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Interrelating with animals: nonhuman selves in the literary imagination

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Title: Interrelating with animals: nonhuman selves in the literary imagination
Author(s): Mierek, Joanne
Advisor(s): Williams, Kate
Department / Program: Library & Information Science
Discipline: Library & Information Science
Degree Granting Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree: M.S.
Genre: Thesis
Subject(s): Animal personhood animal selfhood animism anthropomorphism children's literature
Abstract: Children’s literature is full of animal characters widely understood to be symbolic humans. They are believed to provide the reader with a combination of delight and the neutrality and emotional distance considered necessary for navigating various stages of maturation or complex and charged social issues. In this paper, I ask whether animal characters may sometimes be understood as animal selves, and not as symbolic humans. Interest in the selfhood of non-human animals has been gaining ground in academic debates in the fields of animal and cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and anthropology, resulting in theoretical work that paints an intriguing picture of what animal selves might consist of and how we may already know those selves. As the foundation for this study of contemporary children’s books with animal characters, selected current theory is reviewed, beginning with an introduction of basic concepts and including Leslie Irvine’s Core Self elements and Nurit Bird-David’s Relational Epistemology. Current thinking on the function and role of animals in children’s literature is briefly discussed. The study itself is designed to distinguish patterns in animal characterization in order to build on John Andrew Fisher’s framework for the disambiguation of anthropomorphism, a term referring to the common practice, often considered a categorical fallacy, of attributing ‘human-like’ characteristics (including selfhood) to non-humans. Fisher recognizes two broad types of anthropomorphic attribution that he calls Interpretive and Imaginative, the latter found in works of the imagination. The present study consisted of a survey and analysis of 46 contemporary children’s books with domestic animal characters, developed using criteria from the theoretical concepts presented on animal selfhood. Significant differences were found in those characters portrayed as clothed and/or bipedal and those presented more naturalistically, in the activities engaged in, and in the characters’ voices, suggesting at least two broad approaches by authors and illustrators to animal characters, here labeled ‘symbolic human’ and ‘animal self.’
Issue Date: 2010-05-19
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/16145
Rights Information: Copyright 2010 Joanne Mierek
Date Available in IDEALS: 2010-05-19
Date Deposited: 2010-05
 

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