New book now out: The Internet of Animals: Human-Animal Relationships in the Digital Age

This book has now been published. It is available from the Polity website here. A video of me giving a talk about the book is here.

Here is the list of contents:


1 Conceptualizing Humans, Animals and Human–Animal Relations

2 Animal Enthusiasts, Activism and Politics in Digital Media

3 The Quantified Animal and Dataveillance

4 Animal Cuteness, Therapy and Celebrity Online

5 Animal Avatars and Zoomorphic Robots

Conclusion: Reimagining Human–Animal Relations

Below is an excerpt from the Introduction chapter, explaining the main themes and issues discussed in the book:

The Internet of Animals is the first book to bring together perspectives from across the humanities and social sciences to consider how digital technologies are contributing to human-animal relationships at both the micropolitical and macropolitical levels. It builds on and extends a growing interest in social and cultural inquiry in: i) the digitization and datafication of humans and other animals with and through new digital media and ‘smart’ devices; ii) the affective and embodied relationships between humans and other animals; iii) the health and environmental crises in which human health and wellbeing are inextricably entangled with other animals and living creatures; and iv) more-than-human theoretical perspectives. The book delves into the ways that animals across a range of species and in a multitude of spaces are represented and incorporated into various forms of digital technologies, and the consequences for how we think and feel about as well as relate to and treat other animals.

Across the book’s chapters, the broader socioeconomic, cultural, biological and geographical contexts in which these technological interventions have emerged and are implemented are carefully considered. Many animal species are becoming threatened by catastrophic changes to their habitats and lives caused by humans, such as ecological degradation and pollution; climate change, global warming and extreme weather events; and the clearing of forests to make way for industries or the expansion of cities. Animals’ health and wellbeing have been severely undermined by these human-wrought crises, including exacerbating their exposure to disease, depriving them of their usual food sources, disrupting breeding cycles, accelerating species extinction and contributing to biodiversity loss. Industries devoted to the mass production of digital technologies (mobile and other computing devices, Wi Fi devices and digital data storage facilities) and to energy generation to power these technologies, together with the accumulation of non-degradable ‘e-waste’ from discard devices and contribution to landfill toxins, make a massive contribution to these detrimental effects on planetary health. Digital media play a major role in drawing publics’ attention to cases of animal mistreatment and cruelty, but also contribute to the objectification of animals and the vilification of species deemed to be threats to human welfare or the economy, requiring tight containment or extermination.

… Throughout the book I analyse the content and use of these devices, software and media from a sociocultural perspective, identifying implications for human-animal relationships and for generating ideas about future developments for digital technologies that have the potential to contribute to both human and nonhuman animal flourishing across the world. I argue that the ways in which animals are portrayed, monitored and cared for by humans using digital media and devices have significant implications for how humans and animals will live together in the near future: including human and animal health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability and activism, and industries related to digital technology development, animal care, animal protection, food production and consumption as well as smart farming, smart homes and smart cities.

… a series of questions are addressed, as follows: How are human-animal relationships changing, and how are digital media and devices contributing to this change? What do humans and other animals lose and gain when animals are digitized and datafied? What are the implications of a more-than-human approach for ethical and caring relationships between humans and other animal species? What are the implications for both human and animal health and wellbeing – and at a larger scale, for planetary health?

In addressing these questions, I engage with the expanding body of more-than-human theory that focuses on the embodied and multisensory dimensions of people’s encounters with digital technologies and digital data, and the affective forces and capacities that are generated with and through these relationships. My approach to digitization and datafication recognises that digital technologies and digital data are vibrant agents in the lives of humans and animals, configuring animal-human-digital assemblages that are constantly changing as technologies come together with humans and animals in place, space and time.

… Chapter 1 introduces the foundational concepts and theoretical perspectives on human-animals relations offered from relevant scholarship across the humanities and social sciences and discusses how they contribute to the key issues and themes discussed in the book. The next four chapters focus on specific ways in which animals are portrayed in digital media and monitored with the use of ‘smart’ technologies. Chapter 2 addresses the topic of animal activism and other political issues concerning humans’ treatment of and relationships with animals, including contestation and conflicts between actors in this online space. In Chapter 3, the plethora of rationales, imaginaries and practices configuring the dataveillance of animals are examined: including those devices designed for caring for pets or protection of wildlife as well as technologies incorporated into ‘smart farming’ initiatives. Chapter 4 focuses on the affective dimensions of cuteness and celebrity as they are expressed in relation to animals in digital media, as well as the positioning of animals as therapeutic objects. The representation of animals in computer games and zoomorphic robots are the subject of Chapter 5. While these digital technologies may seem quite distinct from each other, the strong influence of Japanese culture is evident in both modes for digitizing animals. The brief conclusion chapter summarise the main points made in the book and provokes thinking about the futures of the Internet of Animals, with a particular focus on the use of digital technologies in arts-based initiatives that seek to attune humans to their role as merely one animal species in complex multispecies ecosystems.