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Considering the Canine: Human Discourses of Gender, Race, and Power in Interspecies Entanglements

By Meredith Helen Clark

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This dissertation explores discourses in the contemporary United States surrounding the creation, coding, sterilization, and general keeping of canines in order to interrogate how sex, gender, race, class, sexuality, and species together serve biopolitical formations of social control, patriarchal white supremacy, and heteronormativity. Interrogating these socially constructed and oftentimes stereotypical narratives through an interspecies lens demonstrates how taxonomies of power and systems of oppression and privilege become situated across species. This project utilizes interviews and ethnography, as well as analysis of popular culture, legislation and news media. 

Interspeciesism is informed by feminist influences, functioning as a framing paradigm that engages with a politicized question of the animal that explicitly acknowledges human-animal entanglements across sites that are shaped by imperialism and colonialism. This interspecies project considers the political nature of relationships between humans and canines. It suggests that people situate their own identities and power not only in relation to other humans but also to other species. Simultaneously, the interspeciesm I engage with extends analyses of biopolitics, or the regulations of living bodies, beyond humans to all species. It interrogates how contemporary U.S. society has organized and identified itself in part through the ways in which it controls and monitors canines, often in relationship to the multiple ways dogs in the U.S. are racialized, classed and gendered by specific breeds. This coding of canine bodies with various taxonomies of power is not about dog breeds’ in-and-of themselves, but instead indicates that dominant U.S. society seeks to assert control over certain populations that are constructed as undesirable and unproductive.

Canines exist in a unique space in the U.S. cultural imaginary where they have multiple and oftentimes contradictory meanings that are influenced by a variety of power relations that transcend species. At stake is a critical concern regarding how interspecies bodies are made, controlled, formed, and refigured together under heteropatriarchal white supremacist modes of power. It draws attention to what these corporeal un(makings) imply for an ethics of being with, and thinking of, the other—human and animal.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 230
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Language English
University Arizona State University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Dogs
  3. Feminism
  4. Gender studies
  5. Interspecies interactions
  6. Mammals
  7. open access
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Power
  10. race
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed