What Animals Teach Us about Politics

What Animals Teach Us about Politics

Book Pages: 152 Illustrations: Published: September 2014

Author: Brian Massumi

Cultural Studies > Animal Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

In What Animals Teach Us about Politics, Brian Massumi takes up the question of "the animal." By treating the human as animal, he develops a concept of an animal politics. His is not a human politics of the animal, but an integrally animal politics, freed from connotations of the "primitive" state of nature and the accompanying presuppositions about instinct permeating modern thought. Massumi integrates notions marginalized by the dominant currents in evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and philosophy—notions such as play, sympathy, and creativity—into the concept of nature. As he does so, his inquiry necessarily expands, encompassing not only animal behavior but also animal thought and its distance from, or proximity to, those capacities over which human animals claim a monopoly: language and reflexive consciousness. For Massumi, humans and animals exist on a continuum. Understanding that continuum, while accounting for difference, requires a new logic of "mutual inclusion." Massumi finds the conceptual resources for this logic in the work of thinkers including Gregory Bateson, Henri Bergson, Gilbert Simondon, and Raymond Ruyer. This concise book intervenes in Deleuze studies, posthumanism, and animal studies, as well as areas of study as wide-ranging as affect theory, aesthetics, embodied cognition, political theory, process philosophy, the theory of play, and the thought of Alfred North Whitehead.


“For those ready and willing to navigate the complexity of What Animals Teach Us about Politics, Massumi is a brilliant thinker who has produced another incisive critique that is likely to elicit interesting scholarship and responses, both from his immediate interlocutors and anyone else looking for a way out of humanity.” — Liam Mayes, Montreal Review of Books

"[C]omplex, dazzling, and sometimes elusive central essay bolstered by various addenda (propositions, supplements, and lavishlyintricate endnotes) — presents an intensely ratiocinative meditation on how animals play and what that might mean for people."  — Randy Malamud, Common Knowledge

“Brian Massumi, in What Animals Teach Us About Politics, makes a case for us to claim our essential animality in order to ascend to an ethic that is still truly (which is not to say, exclusively) human: vital, creative, and expansive. He builds his argument as if laying a very elaborate trap. (I want to say that it is a harmless, non-violent trap, but that would be a lie. The price of being snared is having to rethink everything.)” — Naisargi Dave, Somatosphere

"[A]n active book aimed at establishing a new understanding of politics. It is thus useful for anyone who wants to approach politics from a new perspective, one that does not limit the political to that which is already given, but one that opens politics up to creative potentialities and affectivity." — Colleen Harmer, Limina

"In its content as well as its frisky delivery, What Animals Teach Us About Politics is dedicated to animal play as both a topic and mode of theorizing: a contingent, rollicking sociality that reimagines the political as the 'aesthetico-political' (40)."
  — Lisa Uddin, Postmodern Culture

"What Animals Teach Us about Politics is a work of agile, unorthodox thinking at the intersection of political theory and critical animal studies. In lucid and compact prose, the volume draws together currents in evolutionary biology, process philosophy, and affect theory to provide an original account of animality centered on the concept of play – an account ripe with political implications."

  — David Alexander Craig, Contemporary Political Theory

"At a moment when animality, and the animality of the human, has become one of the major themes of contemporary theory, Massumi’s book makes a major intervention." — Nathan Snaza, Symploke

"This is a truly brilliant book, one of Brian Massumi's best. More than anyone else I have read, Massumi makes real progress in untangling the relationship between play, sympathy, politics, and animality. What Animals Teach us About Politics provides a fascinating and persuasively non-subject-centered account of sympathy, and it goes a long way toward helping us to see how the practice and theorization of 'politics' would be radically refigured within a process-ontology." — Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things

"In a remarkable work of speculative thought, Brian Massumi reimagines what politics can be when we ramify the importance of play—its excesses, surpluses, and transformative energies—and how it intimately binds human beings to other forms of life. This is not the 'animal,' and the 'politics,' you thought you knew." — Cary Wolfe, author of Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame


Availability: In stock
Price: $23.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brian Massumi is Professor in the Communication Department at the University of Montreal. He is the author of Semblance and Event: Activist Philosophy and the Occurrent Arts and Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, which is also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
What Animals Teach Us about Politics 1


1. To Write Like a Rat Flicks Its Tail 55

2. The Zoo-ology of Play 65

3. Six Theses on the Animal to Be Avoided 91

Notes 99

References 119

Index 125
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5800-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5772-8
Publicity material