CCHU9085 Arts and Humanities
When Animals Talk Back

Course Description

The “posthuman” turn in social theory has directed renewed attention to what non-human animals want. How can one know, when animals lack human language? What do attempts to communicate with animals tell us about animals, about humans and about language? This course looks at what it means to communicate with beings who do not, and will never, speak. We will investigate the field of human-animal communication from its inception with ape language projects to recent work on interspecies communication through an eclectic range of literature, including scientific studies, memoirs, novels and philosophical writing. Readings will include work by Donna Haraway, Jacques Derrida, Irene Pepperberg, JM Coetzee, Temple Grandin and others.

Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the literature — and, when assigned, the films — and they will be called on and asked to orally summarize the literature and discuss it, both with each other in small groups, and to the larger group. The course will help them develop critical listening and speaking skills, as well as new perspectives on what it means to live in a world with non-human sentient beings.

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

  1. Develop an understanding of historical and contemporary theories and ideas about the relationship between humans and non-human animals, about ethics and responsibility, and about the role that language plays in that engagement.
  2. Evaluate how different individuals and groups view animals, and how different understandings of animals differently impacts the lives of both people — including their own – and animals.
  3. Demonstrate the ability to discuss and analyse how Western views of animals have changed, and what those changes mean for:
    i. the way non-human animals are regarded and treated,
    ii. the way views of animals are tied to views of humans,
    iii. what communication with beings that cannot speak entails,
    iv. the meaning and role of ethics and ethical engagement.
  4. Enhance their confidence in deploying the elements of good analysis, including:
    i. identifying a problem,
    ii. making a defensible claim,
    iii. supporting a claim with evidence,
    iv. articulating the assumptions and inferences that link evidence to a claim, and
    v. providing a motive for their argument.
  5. Improve their own writing and presentation style and organization, achieving coherence and clarity of argument, and will build skills in the different modes of oral and written argumentation and analysis, including:
    i. close reading for argument,
    ii. research arguments and analysis, and
    iii. reflective thinking and cultural criticism.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

First semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 12
Film viewing 4
Reading / Self-study 50
Assessment: Short essay 20
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation) 10
Assessment: Reflective diary 15
Total: 140

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Participation in lectures and tutorials 20
Essay 40
Continuous reflective diary 20
Group presentation 20

Required Reading and Viewing

Weekly critical readings:

  • Alger, J., & Alger, S. (1999). An ethnographic study of a cat shelter. Society and Animals, 7(3), 199-218.
  • Chang, F. T., & Hard, L. A. (2002). Human-animals bonds in the laboratory: how animal behavior affects the perspective of caregivers. ILAR Journal, 43(1), 10-18. From
  • Coetzee, J., Garber, M., Singer, P., Doniger, W., & Smuts, B. (1999). The Lives of Animals. Princeton University Press. [pp. 11-69; “Barbara Smuts” (pp. 107-120)]
  • Dennis, S. (2010). For the Love of Lab Rats: kinship, humanimal relations, and good scientific research. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press. [Chap. 4 “And Darwin Wept” (pp. 107-142)]
  • Derrida, J. (2002). The animal that therefore I am (more to follow). Critical Inquiry, 28(2), 369-418. [Selections]
  • Grandin, T., & Johnson, C. (2005). Animals in Translation: the woman who thinks like a cow. London: Bloomsbury. [Chap. 2 “How animals perceive the world” (pp. 27-67)]
  • Greenfield, S., Osborn, G., & Robson, P. (2010). Film and the Law: The Cinema of Justice (2nd ed.). Hart. [Strictly Courtroom? Law Film and Genre (pp. 51-68)]
  • Haraway, D. (2008).  When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [pp. 3-27]
  • Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Treiman, R. (1982). Doggerel: motherese in a new context. Journal of Child Language, 9(1), 229-37.
  • Kalof, L., & Fitzgerald, A. (Eds.) (2007). The Animals Reader: the essential and classic contemporary writings. London: Berg. [Selections]
  • Kulick, D. (2009). Fat pets. In C. Tomrley & A. K. Naylor (Eds.), Fat Studies in the UK (pp. 35-50). York, UK: Raw Nerve Books.
  • Nagel, T. (1974, October). What Is It Like to Be a Bat? The Philosophical Review, 83(4), 435-450.
  • Pachirat, T. (2011). Every Twelve Seconds: industrialized slaughter and the politics of sight. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Chap. 6 “Killing at close range” (pp. 140-161)]
  • Riley, C. (2014). The dolphin who loved me: the NASA funded project that went wrong. The Guardian. From
  • Ritvo, H. (1987). The Animal Estate: the English and other creatures in the Victorian Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. [Chap. 1 “The Nature of the Beast” (pp. 1-42)]
  • Sanders, C., & Arluke, A. (1996/2007). Speaking for dogs. In L. Kalof & A. Fitzgerald (Eds.), The Animals Reader: the essential and classic contemporary writings, (pp. 63-71). London: Berg.
  • Solomon, O. (2010). What a dog can do: children with autism and therapy dogs in social interaction. Ethos, 38(1), 143-166.
  • Talbot, M. (2008, May 12). Birdbrain: the woman behind the world’s chattiest parrots. New Yorker. From
  • Tannen, D. (2010). Talking the dog: framing pets as interactional resources in family discourse. Research in Language and Social Interaction, 37(4), 399-420.
  • Wallman, J. (1992). Aping Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 3-28]
  • Young, I. M. (1997). Asymmetrical Reciprocity: On Moral Respect, Wonder and Enlarged Thought. Constellations, 3(3), 340-363.

Primary non-book texts:

  • Devor, R. (Director). (2007). Zoo. ThinkFilm, [80-min film]
  • Franju, G. (Director). (1949). Le sang des bêtes. [22-min film]
  • Marsh, J. (Director). (2011). Project Nim. Icon Home Entertainment. [95-min film]


Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor D. Kulick
School of English, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2764
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor D. Kulick
School of English, Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2764