Humans and Non-Humans Student Work

Art from Anne McKeown

Student Anne Mckeown worked on these drawings over the period of ten weeks that our “Humans and Non-Human” course lasted this 2020 Spring Quarter at Kalamazoo College. I’m grateful she agreed to let me post these images she sent.

About this art, Anne says: “It has a lot of humans and non-human themes tied it to take you through the piece starting in the bottom left corner we have a piece of blueberry pie that was the focus of a lot of face-times that my two friends and I had. you can see the pie is holding my phone with my friends on the screen represented here as a bunny and a cat! Under that we have two tea cups with flowers and butterflies on them to represent the tea my friends drink together when we do homework. We then have cookies to the left of that which I would bake as an excuse to see my friends. in the bottom right there is my computer with a little explosion of light coming out of it on top of a stack of books that reads Pedagogy of the Oppressed referencing the book of the same name by Paulo Freire, a very important text now more than ever and one that has had a lot of influence over my world view. Above that we see a teenage bunny riding a bike with a backpack which is a reference to all of the teenagers I see getting together in the park across the street from my house. Above that are some houses I see on my walks around the neighborhood and on the top middle sit my two dogs Donner and Rosie with bows around them to look like leashes to symbolize how the walks we take together are really a gift. And then along the left side of the page are some native Illinois wild flowers that I planted in my yard and have had a really great time watching them grow.”

Anne continues, “I’m pretty sure that’s everything in there but this piece was really a helpful way to show appreciation and digest and physically look at the ways I have been spending my time at home and who and what has been contributing to my time here. I think looking at the world through a lens of human vs non-human helps put your world view in perspective and you can easily flush out your personal priorities from there. Doing this work definitely helped me work through what mine is.”

Share your responses to these drawings below in the comments section or email the artist at

Humans and Non-Humans States, Bodies, and Epidemics Student Work

Student Podcasts

Avani S. Ashtekar recorded this awesome podcast focused on the politics of the current pandemic in India and around the world. It’s easy to listen to Avani go off! She has a lot to say and this podcast shows her sharp critical skills.

Nora Blanchard was registered for both my classes this quarter (poor Nora!) so she recorded one podcast where she addresses both courses and shares her reflections on the pandemic and this strange academic term. Highly listenable!

Listen to “States Bodies And Epidemics Final” on Spreaker.

Priya Pokorzynski recorded an impassioned, well-considered, and incisive podcast on COVID-19 and social inequality with regards to health care for her final reflection on “States, Bodies, and Epidemics.” A clear and urgent call for change in the health care system and for justice on a global level.

Humans and Non-Humans Student Work

Student Blogs

Here are some great examples of powerful student work from students in my “Humans and Non-Humans” class this Spring Quarter 2020 at Kalamazoo College. Below is a list of student blogs and websites. I’m impressed by the range and depth of student work, as well as the depth of feeling, compassion, and, why not, the humanity of their entries. Enjoy!

Jorge Fernández Avilés’ Pandemic Blog from Spain –
Humans and Non-Humans

Humans and Non-Humans

Eating and Becoming

A few weeks ago, we read Chapter 3 of Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter, entitled “Edible Matter.” This chapter applies to food many of the same ideas as Chapter 2 applied to electricity. Bennett wants us to see food as an assemblage composed of many points of connection between or with other assemblages that are constantly in the process of becoming–becoming themselves and becoming other. That is, when we eat something, it becomes a part of us, but we also become a part of its history–the potato passes through us, but perhaps we also can be said to have passed through the potato.

This potato is disappointed in you.

Because like the potato we are also organic beings, when we die our bodies can become part of the earth that can again grow another potato or many other potatoes using the nutrients derived from our decomposed bodies. Into this cycle inserts itself capital, which attempts to isolate parts of this assemblage in order to exploit their process of becoming for the creation of wealth, or rather for the accumulation of value. Thus, the potato, whose intrinsic value lies in its own being as part of a living system, whether as root or as food, becomes instead a unit of value estranged from its own process of becoming.

Our dead bodies are also likewise estranged from this process when we prevent them from decomposing and returning to the earth. Like the embalmed corpse, the potato harvested through factory farming under capitalism is no longer a source of fertilization for the earth, nor of sustenance for hungry creatures who need food. It is now a unit of value, a commodified resource, i.e., a commodity, which if it cannot be sold must in fact be destroyed in order to preserve the capitalist order. This is why we have seen so much food being destroyed in the wake of this pandemic, despite simultaneously witnessing millions of people going hungry, waiting in soup kitchen and food pantry lines, and applying for nutritional public assistance (food stamps.)

Despite these important ideas, this chapter annoyed me because of its totally decontextualized references to obesity and its reliance on obscure philosophical ideas instead of or without a concomitant forthrightly materialist assessment of the relation between poverty, racism, discrimination, lack of decent health care, and bodily health. Body size is not the same as physical health. Not all skinny bodies are healthy and not all fat bodies are sick. If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend the work of Nalgona Positivity Pride.

Below is a video I recorded in response to student questions, comments, and my own reading of the Bennett chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

Please leave your comments and questions below in the comments section!

