How did human societies come about?

human and animal

Sonja Buschka,

To person

M.A., born 1977; Sociologist; research assistant at the Center for Globalization and Governance at the University of Hamburg; Founding member of the Group for Society and Animals Studies (GSA), University of Hamburg, Institute for Sociology, Allende Platz 1, 20146 Hamburg. [email protected]

Julia Gutjahr

To person

Born in 1982; Studied sociology at the University of Hamburg; Founding member of the GSA (see above).

Marcel Sebastian

To person

Born 1984; Studied sociology at the University of Hamburg; Founding member of the GSA (see above).

The diverse social relationships between humans and animals have received little scientific attention in the past. This changes with the establishment of the research field of human-animal studies.


In view of the importance of animals for human society, it seems surprising that this relationship has so far hardly been reflected in the social sciences. Everyone has individual or collective relationships with animals. A so-called pet lives in almost every third German household; [1] its role can range from "living toys" to family members and partners. On the other hand, there are these figures: According to the Federal Statistical Office, 58 138 900 pigs, 3737 900 cattle and 974 100 sheep were killed in the context of commercial slaughtering. The number of "poultry" killed is not quantified individually, but expressed using the added body weight (1379600 tons). [2] In addition, 350,538 Germans had a hunting license in the 2009/2010 hunting year. [3] In addition, 2,786,331 vertebrates were used in animal experiments in 2009. [4]

It was only in recent years that the scientific discussion of the human-animal relationship, influenced by social debates about the ethical and social status of animals, increased, and the research field of Human-Animal Studies (HAS) developed. [5] The research topics are as diverse as the complex relationship between humans and animals themselves. The disciplines operating in the HAS include sociology, philosophy and anthropology as well as cultural, literary and legal studies.

In sociology, animals have so far been largely ignored, which can be explained, among other things, by the self-image of sociology as a human science, which assigns animals to "nature" [6]. In establishing and identifying sociology as an independent science, the exclusion of "nature" from social processes played a decisive role, [7] so that one can speak of an anthropocentric starting point for sociology. Corresponding to this exclusion, basic categories of sociology are applied exclusively to people, without this exclusivity having to be derived from the definition of their terms (for example "social action", "social norms") [8].

Excluding animals from sociology is also not plausible, since animals play a central role within the social system of symbols, values ​​and order, in economics and language, in the development of human identity and as interaction partners and are therefore undoubtedly part of the social are. With the increased interest in research, the field of social science HAS is also beginning to institutionalize in Germany: the first sociological research group on the topic was founded at the University of Hamburg in 2010 with the Group for Society and Animals Studies (GSA). In 2011 a first anthology with a social science focus was published by the Chimaira Working Group for Human-Animal Studies, and in 2012 two more sociological anthologies will be published. [9] "Tierstudien", the first German-language journal for human-animal studies, has been published this year. Furthermore, the range of courses at German universities is increasing. In the English-speaking, scientific area, the establishment of the social science HAS is already further advanced. For example, there is the Animal / Human Studies Group in the British Sociological Association and the Animals and Society section in the American Sociological Association, as well as various university groups and actors who are dedicated to the human-animal relationship. In addition, several scientific (interdisciplinary) journals are published with "Anthrozoös", "Society and Animals", "Journal for Critical Animal Studies" and "Humanimalia".

In addition, international conferences are held on a regular basis. The number of publications and dissertations in the subject is steadily increasing, and it has already been differentiated into several subdivided research areas. However, HAS have not yet achieved the status of a generally recognized discipline in the social sciences. [10] Despite their marginality to date, the HAS intentionally or unintentionally influences the development of society's treatment of animals through its research results. [11]