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University of Colorado Boulder

Animals, Self, and Society

University of Colorado Boulder via Coursera


This course explores how animals and people are situated within the web of structures and connections known as “society.” Module 1 considers some of the key symbolic roles that animals play in society by investigating the practice of “thinking with animals.” We investigate how people construct different meanings of animals and the implications these meanings have for both animals and humans. You will gain first-hand experience of this by analyzing how animals are represented in the media. Modules 2 and 3 investigate human-animal relationships, including those that involve suffering as well as those that are beneficial. Although many people describe their pets as friends or family members, Module 2 takes a deeper dive into what constitutes friendship and family membership where other species are concerned. Module 3 examines the dark side of these relationships, focusing on animal abuse and its relationship to domestic violence. Module 4 focuses on people’s encounters with those animals outside the boundaries of the home and the farm. The way people understand and regard the species commonly considered “wild” shapes the treatment and moral status of these animals.


  • Thinking with Animals
    • In this module, you will gain an understanding of how we socially construct animals.
  • Close Relationships
    • In this module, you will examine the interaction between humans and the animals we consider pets.
  • The Dark Side
    • In this module, you will investigate the process of defining animal abuse and its relationship with other aspects of society.
  • Wild(life) Encounters
    • In this module, you will explore key questions about the interactions between humans and wild animals.

Taught by

Leslie Irvine

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