BASS Social Anthropology and Philosophy / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Sociology of Human Animal Relations

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY30042
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores the significance of human-animal relations for understanding human societies. With reference to the diverse and often controversial roles of animals in modern societies, as pets or companions, as objects of consumption, as zoological exhibits, as laboratory animals and as agricultural machines, it examines the important but often invisible role of nonhuman animals in human social life.


Throughout history nonhuman animals have played key roles in human societies. In different historical periods and in different cultures animals have been key sources of calories, clothing, labour power, physical protection and companionship, as well as cultural symbolism, identities, mythology and religious beliefs. In late modern societies, animals and the various products derived from their bodies continue to play a huge role in both material and cultural aspects of human social organisation. This has led to the argument that it is necessary to understand social life as comprising more than just the interactions between human beings, and this course takes up that argument. The course will trace how human-animal relations have changed over time, and how these changes have been connected to social transformations, with an emphasis upon changing human-animal relations in modernity. The deeply ambiguous and contested place of animals in modern societies will be explored in depth, with reference to the diverse roles of animals in different locales, from the home to the farm, from the zoo to the laboratory. In this way the course will combine 'macro' and 'micro' approaches, exploring the nature of human-animal interactions in everyday life as well as in rationalised modern systems of production and consumption.  

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course unit students will be able to: - Assess the importance of human-animal relations for understanding human social life. - Explain how the relations between humans and nonhuman animals have changed over time in relation to social transformations. - Understand the diverse and ambiguous roles of animals in a range of social institutions and locales. - Identify the changing ideological function of animals in various modern discourses and cultural forms.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly lecture and separate seminar/workshop comprising group discussion of key readings organised around questions on the text.

Employability skills

This course develops skills in conceptual and analytical thinking, critical evaluation of ideas and arguments, synthesis of information from multiple sources, and oral presentation. The course content deals with issues around human relations with animals which are relevant for a range of public and private sector organisations, from animal welfare, wildlife and conservation groups to zoos, agricultural producers, veterinary services and scientific research organisations.

Assessment methods

Formative assignment (non-assessed, feedback provided): Critical reading notes on one required text (500 words).  

Summative assessment (assessed, 100%): 72 Hour Online multi-format test (combining multiple choice questions, short answer questions (50%) and mini-essay (50%)).  

Feedback methods

All sociology courses include both formative feedback which lets you know how you're getting on and what you could do to improve, and summative feedback which gives you a mark for your assessed work.  

Recommended reading

Margo DeMello (2012) Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies.

Samantha Hurn (2015) Humans and Other Animals: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions.  

Arnold Arluke and Clinton Sanders (2009) Between the Species: Readings in Human-Animal Relationships.  

Leslie Irvine (2008) If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connections with Animals.  

Kay Peggs (2012) Animals and Sociology.  

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Practical classes & workshops 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richie Nimmo Unit coordinator

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