This spring, in April, Don Kulick (Research Director of the EV research program) and Tom Shakespeare (Professor of Disability Research, University of East Anglia) will be giving a graduate course titled Thinking Vulnerable Animals (7,5 ECTS) at Uppsala University.

Course description

Recent work in Disability Studies has begun to highlight parallels between the lives of people with disabilities and the lives of  animals. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in Frontiers of Justice, compares people with disabilities and animals in order to highlight fundamental flaws in conventional conceptualizations of social justice. Disability Studies scholar Sanaura Taylor’s book, Beasts of Burden: animal and disability liberation, discusses many ways in which issues of disability and animal rights are deeply entangled. Public intellectual Temple Grandin writes about how she as a person on the autism spectrum “thinks like a cow”, and therefore is uniquely placed to advocate for the humane treatment of farm animals. The book Loneliness and its Opposite by anthropologist Don Kulick and historian Jens Rydström argues that Jacques Derrida’s concept of “non-power”, formulated in relation to animals, is also illuminating of people with significant disabilities, and of other people’s relationships with them.

From having been perceived (often rightly) as degrading, comparisons between the lives of people with disabilities and the lives of animals are gaining increasing traction as a way of thinking innovatively about things like empathy, justice, interdependence, engagement, and the meanings and practices of vulnerability.

This course will provide an orientation to current philosophical, humanistic and social science thought on the relationship between the lives of people with disabilities and the lives of animals, with the goal of linking that work to a larger critical project concerned with the rethinking the concept of vulnerability.

Course Name: Thinking Vulnerable Animals
Level: Masters and Ph.D.
Course Syllabus: Click on this link to download the course syllabus

Required books

Coetzee, JM. 1999. The Lives of Animals. Princeton Univ. Press.

Grandin T, Johnson C. 2006. Animals in Translation: the woman who thinks like a cow. London: Bloomsbury.

Kalof, L, Fitzgerald A. eds. 2007. The Animals Reader: The Essential and Classic Contemporary Writings. London: Berg.

Nussbaum, MC. 2006. Frontiers of Justice: Disability. Nationality, Species Membership. Cambridge, AM: Harvard Univ. Press.

Taylor, S. 2017. Beasts of Burden: animal and disability liberation. New York: The New Press.

Course Schedule

Friday 6 April, 13.00-15.00, room 3-2028, Engelska parken
Meeting 1. Setting the scene (note: you are expected to have read this literature on the first day of class)

Monday 9 April, 13.00-15.00, room 2-0076, Engelska parken
Meeting 2. Philosophical debates about the animal/disability relationship

Thursday 12 April, 13.00-15.00, room 2-0028, Engelska parken
Meeting 3. Derrida on Animals

Monday 16 April, 13.00-15.00, room 2-0028, Engelska parken
Meeting 4. Disability and animality

Monday 23 April, 13.00-15.00, room 2-0076, Engelska parken
Meeting 5. Thinking Vulnerable Animals I

Thursday 26 April, 13.00-15.00, room 2-0028, Engelska parken
Meeting 6. Thinking Vulnerable Animals II

How to apply

This course is limited to 13 students. To apply for admission, send a one page letter to Mats Hyvönen ( by 15 March 2018. The letter should contain the following information:

  • Where you are in your studies; i.e. if you are a PhD student (if so, in what discipline and what year), or a MA student (what discipline)
  • What your topic of research is
  • Why you want to take the course

You will be informed by 1 April 2018 whether or not you have been admitted.

This course is open to doctoral candidates in all disciplines. 
It is also open to masters students enrolled in one of Uppsala University's programs at the advanced level. Masters students who are interested in taking the course for credit must first receive approval from the Director of Studies at the Advanced Level at their own department. Masters students applying to the course should fill in the following form [click on this link to download the form] and send it via email to Mats Hyvönen: