Editors' Introduction

—New Media Animals





Perceptions of and discourses concerning non-human animals and human-animal relations have, over the course of the previous century, been undergoing the most profound transformation since animals were domesticated ten thousand years ago. The forms or symptoms of this change take on a variety of guises, including ethical and scientific recognition of the indefensibility of any strict binary between humans and animals (and between culture and nature); the development and growth of institutions advocating the humane treatment of non-human animals; increasing defences of animal rights; calls for the reform of intensive agricultural practices; the increasing humanization of companion animal-human relationships and research into the therapeutic effects of companionate relations with animals; insights regarding human-animal relations from indigenous, ecofeminist and ecological arguments; and the development of new research fields in anthrozoology and critical animal studies. In important ways, these calls for change all orient towards one overarching drive: to unsettle the anthropocentrism that, along with speciesism and much anthropogenic change, is increasingly being identified as problematic for the resilience of the planetary ecosystem.


Multiple attempts are thus being made to unsettle taken-for-granted anthropocentric human-animal relations across broadly-framed cultural theory; ethical, political, legal, philosophical and scientific frameworks (as influential of economic, industrial and domestic practices); and aesthetic practice. Questions abound in theory and practice concerning human exceptionalism and animality, post and transhumanism, transpeciesism, the status, agentic possibilities and possible obligations (ethico-political, legal) towards both non-human animals and human-animal assemblages, and the multimodal possibilities of human-animal collaboration. Furthermore, with these moves away from formerly dominant reductionistic and behaviouristic paradigms for understanding animals, it is inarguable that the plethora of representations of non-human animals in popular culture and new media can reveal diverse and changing human attitudes towards animals and human-animal relations. New media, in particular—here taken to encompass the interplay between digital technologies and image, sound and text data, with a defining characteristic in non-linear and non-hierarchical dialogue, inter-relationality, interactivity and creative participation—appears well able to afford creative explorations of human-animal relations. Just such an affordance in fact underpins the online and open access exhibition space and journal Ctrl-Z New Media Philosophy [], as evidenced by its interest in examining the extent to which new media can ‘provide for radically different forms of social and political practice’, necessitating the ‘rethinking of traditional concepts of communication and representation’.


In line with this interest, in our call for papers for this special issue of Ctrl-Z New Media Philosophy, we asked for submissions exploring and comprising new media engagements with animals and human-animal relations which draw from wide ranging philosophical, theoretical, artistic and practice-based perspectives. This call has been well answered. Not only do submissions engage diversely with insights from cultural theory, media and communications theory, environmental studies, performance art, philosophy, the biological sciences, and aesthetic as well as artistic practice, in their considerations of animality and human-animal relations, but they offer multi-modal engagements in which technology itself, in its broadest sense, becomes an expressive medium (Svensson, ‘Landscape’). Questioning and engaging animality and non-human animals in diverse and even collaborative modes, the submissions thus not only work to unsettle anthropocentric assumptions about human-animal identities and relations, but tease out a variety of the affordances of digital and online communications technologies for such work.


With Dominique Lestel’s examining of virtual worlds, for instance, the idea of a transpecies animality—constituted, for example, through hybrid human/animal/machine communities—is proposed. Here complex questions concerning the collapse of traditional oppositions between artificiality or virtuality and the purely biological are considered as a way to transform conceptions of both animality and agency. With an interest in exploring posthuman ideas and delving into the non-human umwelt, Audrey Appudurai, Ionat Zurr and Shaun P. Collin scientifically and artistically map the visual experience of lungfish, striving to invoke both non-human viewpoints and human engagements with such viewpoints.


Connections between human-animal relations and technological mediation are explored through many different modes throughout this issue. Gaming apps, such as Pet Rescue Saga (released onto Facebook, tablets and smartphones), provide a fertile ground for investigation, with Adam Brown and Deb Waterhouse-Watson critically examining this dimension of popular culture’s commodification and exploitation of non-human animals. Jane Mummery, Debbie Rodan and Marnie Nolton trace resistances towards the human exploitation of animals, delving in particular into the engagement of digital and online communications technologies by animal welfare organisations which strive to change mainstream perceptions of human exceptionalism and human-animal relations.


