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SOC 331 Animals and Society

Other-than-human animals are an overwhelming presence in our collective and individual lives, yet we human animals often take them for granted. We share our social and cultural environments with a wide variety of non-human animals and for a wide variety of purposes. We domesticate animals and use them for food, clothing, entertainment, and transportation. We hunt them for subsistence and sport. We worship, sacrifice, display, vilify, cherish, and study them. In this course, we will explore questions regarding the intersection of the lives of human and non-human animals from a sociological perspective. Potential questions we will examine include: Why do we love some animals to the point of considering them family members, but vilify and even eat others? Are pets--like the dog currently sleeping by my side--monsters of dependence created by human oppression, or do pets and people co-exist interdependently? Is human perception and treatment of non-human animals related in significant ways to such enduring social problems as racism, sexism, settler colonialism, and violence against vulnerable groups? These are difficult questions. Our aim in this course is not to come to a consensus, but rather to consider a variety of perspectives and develop our own logical and evidence-based arguments regarding these matters. In doing so, we will also focus on developing and honing our reading, writing, critical thinking, group discussion, and oral presentation skills.


Learning outcomes


  • Analyze the complexities of human and non-human animal relationships across a range of socio-historical contexts
  • Apply socio-political theories and ethical frameworks for viewing relationships between humans and non-human animals
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social construction of reality and the ongoing negotiation of meaning as it pertains to a variety of key course concepts, especially animals, gender, and race
  • Investigate the structural and ideological links between various forms of systemic abuse, violence, and oppression, paying particular attention to the intersecting oppressions of non-human animals and Black, Indigenous, and communities of color in the United States
  • Debate the extent to which commodified relationships between humans and non-human animals may perpetuate hierarchical human to human relationships such as settler colonialism, racism, and sexism
  • Evaluate the consequences of their own interactions and relationships with non-human animals.

Minnesota Transfer Curriculum

Goal 5: History and the Social and Behavioral Sciences

  • Employ the methods and data that historians and social and behavioral scientists use to investigate the human condition.
  • Examine social institutions and processes across a range of historical periods and cultures.
  • Use and critique alternative explanatory systems or theories.
  • Develop and communicate alternative explanations or solutions for contemporary social issues.

Goal 9: Ethical and Civic Responsibility

  • Examine, articulate, and apply their own ethical views.
  • Understand and apply core concepts (e.g. politics, rights and obligations, justice, liberty) to specific issues.
  • Analyze and reflect on the ethical dimensions of legal, social, and scientific issues.
  • Recognize the diversity of political motivations and interests of others.
  • Identify ways to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.