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The Autonomous Animal

Self-Governance and the Modern Subject

2011
Author:

Claire E. Rasmussen

The Autonomous Animal

A wide-ranging reexamination of a foundational tenet of modern democratic society

Offering the first examination of the concept of autonomy from a postfoundationalist perspective, The Autonomous Animal analyzes how the ideal of self-governance has shaped everyday life. Claire E. Rasmussen demonstrates how the adolescent—a not-yet-autonomous subject—highlights how the ideal of self-governance generates practices intended to cultivate autonomy by forming the individual’s relationship to his or her body.

This captivating book is about the paradox of freedom that we moderns experience as the compulsion to autonomy. Whether we are becoming adolescents, addicts, vegans, or athletes we subject ourselves to become independent so that we can experience freedom. This drive to experience freedom divides those who become autonomous (mature and respectable) and those who must be governed. The book is an impressive intervention on the paradox of freedom that is at once a space of possibility and oppression. Claire E. Rasmussen shows a behind-the-scenes glimpse of intriguing and inspiring subjectivities through that space.

Engin Isin, The Open University

Autonomy is a vital concept in much of modern theory, defining the Subject as capable of self-governance. Democratic theory relies on the concept of autonomy to provide justification for participatory government and the normative goal of democratic governance, which is to protect the ability of the individual to self-govern.

Offering the first examination of the concept of autonomy from a postfoundationalist perspective, The Autonomous Animal analyzes how the ideal of self-governance has shaped everyday life. Claire E. Rasmussen begins by considering the academic terrain of autonomy, then focusing on specific examples of political behavior that allow her to interrogate these theories. She demonstrates how the adolescent—a not-yet-autonomous subject—highlights how the ideal of self-governance generates practices intended to cultivate autonomy by forming the individual’s relationship to his or her body. She points up how the war on drugs rests on the perception that drug addicts are the antithesis of autonomy and thus must be regulated for their own good. Showing that the animal rights movement may challenge the distinction between human and animal, Rasmussen also examines the place of the endurance athlete in fitness culture, where self-management of the body is the exemplar of autonomous subjectivity.

The Autonomous Animal

Claire E. Rasmussen is associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.

The Autonomous Animal

This captivating book is about the paradox of freedom that we moderns experience as the compulsion to autonomy. Whether we are becoming adolescents, addicts, vegans, or athletes we subject ourselves to become independent so that we can experience freedom. This drive to experience freedom divides those who become autonomous (mature and respectable) and those who must be governed. The book is an impressive intervention on the paradox of freedom that is at once a space of possibility and oppression. Claire E. Rasmussen shows a behind-the-scenes glimpse of intriguing and inspiring subjectivities through that space.

Engin Isin, The Open University

This book is a provocative, compelling, and wide-ranging analysis of the self-contained subject. Rasmussen both historicizes and critiques the concept of the sovereign self.

Kennan Ferguson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Rasmussen offers readers a provocative new take on the meaning of self-governance in a rich and rewarding work through which to rethink existing political categories.

Choice

An interesting and informative tour through previous conceptualizations of the concept and a lively update to the discussion of autonomy.

New Political Science

A succinct, accessible, and rewarding review of approaches to autonomy.

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

This is a richly complex book, providing much food for thought and debate. It does an excellent job of critically analysing the concept of political autonomy, and breaks new ground in bringing this into dialogue with post-foundational notions of the subject.

Social and Cultural Geography

The Autonomous Animal

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Conceiving a Human Being

1. The Choice of Law: Autonomy between Norm and Creation
2. Mature Subjects: Physical Education and the Political Child
3. Intoxicated Citizens: America’s Drug War and the Body Politic
4. Man Is a Political Animal: Self-Discipline and Its Beastly Other
5. Fit to Be Tied: Exercise Fads and Our Addiction to Autonomy

Conclusion: Freedom and Self-Governance

Notes
Bibliography
Index

The Autonomous Animal

UMP blog - Boston Mania: What drives us, professionals and amateurs alike, to run a marathon?

Though less telegenic than Red Sox baseball or Patriots football, the Boston Marathon routinely draws crowds of half a million to watch more than 25,000 runners plow through the streets of Boston. One of the most prestigious marathons in the world, Boston crowds are no doubt drawn to see whether last year’s course record will be broken or if, finally, the two-hour marathon mark will be broken.

However, the largest draws are not the remarkable professional distance runners seeking to break the ribbon at the end of the race. The biggest draw is the pack of tens of thousands of amateurs who have trained and raced to qualify for the event. As a collective public spectacle, marathons place the limits of human body on display not only by the freakishly fast professional runners but by the ordinary people who haul their bodies up and down hills in front of throngs of supporters. The amateur marathoner who runs not for first place or for the cash prize but for personal gratification represents a cultural glorification of self-discipline that often fixates on the body.

Read the full article.