Una Chaudhuri’s notion of zooësis as indexing the history of animal representation (see Chaudhuri’s ‘(De)Facing’) opens Angela Campbell’s investigation into the capacities of live and technologically mediated performance for reflecting on animal captivity, animal performance and sacrifice. Campbell makes clear that both live and technologically mediated performance can instigate powerful interspecies encounters able to facilitate the reimagining of human responsibilities to the non-human world. Investigating animal computation—analog and digital—animals are shown through Thomas Sutherland’s analysis to be relegated to analog creatures.


Issues concerning representation also inform Vinciane Despret’s ongoing work examining the curious stories we create and tell about animal worlds. Here, in a chapter reprinted from her 2016 book, What Would Animals Say if We Asked the Right Questions?, she discusses the celebrity status of animals on YouTube along with the idea that such videos facilitate the production of ‘new ways of being, of thinking oneself, and knowing oneself’ of import not only for producers and viewers, and indeed animals, but researchers. Also examining practices of representation through her development of a series of ‘animated lamprey surfaces, structures, movements, and terrains crafted from digital images of lampreys’, Yvette Granata’s animation project Processing/Lampreys in turn proposes a ‘parasite aesthetics’ with an eye also to de-positioning the anthropocentric position. Real-time computer animation and art installation are also used by the human and parrot Hörner/Antlfinger collective to delve further into questions about human and non-human intelligence and aesthetic practice; as a consequence, the idea of there being possible a new kind of collective agency with non-human animals is amplified.


Exploring the capacities of the image sharing Flickr website, the black cockatoo conservation communities’ uploading of images, tags and comments into this space are considered by John Ryan as able to open zoopoetic new media space, which he describes as the ‘entanglement of technologies, biologies, ecologies, corporealities, affectivities and, indeed, politics’. Cockatoos’ embodied dimensions are traceable in such a space, Ryan argues, so as to create an affective response from the viewer and, further, raise awareness about human ecological practices. The normative ethical awareness of producers and spectators towards animal life is, for instance, investigated by Claire Henry through the phenomenon of viral (mainly YouTube) videos focusing on human-canine relationships, with such videos and corresponding technologies analysed with regards to their capacity to encourage understanding of and empathy with the canine umwelt. Finally Celeste Lawson and Mike Danaher survey Twitter as a platform through which counter-narratives about flying foxes can be constructed in the face of their mainstream construction as a pest species in order to promote their conservation and ecological value. For Ryan, Henry, and Lawson and Danaher, then—as well as for Despret and Mummery, Rodan and Nolton—new media has a particularly robust capacity to facilitate productive affective re-engagements with non-human animals and animality, even marking the site for a new ethological practice, broadly understood.


Interrogating the affordances of digital and communications technologies in the work of scientific and cultural mapping, as well as with regards to artistic practice (installation, performance, photographic), the human (and animal) contributors to this issue come together to attempt to understand and trace the umwelt of non-human animals as well as explore further possibilities of human-animal relations and assemblages. As Appudurai, Zurr and Collin stress, this is of course always a ‘problematic and inherently anthropocentric’ attempt given our inability to escape ‘our own cognitive apparatus’, and yet from a posthuman perspective these attempts at unsettling and mediating human exceptionalism are rich and creative. Questions remain as to what transfigured—transpeciesist—animality (and humanity) might look like, but that’s so of all practice oriented towards something new, something each contributor to the issue has brought to the fore.


Our thanks to all of our contributors and anonymous reviewers.


Jane Mummery & Debbie Rodan




Chaudhuri, Una. ‘(De)Facing the Animals: Zooësis and Performance’. The Drama Review 51, 1 (2007), 8-20.


Despret, Vinciane. What Would Animals Say if We Asked the Right Questions?, trans. Brett Buchanan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.


Svensson, Patrik. ‘The Landscape of Digital Humanities’ []. DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly 4, 1 (2010). 



Ctrl-Z: New Media Philosophy

ISSN 2200-8616


< Contents

< Close Issue