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Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture and Pleasure of Queer Animals

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Abstract:

Most scientists and social theorists have long closeted the existence of same-sex sex between animals because of heteronormative and anthropocentric biases. The assumption that animal sex is a brute, reproductive, genetically-determined pursuit sequesters it within a “nature” that is not Human. Recent popular scientific books, such Baghemihl’s Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity and Roughgarden’s Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, as well as the work of Myra J. Hird present possibilities for radically rethinking nature as “queer,” by documenting the vast same-sex sexual acts, commitments, and “families” existing throughout the more-than human world. The question of whether nonhuman nature can be “queer” provokes larger questions regarding the relations between discourse and materiality, human and more-than-human worlds, as well as between cultural theory and science. We need more robust, complex ways of productively engaging with materiality—ways that account for the diversity and “exuberance” of a multitude of nature-cultures, ways that can engage with science as well as science studies. Queer animals—“matters of concern” for queer, green, human cultures--may foster such formulations.
Surprisingly, many scientific accounts of animal sex do not reduce it to a genetically-determined “instinct,” but instead, see it as component of a distinct animal culture. Even more striking, the pursuit of pleasure may actually play a role in the production of animal—and human—cultures. Two of the most prominent markers of “culture,” in fact--tool use and language--have arisen, for some animals, as modes of sexual pleasuring. Queer animals may also foster an ontology in which sexual pleasure is neither the result of biological drives nor a mere tool for cultural machinations, but is instead a creative force simultaneously emergent within and affecting a multitude of naturecultures. Pleasure, in this sense, may be understood within Karen Barad’s notion of performativity as “materialist, naturalist, and posthumanist,” “that allows matter its due as an active participant in the world’s becoming, its ongoing “intra-activity.”
Many who write about sexual diversity in nonhuman animals contend that the remarkable variance regarding sex, “gender,” reproduction, and childrearing defies our modes of categorization. These epiphanic moments ignite an epistemological-ethical sense in which, suddenly, the world is not only more queer than one could have imagined, but more surprisingly itself. In other words, queer animals elude perfect modes of capture. In Andrew Pickering’s model, science is “an evolving field of human and material agencies reciprocally engaged in a play of resistance and accommodation in which the former seeks to capture the latter” (23). Paradoxically, this model allows us to value scientific accounts of sexual diversity, in the sense that these accounts are accounting for something—something more than a (human) social construction. And yet, it also encourages an epistemological-ethical sense of the inadequacy of human knowledge systems to ever fully account for the natural world. By eluding perfect modes of capture, queer animals dramatize emergent worlds of desire, action, agency, and interactivity that can never be reduced to a background against which the Human defines himself
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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Alaimo, Stacy. "Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture and Pleasure of Queer Animals" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243673_index.html>

APA Citation:

Alaimo, S. "Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture and Pleasure of Queer Animals" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p243673_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: Most scientists and social theorists have long closeted the existence of same-sex sex between animals because of heteronormative and anthropocentric biases. The assumption that animal sex is a brute, reproductive, genetically-determined pursuit sequesters it within a “nature” that is not Human. Recent popular scientific books, such Baghemihl’s Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity and Roughgarden’s Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People, as well as the work of Myra J. Hird present possibilities for radically rethinking nature as “queer,” by documenting the vast same-sex sexual acts, commitments, and “families” existing throughout the more-than human world. The question of whether nonhuman nature can be “queer” provokes larger questions regarding the relations between discourse and materiality, human and more-than-human worlds, as well as between cultural theory and science. We need more robust, complex ways of productively engaging with materiality—ways that account for the diversity and “exuberance” of a multitude of nature-cultures, ways that can engage with science as well as science studies. Queer animals—“matters of concern” for queer, green, human cultures--may foster such formulations.
Surprisingly, many scientific accounts of animal sex do not reduce it to a genetically-determined “instinct,” but instead, see it as component of a distinct animal culture. Even more striking, the pursuit of pleasure may actually play a role in the production of animal—and human—cultures. Two of the most prominent markers of “culture,” in fact--tool use and language--have arisen, for some animals, as modes of sexual pleasuring. Queer animals may also foster an ontology in which sexual pleasure is neither the result of biological drives nor a mere tool for cultural machinations, but is instead a creative force simultaneously emergent within and affecting a multitude of naturecultures. Pleasure, in this sense, may be understood within Karen Barad’s notion of performativity as “materialist, naturalist, and posthumanist,” “that allows matter its due as an active participant in the world’s becoming, its ongoing “intra-activity.”
Many who write about sexual diversity in nonhuman animals contend that the remarkable variance regarding sex, “gender,” reproduction, and childrearing defies our modes of categorization. These epiphanic moments ignite an epistemological-ethical sense in which, suddenly, the world is not only more queer than one could have imagined, but more surprisingly itself. In other words, queer animals elude perfect modes of capture. In Andrew Pickering’s model, science is “an evolving field of human and material agencies reciprocally engaged in a play of resistance and accommodation in which the former seeks to capture the latter” (23). Paradoxically, this model allows us to value scientific accounts of sexual diversity, in the sense that these accounts are accounting for something—something more than a (human) social construction. And yet, it also encourages an epistemological-ethical sense of the inadequacy of human knowledge systems to ever fully account for the natural world. By eluding perfect modes of capture, queer animals dramatize emergent worlds of desire, action, agency, and interactivity that can never be reduced to a background against which the Human defines himself


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