Political-Economic Animal Geographies

Animal geographies that have utilized political economic analyses have mainly been found in rural and agricultural geographies. Such studies have at times focused on the development of certain intensive food production regimes as emblematic of current structures of capitalism. For example, studies have focused on chicken and hog intensive production systems in the USA, amongst other matters. Here, animals were always seemingly in the background being acted upon, having their bodies transformed to suit the needs of these regimes, but always part of much wider processes of power and constant economic restructuring of production. However, the biological being of these animals were also seen to set certain limits to what could be done within these systems of production.

The advantage of such approaches is that they focused on power, on one of the main ways in which animals are engaged by humans – in food production – and that they analyzed meat production in terms of transport, feed and pharmaceutical interventions, techniques, technologies, and labor processes involved in slaughter, and other factors besides these. Arguably, this has given quite rounded approaches to intensive animal production, though one still with very humanistic concerns. Yet, it might be argued that the animals have also been somewhat lost in this whole process. But then that may perhaps be a good reflection on where such animals are, that is, lost in often gigantic systems and practices of power and technological systems being focused upon them with only their biological basis as increasingly genetically uniform beings creating some limits to these powers, and with only fears of, or actual, diseases creating some interruption in the speeded up life processes of agroindustrial production.

Similar political ecology approaches to animals have emerged more directly out of cultural ecology and focus on geographic and historically specific transformations of natures under capitalism. Such work emphasizes the active roles played by subjects (including animals) in the ongoing fluid processes of landscape changes that have, for example, accompanied introductions of animals into colonized regions. The work here is somewhat new and emergent, though specific animals do tend to be treated again as already constituted entities, although capable through their biological makeup of affecting extractive or productive sectors of economies. Similarly, animals understandably tend to be grouped together as, for example, 'fisheries' as contested resources struggled over within changing political ecological practices.

Arguably, a residual humanism is retained in many political economic and political ecological works. Moreover, the somewhat overarching analysis of some work has led to moves to develop theoretical and empirical approaches that appreciates, in more detailed ways, the heterogeneous character of social life, but also the roles of nonhumans, as well as the many people and technologies, in ordering and disordering seemingly overarching practices that political economic approaches can take.