What is the place of animals in the social sciences? The limits to the recent rehabilitation of animal agency
The socio-anthropological research that aims to rehabilitate the idea of animal agency relies on a core of recurring arguments: that until recently, the social sciences have wrongly classified animals amongst things, because they subscribed either to the animalmachine model imposed by modernity across the frontier that it sought to draw between nature and culture (Philippe Descola) or between humans and non-humans (Bruno Latour), and animals in particular (Animal Studies). The purpose of this article is to show, first, that this thesis is historically inaccurate. From the birth of the social sciences they recognized that many animals had considerable subjectivity and established their continuity with man. And far from being the result of a feature of modernity–and its discourse that of science–the success of the theme of the frontier between nature and culture is, on the contrary, the result of a clear rejection of the hard sciences, and particularly biology, by the social sciences of the twentieth century. This return to the past thus helps to show that these recent rehabilitations of animal agency in fact revive another frontier–between the social sciences and the life sciences–and thus maintain the old philosophical dualisms associated with it. In so doing, they help close a path that promises to be particularly fruitful for documenting animal agency: a dialogue without reciprocal reduction between the social sciences and the life sciences.
Keywords. ANIMAL – CULTURE – ETHOLOGY – GREAT DIVIDE – NATURALISM – NATURE – NON-HUMANS