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Current Theme (AY 2022-23)

The Symposium theme: Animals in the City

For the 2022-23 academic year, the theme for the Symposium will be “Animals in the City.” Nonhuman animals commonly found in cities include wild animals, companion animals, zoo animals, laboratory and research animals, service animals, pest animals, and farmed animals, among others. Awareness of cities as more-than-human spaces has been growing since the turn of the century, fueling scientific and public debate on the role of nonhuman animals in urban spaces. For better or for worse, the paradigm of human/nature separation rooted in the creation of the “sanitary city” in the nineteenth century is eroding. The Symposium asks how we can better appreciate and accommodate animals in the city, while also exploring the ecological, health, ethical, and cultural implications of doing so.

The Symposium investigates interrelated themes such as blurred boundaries between the human and the nonhuman, the right of nonhuman species to the city, interactions between human and nonhuman animals, urban planning to address multispecies conflict and coexistence, promoting public health given the interconnection between people, animals, and their shared environment (One Health), and how centering animals in urban research changes our understanding of economic, political, social, and cultural aspects of the urban experience. Grappling with the changing role of animals in urban society and culture calls for collaboration among researchers in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities; in fields such as urban studies, animal science, human-animal studies, anthropology, sociology, politics, public policy, public health, ecology, and environmental humanities. Throughout the year, the courses, co-curricular events, and research opportunities generated by the Symposium strive to make visible the hidden multispecies entanglements of urban spaces.


Animals in the City: Politics, Justice, Democracy

This course introduces students to humanities and social science perspectives on human-animal relations in the city. These interactions are often structured by exploitation and violence but also generate more imaginative approaches to multispecies belonging and community. The first part of the course examines the “animal turn” in the social sciences and humanities, considers the role of animals in political theory, and takes stock of growing awareness of nonhuman animals in urban settings, including how centering animals in urban studies and the blurring of human/nonhuman boundaries this shift entails changes what cities mean. The second part of the course surveys various kinds of human-animal relationships found in cities: agriculture and research animals (e.g., backyard chickens, laboratory rats), working animals (e.g., service dogs, zoo animals), companion animals, unwanted animals (e.g., non-native species, feral cats), and, last but not least, urban wildlife. The final part of the course considers novel conceptions of multispecies democracy and justice.

Multispecies Art

Can animals create art? What does it mean for human artists to collaborate artistically with members of nonhuman species? How does intentionality and animal creativity fit into a conception of multispecies art? What is animal? What even is art, and can nonhuman animals meaningfully create it? "Multispecies Art" will engage students in these and more questions about multispecies art practices. The course asks students to consider their own participation in multispecies relations and to explore ways in which artistic endeavors are integral to shared multispecies coexistence. In this course, we will survey the multispecies art movement, a movement anchored in the recent conceptual turn towards human-animal relations, but whose genealogies include bioart and ecological art. We will learn about how institutions, including museums and art galleries, participate in multispecies art, particularly in cities. We’ll also consider aesthetics, consent, and representation, asking: how does multispecies art cultivate community? The course will include a few guest speakers as well as hands-on activities that help build creative practice. Students will design and execute their own creative project in a medium of their choice.

The Metropolitan’s Smallest Animals: Urban Microbiomes in Public Health, Sustainability, and City Infrastructure

In this course we will explore the role of urban microbiomes in assessing the health and function of the city. Over the past two decades, an increasing diversity of scholars are investigating the microbiological populations in relation to public health, sustainability, water distribution systems and other infrastructures. Engineers are exploring these in new interdisciplinary applications, such as ‘microbiology of the built environment,’ and ‘microbiome-Inspired green infrastructure.’ Historically, this recent research is part of long tradition of ecosystem ecology reaching back to the late-19th century and the rise of a holistic scientific world view. Students will engage the current scientific literature and debates about the urban microbiome in its broader social, cultural, and historical perspectives.

Constructing Nature: A Philadelphia Diorama for the 21st Century

This course considers the representation of nature and animal communities in traditional dioramas, those three-dimensional models of ecosystems and their inhabitants that we encounter in natural history museums. We'll ask who and what is included and excluded in these kinds of exhibits and what kinds of stories they tell about animals and their homes. Participants in the course will work together to design a Philadelphia-specific diorama for the Academy of Natural Sciences using concepts that we examine in the course. The course will meet both on the main Drexel campus and at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Bugs in the City

Insects are spectacularly biodiverse, ecologically impactful, and among the most important animal-human interactors globally. This course will use a biopolitical approach (among other theories) to investigate how insects have been managed, studied, and cohabitated with in urban environments. We will investigate classic global cases involving mosquitos and bed bugs, as well as more local cases such as the spotted lantern fly. Assignments will involve ethnographic research on human-insect relations in Philadelphia.

King Kong

King Kong is a giant gorilla who first appeared in a 1933 film in which he lived in a mysterious island also inhabited by dinosaurs, and villagers who had built a wall to protect themselves from Kong. A film crew comes to the island, captures Kong, and brings him back to New York City to be shown as the “eighth wonder of the world.” The movie launched King Kong into folklore status and the same basic storyline was repeated in remakes of the film in 1976 and 2005. This course explores several themes related to the King Kong films, but most significantly what Kong’s relationship is to the history of New York City, and more generally how the 1933, 1976, and 2005 films represent history and the passage of time, while simultaneously being themselves artifacts and reflections of specific moments in the history of film and film production. There are as well important themes of race, gender, and colonization, that will be addressed.

Cultural History of Zoos

This class will examine the evolution of zoos from menageries to bastions of wildlife conservation. In addition to understanding the cultural history, this class explores the ethical tensions of keeping animals captive for a “moral good” by investigating animal welfare, the break down between educational outing and detached spectacle, and the idea of animal liberty. There will be key texts for students to read as well as field trips to and representatives from the Philadelphia Zoo. While the class will be steeped in concepts and theories, it will be extremely informative to learn where those fit in the day-to-day of maintenance of a zoo, including the needs of various stakeholders. The Philadelphia Zoo will serve as a case study that highlights the reality between what zoos hope to accomplish (wildlife conservation, encourage the public to care about animal welfare, human impact on animals across the globe, etc.) and what zoos can practically achieve given the cost of running a zoo (it’s a business), zoos position in a city like Philadelphia (it’s a day out, not necessarily seen as educational), etc.

Eating Animals (or not)

Animals have long provisioned the city with eggs, dairy, poultry, meat and seafood, raising fraught issues of ethics, equity, and sustainability. This course considers both the theoretical and practical aspects of eating (or not eating) animals and animal products and the challenges--and perceived imperative--of keeping our cities in meat and animal products. In the process of engaging with the materials and activities in the course, students will develop a well-supported, coherent framework for their position on eating animals and animal products.

Current Faculty Cohort