, Göttingen 2009.

Pfau-Effinger, B. / Buschka, S. (ed.), Society and Animals. Sociological analysis of an ambivalent relationship, Wiesbaden 2013.

Schröder, K. / Hayer, B. (Ed.), Didactics of the Animal. Suggestions for a literary lesson based on animal ethics (Kola 18), Trier 2016.

Serpell, J., In the Company of Animals. A Study of Human-Animal Relationships, New York 2003.

Shapiro, K., Human-Animal Studies. Growing the Field, Applying the Field, Ann Arbor 2008.

Spannring, R. / Schachinger, K. / Kompatscher, G. / Boucabeille, A., Introduction. Disciplined animals? In this. (Ed.): Disciplined animals? Perspectives in Human-Animal Studies for the Scientific Disciplines, Bielefeld 2015.

Wirth, S. [et al.], The Action of Animals. Animal Agency in the focus of Human-Animal Studies, Bielefeld 2015.