Humans and Non-Humans

The Assemblage Electric

A few weeks ago, we read two chapters from Jane Bennett’s book, Vibrant Matter (Chapters 2 & 3). The first of these is called “The Agency of Assemblages” and presents the example of a major power outage in North America that started in one node of the electric grid and triggered the automatic withdrawal of multiple charging stations from the grid, overcharging other parts, involving random events, such as a brush fire in Ohio that further complicated the situation, and leaving millions of people in the dark.

The idea here is to think about how one event (the power outage) has no definitive or particular cause, but is actually the result of multiple interactions taking place in both pre-determined and random ways throughout the electric grid. Every node within the assemblage/grid is itself composed of other assemblages in a rhizomatic or fractal relation.

This tree on my street has been shaped over many years in relation to the power lines that bisect it. (Photo by A. Garriga-Lopez, 2020)

Thinking about events in this way, as the result of agentive assemblages composed of infinite numbers of connections and continuously changing affects and effects in relation to each other allows us to de-center the human as the source of all events that take place in history. It’s not that the electricity grid has its own will, since it is clearly not a being in the same way that humans or even plants like the tree above are, but the grid is able to act upon us because we are in relation to it; we are part of its assemblage.

As this quote from Bennett that one of my students pulled from the text states, “There was never a time when human agency was anything other than an interfolding network of humanity and nonhumanity; today this mingling has become harder to ignore” (p. 31). Indeed, as this novel coronavirus (CoVid-19) has shown us, the intermingling of the human and non-human can have world-changing effects upon life on this planet.

I recorded the following video on this chapter in order to clarify some of these key concepts and ideas from the reading. Check it out below.

Please share your thoughts and questions below in the comment section! And you can read my post about Chapter 3 here.

Humans and Non-Humans

Companion Species

The first book on our reading list for the Humans & Non-Humans class is Donna Haraway’s (2003) “Companion Species Manifesto.” This short book is comprised of a long essay considering the culture and politics of dog keeping, dog training, and dog breeding. As always, Haraway is at pains to show the interrelatedness of human and non-human worlds and she uses the evidence of this interrelatedness to make her case for the conceptual work done by the category ‘naturecultures’.

A still from Fabrizio Terranova’s documentary, “Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival” (2016). Image via

Meaning that she looks at humans and dogs as mutually constitutive beings, as we have evolved over time to be companions, and to consider not only the history, but also the politics of that entanglement, and, crucially, she wants to help us see how we often reproduce gender power and patriarchal ideology through those relationships. She wants to call for interspecies feminist solidarity and the recognition of our mutual love and need for each other as an ethical question that can guide our action towards the natural world that includes, but is not only the province of the human. Check out the three videos below, where I respond to student comments and questions about this reading.

Have you also read this text? If so, please leave the class a comment below and share with us your favorite quote or how this book has shaped your relationship to non-human others. Thanks!

Assignments Humans and Non-Humans States, Bodies, and Epidemics

Pandemic Journals – first assignment

Write your story of this moment

Write a weekly journal for the next ten weeks. That’s it. Write at least 300 words once a week. Keeping your privacy concerns in mind, choose a medium for a digital journal. You decide how public you want it to be. It can be an Instagram account, or a Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress blog. It can be a collection of pdfs. You decide what makes the most sense for you. Once you have created your Pandemic Journal, if you wish to share it with us, please post the address as a comment below (on this post).

In his diary of plague in Oran, Algeria, Albert Camus’ character the good doctor Rieux describes himself in the first few pages of the novel The Plague as a narrator with three kinds of data: “first, what he saw himself, secondly, the accounts of other eyewitnesses,” and third, “documents that subsequently came into his hands” (6). Through these, he will write the story of what happened and how plague tore through Oran and how it eventually subsided, only to bide its time until the day when again “for the bane and enlightenment of men, it would rouse up its rats and send them forth to die in a happy city” (308).

William Hurt as Dr. Rieux in, “The Plague” (1992) film Dir. Luis Puenzo

Like Camus through Dr. Rieux, many writers have used the form of the journal as a way to keep track of time, record events, and reflect on the human experience during outbreaks of pandemic disease such as HIV/AIDS or Bubonic Plague. The journal is an inherently reflexive genre, so it encourages the spilling of guts, so to speak. The journal brings its reader into the intimate experience of the narrator.

You can use different forms of data, both experiential and archival to analyze the events unfolding in this pandemic. That is, you can draw information about the human experience during the current pandemic of COVID-19 from the ways it is affecting your life, how it’s affecting the lives of those around you, and from scholarly sources, as well as from the internet and mass media.

Keeping track of your experiences throughout the next ten weeks will help you stay in touch with your emotions, which is helpful to mental health. It will also help you see patterns that may emerge that could be instructive or illuminating for you as you reflect on them later, and it can give you an outlet for your creativity, which is always good for your wellbeing. Don’t forget to drop your URL below in the comments! Also, take a moment to read and comment on someone else’s Pandemic Journal. In ten weeks, we will have a substantial human archive of this plague.

NOTE: Both classes will do this assignment. Folks taking the “Humans & Non-Humans” class, please pay special attention to how this pandemic is affecting non-human animals, landscapes, and the environment.